Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Fond Farewell to the Southwestern Montana Rockies

I had a special treat on my last day at Big Sky/Moonlight Basin in southwestern Montana– my own tram! The tram was "scenic only" (as written on the whiteboard that you can see at the top of the Lone Peak Triple chair) because ski patrol had deemed the summit skiing as too icy, so no one was lining up to ascend. I rode up on the tram alone with just my poles and took about two dozen great pictures, like the ones with this post.

Then I tromped around on the summit, visiting places I've never seen when going up there just to ski. I aimed for the entrance to the backcountry (called a "backcountry gate"; with all the scary warning signs implying "you better know what you're doing or you'll die"), and the summit entrance to Moonlight Basin and its scintillating run down the North Summit Field (gotta do that some day...maybe when my son turns 16).

I'm glad I appreciated the mountain for what it was (and got a great view of it from the plane to Denver!), and wasn't only experiencing it for the purposes of expanding my personal limits. That said, I did have a decent run from the summit later in the day.

I took the tram down and had a few farewell runs over at Moonlight Basin and its placid Lone Tree chair, still feeling really strong despite it being the fifth straight day of steep, high-mountain skiing (thank you resistance training, and Vermont skiing).

That's the thing about making a commitment to weight lifting – it sets you up for other activities that you want to keep doing as you age. In about a week and a half, I'll be 55. I took my last tram run along with a guy who was at least 60. Check out Chapter 8 of my book Fitness For Geeks if you're interested in a beginner to intermediate guide to resistance training.

Finally, I ended up doing another ski run off the tram. The tram line was long and the summit was almost crowded, so it wasn't as fun or as spiritually rich as my solo visit that morning. The sun had exposed a lot of rock up there, and it was kind of hard making my way to the traverses to reach a run on the south face of Lone Peak called Lenin. (Funny, a lot of the summit runs are named after dictators – maybe because when in their thrall, you must take them seriously :)

As my taxi driver said on the way back to the Bozeman airport, "it's too easy to get to the summit" on the tram. Meaning, people go up there who don't belong. It's not a ski trail, it's a rugged, very steep, wintry Rocky Mountain, with all the wildness that Mother nature can throw at you. The ski patrol does all they can, assessing the conditions, putting signs up, obviously doing avalanche testing as required, but they can't police everyone who goes up there.

Except for the Liberty Bowl during powder conditions (and even that face is very long and taxing), the runs off the tram, as well as the Headwaters lift at Moonlight Basin, require full physical and mental maturity. The great thing about skiing out there is that the terrain is so varied, allowing you to work your way up in levels of difficulty in a sensible and incremental fashion. For example, ski the bowls a lot, including the wider passages between rocky features, before you ever ski from the summit.

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