Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Snowbowl Slackcountry

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2012 at 11:02 AM

Winter hath [finally] arrived to the greater Missoula area. All hail.

These photos are from last Saturday (pre-MLK) when days were looking pretty white all around. Much more snow in the forecast for tomorrow!

Skinning up to the ball. Despite possessing a compass and what we later noticed was the wrong topo map, nothing can replace human familiarity with terrain on days with compromised visibility.
  • Emily McGinty
  • Skinning up to "the ball." Despite possessing a compass and what we later noticed was the wrong topo map, nothing can replace human familiarity with terrain on days with compromised visibility.

Last Saturday really felt like winter. It was cold, meriting extra layers and extra chocolate rations. Emily and I had Martha Washington-style white hair at the top of our first ascent. It could've easily gone like this:


"Need some water, Martha?"

"All good, Ethel — can't bother lowering my face warmer. Let's rip."

"I'm going to let you take the first turns here since I whipped your fanny in pinochle last night."

"Eat my dust, you old hag."


It would be pretty fabulous to still be skinning up Montana backcountry when our hair is actually snow-white without the winter elements working their magic.

Making a few tree turns off the backside of Snowbowl.
  • Emily McGinty
  • Making a few tree turns off the backside of Snowbowl.

Getting ready to skin up for another lap. This is my weakest game as a backcountry skier.  I am painfully slow at switching from downhill to uphill modes. I typically use this time to aimlessly look around, vigorously shove carbs into my mouth, and ceaselessly ponder out loud the merits of de-layering or not. Emily is decidedly faster at this ordeal.
  • Emily McGinty
  • Getting ready to skin up for another lap. This is my weakest game as a backcountry skier. I am painfully slow at switching from downhill to uphill modes. I typically use this time to aimlessly look around, vigorously shove carbs into my mouth, and ceaselessly ponder out loud the merits of de-layering or not. Emily is decidedly faster at this ordeal.

After a handful of laps off Snowbowl's backside, a hankering for bloody Mary's became too potent to ignore — so we started heading back to bounds. One run through Jenny Bowl brought us to Jenny Lake, where we traversed the frozen beast.

Emily, ever the backcountry wild woman, had zero qualms about crossing a frozen lake in the middle of winter. After seeing some other tracks across the thing, I decided this is something I could surely go along with so long as we traversed separately. That plan was quickly foiled by my manic strides to get across the lake quickly — and I caught up to Emily just over the half-way point. Anyway, the lake was totally safe and any reservations about frozen water bodies in winter is balanced out by my tendency to flail like a banshee in getting across them.

A wiser, more disciplined person might promise get really fit and pledge to circumnavigate all future alpine lakes ahead of their comrades, but that kind of conditioning would seriously cut into my Maury time on the couch. It's a sacrifice I'm not ready to make. Maybe in 2013.

Last time donning the skins for the day with the Jenny Lake traverse in the background. This was the first time I beat Emily to having my skins on.  She was detained by A) taking pictures, B) a broken skin clip, and C) struggling not to pee her pants after entertaining my serious concerns about crossing a frozen lake in the middle of winter.
  • Emily McGinty
  • Last time donning the skins for the day with the Jenny Lake traverse in the background. This was the first time I beat Emily to having my skins on. She was detained by A) taking pictures, B) a broken skin clip, and C) struggling not to pee her pants after entertaining my serious concerns about crossing a frozen lake in the middle of winter.

We pretty much skied open-to-close in great shin-deep powder off the backside. La Nina was poking her ugly head through the fog to say, "I'm a'comin', peeps, have patience."

I should also add that it's a really important time to be looking out for avalanche activity and choosing lines accordingly. One group we encountered said they triggered a small slide. We opted to stick to the trees and ski separately — which gave us some great runs — but we also turned down some [tempting] steeper pitches due to snow conditions.

Anyway, onward and upward: Wednesday that wicked witch touches down for a serious dump.

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