Steep summer turns in the Beartooth Basin area by an opinionated Canadian.
by Todd M.
A lot of ski trips start by reading magazines or internet articles about sweet places to ski. This was no different. After having read a Powder Magazine article last spring on this place and a Snowbrains.com article this spring, I decided it must get done. These type of ski hills are disappearing – they don’t fit the corporate model and the snow is shortening the seasons, it seems every year. Like most of my ski trips, it was on the brain, but last minute impulsive decision and the vehicle was packed and headed south. This trip from Calgary, Alberta Canada to Beartooth Basin in Wyoming / Montana, United States of America is about 9 or 10 hour drive and a sweet 982 kilometers, so about 614 Miles for the Americans. A long time to think about random stuff, when you’re going by yourself – it is tough to find ski bums wanting to drive that far for skiing in June when I’m sure there is still some solid snow patches and skiing to be had in the Alberta Rockies.
I arrived at the “state line” between Wyoming and Montana around 1:30pm on Friday afternoon and there was a line of cars waiting for Wyoming to get their act in gear and plow / open the road so people could get to the summer ski hill of Beartooth Basin. The summer ski resort is known by the locals as the “Race Camp”, which is where all the race kids train in the spring and early summer. The place has two high speed poma lifts that get you access to some steep lift accessed skiing. As I was driving up the road I had picked up some hitch hikers at the Rock Creek parking lot / turn off, they were doing laps from the state line back down into Montana while waiting for the road to open. What a sweet way to ride on snow: hitch hike, then walk for 20 minutes or 1 hour or 3 hours if your name is Nicole and drunk at midnight – good meeting you Nicole, whoever you are. Hitch hiking around Beartooth Basin I meet numerous friendly Americans that where willing to share beer, rides and other fun stuff.
So the ski hill opened at 2 pm once the road opened and I spent a few hours doing laps at the hill. The ski hill is small and has a lot of race kids with ski coaches kicking around but all in all was a good time and jumped off some small rocks / cliffs and ski’d some heavy spring snow. It was of course the last day of spring and tomorrow would be summer.
After finishing up at the ski hill at 4pm, I headed over to the Gardner Head wall, (where all the pictures are from) a 5 minute drive, where you are able to hitch hike, ski, hike then hitch hike again. This is some solid steep skiing. Did I mention the hike out at over 10000 feet is a bit of a chore when your use to skiing at 6000 feet. After a couple of awesome laps it was time to pack it in for spring skiing in 2014 and move on to summer skiing 2014.
Hotel / Motel accommodation is plentiful down the mountain in the town of Red Lodge, Montana. As a Canadian this is a pretty sweet stereotypical American town which I really enjoyed and will recommend to friends. Camping accommodation is available closer to the skiing and would recommend as the best way to travel. Hotels at this time of year are a real waste of cash. Plus camping is generally more fun.
Day #2: I choose to do a few laps off the Rock Creek head wall, which is on the Montana side of the border, got lost once but all in all some solid lines. The trick with finding your way is making sure you find the right people to point you in the right direction. This was really easy thing to do as the most of the people that picked me up knew where I wanted to go and pointed me in the right direction. A random girl in a car told me about how she spent 4 or 5 hours one night trying to find the drop in for the Rock Creek headwall. Alcohol was involved of course, but you need to remember when going up there, things can change fast – it is 10000 feet. The weather on the mountain can change from shorts and sandal weather to winter jacket, ski pants and snowing in 15 minutes. Get directions and be prepared for everything.
As day two of the trip was the first day of summer, the ski hill was open from 6pm until 9pm at night for summer solstice and after a small group went over and ski’d the Gardner headwall around 10pm. What a sweet way day of skiing, ski till 10pm at night with a few beers.
Day #3. Early start to get some tracks in early before the snow warms up. The trip from Red Lodge up to Gardner Head wall is about 35 minutes. It seems the locals come up for one or two laps just because they can… which is how it should be. After lapping the Gardner Head wall until noon, we headed over to the Rock Creek head wall but of all things, a lightening / thunder shower / snowfall came cruising in. Not exactly what you have to think about in winter, but lightening when you’re standing on top of the mountain, is not a good time.
Day #4. On the road home… it was a quick trip, but here are my thoughts. These are my opinions and pretty much bought up to stir shit up. 9 hours in a car listening to American radio….
- The best Americans I’ve ever met are the ones I’ve met on the mountains or traveling. You guys are one massive step above the rest of the countries individuals.
- American snow lovers are a friendly bunch and really put the rest of the countries citizens to shame. You guys and galls all rock. I didn’t run into one person that wasn’t super friendly. All awesome people.
- Recycle bins… I did not see one recycle bin the entire time I was in the US. What the hell is wrong with you Montana. Seriously Montana get some recycle bins asap and start giving a sh$t about the environment. We have 3 bins in Calgary, a recycle bin, composite bin and a garbage bin. We also have a deposit on beverage containers in the Province of Alberta which means we have over a 81% return rate which means we keep this stuff out of the land fills and it gets reused. Remember the 3 R’s from school? Reuse, Reduce, Recycle. This is my attempt at propaganda. See below.
- Guns Guns Guns…. I don’t want a gun, I really want my own nuclear bomb… it is my constitution right to own a mother f%cking nuclear bomb. Give me a god dam nuclear BOMB… I want to protect the mother f%cking state from those pesky Canadian terrorists. Ok, so I will let you figure out my opinion on the gun laws in America. Guns look cool and fun though and really bad ass.
- The price of fuel in the US is too cheap. It doesn’t encourage people to drive smaller vehicles. Everyone owns a big gas guzzling SUV or truck. Toyota recently stopped selling the Toyota Matrix in the US because no one buys it… cause who needs a fuel efficient car when the price of fuel is so cheap. $3.54 a galleon of gasoline is awesome but those nasty pipelines that everyone is complaining about that run from Alberta to the US are only being built because of the demand by the consumer. Gas is too cheap. Europeans pay like $7 or 8 bucks a galleon and Canadians are paying at least $5.75 a galleon. Raise the price of fuel and stop wasting resources. Brought to you by the Citizens Environment Coalition of the World – see propaganda item below.
- Montana is REALLY white. It is a white mans land and if I ever get tired of the multi-culturalism in Canada, I might just move to the land of the white man. Maybe I should be less opinionated. Nah…
- Everyone I met seemed to live around Boozeman and ski Bridger Bowl… seems it is the place for the hard core skier. Must make a winter road trip next year to Boozeman and get some shread on. Next…
- Propaganda: Ok one last thing with radio ads, bill boards, tv, etc. They all seem like propaganda. There is a lot of weird in your face advertising. Like Don’t Do Drugs, Don’t do this, Do this, Do that, brought to you by the Church of Blah Blah Blah. It is really intense and I feel like you are either in one camp or the other. There is not much middle ground in America it seems. You’re either on one side or the other. This might be why there is only really two major political parties in the US of A. It just isn’t politics though, it is religion, and crap that really I don’t really like listening to and really is just annoying. I feel like there is always someone in your face lobbying you on something. Piss off, let me form my own opinions.
- I love America, I really do. Hopefully my opinionated opinions only make you interested in coming to visit Canada. We have awesome skiing around Revelstoke, Golden and interior British Columbia and awesome touring in Rogers Pass. Very glad to have spent the last four days in America. Anywhere there is still snow sliding in June and friendly people on mountains is a great place. Canada is far from perfect but if I didn’t try to stir the pot with my southern friends, it wouldn’t be half as much fun. Till next winter or a Moab bike trip comes along. Thanks for putting up with me.