May 5, 2010

Best. May Day. Ever.

It was a gray and rainy May Day in western Montana, at least for most people. For a certain band of five diehard skiers, however, it was something else entirely.

After waking at 6:00 a.m. and driving north to the Flathead Valley, I met up with Greg Fortin, a fellow adventure-hound, and a few of his skiing partners. Greg and I took an epic four-day trip together a couple winters ago into Glacier Park's Jackson and Blackfoot Glaciers in the mountains behind St. Mary Lake (tangent alert!), which Greg is crossing in the picture below...



Absurdly scenic mountains aside, you know a trip is a good one when you take refuge during a blizzard to load up on coffee and gorge on bacon...




So it was good to ski with Greg again on May Day, even if it was pouring rain as we drove into the mountains. Our group of five piled into Brian Parks' Jeep and went as far up a mountain road as we could before the wet snow became too deep to drive. So we stepped into our skis and continued on, the rain soon turning to snow, which made us feel a lot better about the whole enterprise. Even if the road was littered with freshly fallen trees, which made for some interesting obstacles...



But soon we climbed up from the road and into a magnificent old-growth spruce forest, silent except for the wind in the trees and the occasional call of Stellar Jays...



It snowed most of the day, which was fine by us, but once in a while it let up, like this moment at the summit...



I was taking pictures for a ski company that wanted some shots of their new boards in action, but the lack of sunlight made getting marketable snaps tough. Fortunately, it didn't stop us from bombing down the mountain like schoolkids on crack (note to schoolkids: don't do crack. Seriously. It's terrible for you. Go skiing instead, it's much more fun)...



The spacing of the giant trees was perfect for skiing and all of the rain in the valleys had amounted to a stupendous four feet of fresh snow on the mountain, which can be seen here engulfing Greg's nether regions...



We were like giddy children at the bottom of our first run and there was no question we were heading right back up for another...


One cool thing about skiing the ridgelines from the mountaintop was the views into the Flathead Valley below. From our wintry world of May Day powder we could see Flathead Lake (visible in upper left), green farm fields, and a valley in springtime, all sprawling beneath a massive bank of fast-moving clouds...


We couldn't help but stop and take it all in for a spell. If you look closely, you can see me, the ridgeline, and the green valley in Dan'l's mirrored goggles...




This next shot is of Dan'l. Interesting name, yes, but an even more interesting person. Dan'l really loves to ski. I'm hesitant to say anyone loves to ski more than I do, 'cause I seriously love skiing, but if anyone does, it's Dan'l. Proof: the man has skied every month for the last twelve years in a row. Not a mis-type — every month. That's commitment. It's no small task finding skiable snow in August and September. The guy is an animal...

 

At some point during the day I realized something — I was with four guys just like me. I'm usually the one who keeps his friends out in the mountains way longer than planned; the one emerging from the woods by headlamp in the middle of the night; the one who wants to keep exploring just a "little bit" longer. But each of these guys was the same way. They were the ones their friends could always blame when explaining to their wives why they were back so late. I think it was Brian who said that he and his wife had an agreement: she wasn't to call search and rescue until it was 48 hours past when he said he'd be home. These were my people!

So what did that mean on this day? Why, a third run, of course. After all, it was probably the last powder day of the year and we all knew it. So we really had no choice but to climb back up for one last plunge...



Finally it was time to ski back to the Jeep, but after a day of warm temps at the lower elevations we were worried there wouldn't be enough snow left on the road. Fortunately there was just enough to get us back...




Back at our cars we enjoyed a celebratory beer and everyone agreed it was one of our best ski days of the year. On May 1st no less. As we basked in the afterglow of a 10-hour powder day, it was hard to pry myself away as we talked and laughed and watched the day's last light grace the mountains we'd just skied...



Finally, it was time to head back to Missoula. Along the way I stopped at the side of Flathead Lake and walked out on a dock to consider the day...



Most people aren't thinking about skiing on May Day. They're thinking about gardening, or home repairs, or complaining about what a cold, rainy day it is. But for our band of ski junkies, valley rain usually means mountain snow, and mountain snow means none of those other things matter — we've got places to go and powder to ski. This is why I live in Montana, why all five of us live here. The mountains always have something glorious to offer.

2 comments:

  1. That is just amazing! Thanks for sharing!

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  2. A grand day out, and a brilliant read!

    ReplyDelete