What makes a trip? A turn? A run? A day? A storm? Maybe the terrain, the snow, the company, the travel, new places, or new friends. Maybe the journey, maybe the destination.
Many of us invest a lot for what sometimes seems like little or no reward. Sometimes the investment pays off big, but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s tough and you think it’s all bad, but sometimes all it takes is one run to make it all worthwhile.
In some ways this trip has been like any other, with ups and downs, high pressure (too much) low pressure (not enough), high temperatures, and (some extremely) low temperatures, long drives, restless nights, (surprisingly) good food (and even good coffee), and cool people.
But in other ways it’s been completely different. It’s all been new, not tried before, unfamiliar. New mountains, new terrain, new chairs, new skin tracks, new bars, new beer, different snow, unfamiliar wildlife.
Going somewhere new often adds a certain glow, something special, turning the ordinary into extraordinary, it can even make bad conditions seem good. New isn’t always better though; you often end up going where you know, because reliability in this game is key. But as they say, no risk, no reward.
Which brings me to a short visit to Bell Lake Yurt, a small part of a larger investment in search of that elusive turn, run, or storm. It represented something new, with a little bit of risk, and potentially significant rewards.
It begins unassumingly enough, benign even (only 1.5 hours drive away), with a straightforward approach (a 2.5 mile snowmobile and 2.5 mile skin), but as you get into it, you realise it’s something more, a special place that completely overloads your senses and suggests you might just have made a very wise decision.
Our time there brought all the sorts of things that can make or break a trip. Low pressure and high pressure (just enough of both), new snow (more than a foot immediately before arriving, and 6 inches during), snow quality (yes, cold smoke), terrain (low angle, steep, trees, bowls, chutes, high alpine, ski mountaineering), with both the journey and the destination equally impressive.
It might’ve been a particular turn (but there were plenty that were waist deep), or maybe a run (of which there weren’t a large number, but all were unbelievably good), it might’ve been the snow (it truly was cold smoke), or it might’ve been the terrain (of which there’s enough to keep you busy for many seasons and is equally impressive to view as to ski).
But in reality it was probably a mix of all these things and more, the company, the yurt (which has all the mod cons and convenience of any serious backcountry shelter), the effort required (it’s all skinning), not having to compete for a single turn, or even some of the minor gripes (like the trailing high pressure that brought minus 30c and nearly turned a downhill ski out into a skin).
The thoughts of returning were there before having laid down a single turn. Our time at Bell Lake Yurt made this trip.
BELL LAKE YURT INFO:
Bell Lake Yurt is in Montana’s Tobacco Root Range and is operated by former Backcountry Magazine editor-in-chief Drew Pogge. It sleeps six people, has great facilities including mattresses, wood stove, propane cooker, cutlery & crockery, a french press (coffee plunger) and a cool little library of books on Montana. It also has an outhouse and a ‘p’ tree with views better than just about any such backcountry facility you might have visited anywhere else. Getting there takes about 1.5 hours by car from Bozeman (high clearance AWD required), with the approach about 5 miles (2.5 mile of which can be snowmobile assisted). The operators allow guided or unguided groups but generally require a first day guided orientation. For more info see http://www.facebook.com/belllakeyurt.