Sagebrush, skiing and the Superbowl

People around here are still talking about Madonna’s Superbowl performance, so I figure it’s legit to reminisce about it too.

Pat and I threw our skis in the truck that Saturday morning and drove southwest from Bozeman, through Ennis and Virginia City. In Alder, a ranch town with a population of 100, we turned south toward the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.

That afternoon we skinned up through sage and forested gullies to a grassy ridge. From there, we picked a ski line for the next day, then survival skied back down. Near the truck, the golden evening lit up the rolling sagelands.

We camped in a dry gully a few miles north. I slept in two sleeping bags and two down coats. Sometimes you have to leave cell reception to get a good night’s sleep.

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The next day, skinning on an inch of snow barely covering mud, Pat scouting for elk bedded down in nearby meadows. He told me about the special muley buck draw there, and I wondered if this might be a better place for hunting than skiing. Coyote tracks 1,500 feet higher led to an elk skull. The ivories were gone, and Pat pointed out where the hunter had cut the rack off.

After three hours we made the ridge and found our descent, a little north-facing banana alley that overlooked a ranch and 100 miles of mountains. Pat and Boots dropped in first, and skied about 400 feet down.

Afraid I’d punch through and hit a rock, I entered carefully and stayed light on my skis. Moving snow clinked like hushed glass around me, a shallow river of big wet crystals. The skiing improved after about 20 turns, and I picked up speed in the mellower terrain, bopping lightly between big Douglas-firs and holding my breath.

Finally, we stopped at the drainage about 1,000 feet down, sticks and deadfall poking up everywhere.

I was afraid the ski out was going to be deadly. Instead, we traversed across the south-facing hillside through open forest for about a half hour, losing elevation fast. We reached the truck, parked by a ranch closed up for winter, at 4 p.m. Kickoff.

Just before halftime we pulled into the parking lot at Chick’s Bar, in Alder. It was so packed with ranch trucks we had to park out back. Inside, we ordered Coors, posted up on the plywood covering the pool table, ate free homemade fried chicken and empanadas, and made a few new friends.


About Emily Stifler

I grew up in Vermont and live in Bozeman, Montana. I love topography: mountains, rocks, weather and people.
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