Shredding: East Coast Ice, Pow on the Tetons, and LOTS of Cheese

Traveling from Bozeman to Hartford is always an ordeal. I’ve become accustomed to losing a day to travel each way- but it’s a small price to pay to get home for the holidays. Thomas has family in Connecticut as well, so we travel together, which takes a lot of suck out of a normally stressful experience. This year, we decided to complicate things by packing our ski gear up and taking it with us for our epic ski-cation on top of our holiday travel.

  • Part 1 involved a 2 day foray into the Green Mountains of Vermont… Well, the very southernmost parts, anyway. We rented an Air B&B, bought lift passes, and sussed out a schedule for 2 days of shredding with Siblings and Significant Others at Mount Snow.
  • Part 2 involved flying into Idaho falls, crashing at our good friends parents (Thanks Greg and Mary!) home in Driggs, and skiing down the last hours of 2018 at Grand Targhee Resort in Alta, Wyoming.

What this meant was a lot of meticulous research and coordination to get the most gear packed for the least amount of money possible. By the way- we didn’t spend ANY extra money- Thanks, United Credit Card! We measured, crammed, stuffed, begged, squeezed, and finally zipped our bag shut. We managed to fit all of our skiing accessories, 2 pairs of powder skis and poles, helmets, and boot warmers. The bag weighed in at a cool 48.5 lbs.

We made it to Hartford with little excitement as far as travel goes- The 11 dollar Goose Island IPAs at the Chicago Airport were spendy but delicious and necessary. As we stepped off the plane and into the familiar terminal at BDL, I relaxed- I was glad to be home. The next few days were a happy blur- Holiday festivities, amazing food, baking, family, and friends took precedence over everything else. I’m happy to say that once we left the airport, I didn’t check work email for the entire trip- usually easier said than done.

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A nice family photo

I’d like to talk about food at home for a minute. Living with a chef, I get treated pretty well. Thomas and I aren’t afraid to get wild in the kitchen with adventurous ingredients, new recipes, and fun flavor combinations. Going home for the holidays, however, is on a whole different level of luxury.  I am spoiled with amazing food the minute I get home. This trip was no different; I settled into a hot plate of classic French meat pie only minutes after walking through the door.

The treats didn’t stop- We had an abundance of Mince Pies courtesy of my recently repatriated sister, snowball cookies, and sugar and gingerbread cutouts.  Christmas eve was a smorgasbord of seafood complete with some fresh haddock, clams casino, crab cakes, tuna steaks, and scallops wrapped in bacon. Christmas day was accompanied by  a traditional breakfast of morning glory muffins and chocolate, followed by biscuits, bacon and eggs.  Our holiday party spread had creamy potatoes au gratin, Lasagna, rice pilaf, green beans almondine, and a holiday Ham, and I can’t forget the cheese platters that were omnipresent.

I spent most of my time visiting friends and seeing family, which is exactly how trips home are meant to be. However, by the time Christmas was over, I was pretty tired from all the visiting- just in time to ship up to Vermont and relax a little on the slopes of Mount Snow. Despite it’s namesake, the warm weather has not done this southern vermont resort any favors. We skied on boilerplate all weekend. That’s not to say we didn’t have a blast- we just had to alter our technique a little bit. As I navigated the treacherous and unfamiliar trails, I found myself asking- “Can I turn here?” And the answer would come: a loud scraping sound emanating from the bottom of my skis and an unchanged trajectory suggesting a resounding “NO”.

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The gang’s all here!

What Mount Snow lacked in it’s namesake, it more than made up for in local brews in stock. We cracked some cold ones at the lunch hour- I chose the Stout Trout Milk Stout, while Thomas had a Sip of Sunshine. As the day wore on, we broke into our own stash on the Bluebird bubble lift, possibly to the chagrin of a lady with a penchant for dirty looks. To her I say- Who doesn’t enjoy the crisp aroma of a Coors Light on a cold winter day, even if you aren’t in the Rockies? And when 3:00pm rolled around, our group reconvened at the Bull Wheel, the summit bar where beers are served up with a side of classic New England attitude.

That night, after a collective hour long nap, the savory scent of garlic filled the house as we prepared dinner- spaghetti and meatballs, courtesy of Dad. Beers were flowing, Alexa was playing all sorts of music from Grunge to Ariana Grande. We were determined to get rowdy, but despite our best efforts, a few spirited rounds of slap-cup and beer ball (and a manly exposition of shotgunning skills) were all it took to knock us all out. Doris had called it on the car ride up- we were all in bed before 10 pm.

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Riding up one of very few double chairs at Mt. Snow
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Thomas and Lucas tearing up the slopes!
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Hearty Pancake Breakfast before Day two!

A second day of skiing was filled with better weather- and much larger crowds. And the quad to the top of the mountain broke down (a regular occurance according to some frequent flyers) which meant >30 minute wait times for the Bluebird express. Sigh. We played the system by going in singles lines, and cut our time down to about 15 minutes. Still, the skiing was just okay, and the long lift lines encouraged us to get the heck out of there by 3:00PM. We caravaned down to Berkshire Brewing Company and enjoyed a flight each of tasty beers, rehashing our epic turns and, for Thomas and I at least, getting ready for our next set.

A few days later, Thomas and I packed our stuff and headed to the airport once again. Goodbyes are always hard, but it was also hard to not be excited for what the next few days held- skiing and ringing in the new year with good friends we hadn’t seen in a long while. Two flights, 4 free beers, and one mad dash through DIA later, we were out on the tarmac, deplaning at Idaho Falls. It felt glamorous; I always enjoy the tiny flights.

 

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Boarding our flight on the Tarmac at DIA

Our friends gave us the warmest, loudest, and most attention drawing greeting in Idaho. Barring the use of  fireworks and loudspeakers, I don’t think they could have done a better job. The warmth especially was appreciated, since the walk from the plane to the tiny regional airport was long, snowy, and cold. Good for skiing, bad for travel. A hearty dinner of Chili courtesy of Mary was much appreciated,  and we settled into an early night of movie watching, catching up, and prepping for our skiing adventure the following day. Greg informed us that we would be departing promptly at 8 AM.

At 7 AM, Greg informed us that there were 12″ of fresh pow on top of 10″ that had fallen the day before, and the weather looked clear.  He had already left for the hill. We rushed to eat and pack, and by the time we got to the resort the lots were filling up quickly. An hour later, we looked back at the windy mountain road from the chairlift and saw a long line of cars. While we were getting freshies, the people down below were undoubtedly cursing those 5 extra minutes of sleep.

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Gettin Freshies

What can I say about the skiing? It was PHENOMENAL. It was the best ski day I’ve ever had. We were carving fresh lines, rushing to the lift, and repeating. It was frigid, but we didn’t care. Everyone was giddy (except maybe the lifties- unfortunate for them, I know) had a giant grin plastered on their face- My cheeks were almost as sore as my quads the next day. The whole experience was just outrageously good, and I can only describe it as otherworldly. Every time I skied down an untouched powder stash, the only thing I could hear was my own breath (and whoops of jubilation, of course). The snow was so soft and fluffy that it was silent. No crunch, no whoosh, not the crackling of the East Coast ice we had experienced days before- just silence. Unreal.

We eventually had to stop for lunch to refuel, rehydrate, and defrost. Did I mention it was cold? A few more long laps from the top fried my legs, so it was time to see how Dan was doing on the bunny hill.  For his first day on downhill skis, he was crushing it! We took a break to crush some Deep Powder- the appropriately named Golden Ale from Grand Teton Brewing. After a few cold ones, we rode to the summit and took the Teton View Road down- a leisurely green run that meanders across the whole mountain, with beautiful views of the Grand Tetons.

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Flawless ski day at Targhee

We finished our day at the Trap Bar with a few hot drinks (Hello Peppermint schnapps and hot chocolate) and headed home with many snacks and grand plans for our NYE celebrations. We all almost fell asleep by 8:00 PM, and managed to stay awake only through sheer willpower and a hilarious game of Taboo. Happy New Years celebrations were at 12:01, and we were all in bed by 12:05. A happy year indeed!

 

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The (other) Gang’s All here!
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Ski Season Preview

This year has been incredibly full. Full of friends and family, work trips, forays into the Montana wilderness. Full of sweet treats and laughter and good times. Somehow, between all those things the time has slipped by, and the year is coming quickly to an end. The adventures, however, are never over. On the contrary, with cold weather quickly approaching, it’s time once again for my favorite winter activity (besides slipping in between fresh flannel sheets, of course).

There are some telltale signs that ski season is almost here:

  1. Days are shorter. I am up before the sun, and not because I’m doing morning yoga.
  2. Frost has been appearing on my car, making me late for work (It’s definitely not the extra 10 minutes I spend in my flannel palace)
  3. The snow capped mountains are captivating, and often cause me to take appreciation breaks on my runs, which explains the slow times
  4. I am poor because I dropped $700 on a season pass at Bridger Bowl
  5. I am poor because I dropped an additional undisclosed amount of $$ on other ski related gear and trips
  6. The terms “gnar” and “shred” are making their way back into every day conversation
  7. I am actually excited at the idea of a waxing party- Waxing our skis, that is.
  8. The bulk pack of burritos in the Costco freezer aisle is singing to me every time I walk by- the cheap lunch of champions.
  9. I’m exploring new “Helmet compatible” hairstyles for my next haircut
  10. My wardrobe is now about 68% sweaters, which is the best kind of wardrobe

 

Catastrophic events on closing weekend: Bridger Bowl

For skiers in Montana, this weekend has been a gift. In fact, this winter has been the gift that keeps on giving. While the rest of the country struggled to ski around mud patches, we watched our base grow as we skied pow day after pow day on our humble hill just outside of Bozeman. Even though Bridger Bowl was supposed to close last weekend, a gratutious amount of stormy weather and cold temps convinced the operations people to keep the lifts turning for what was hyping up to be one of the best spring weekends of all. Thursday delivered, dumping over 20 inches of snow on the slopes. However, despite all that There was a certain air of somberness on the chairlifts today at Bridger bowl.

Sometime around 11 AM, right as I was hiking up for the lazy woman’s first chair, someone triggered an avalanche south of the boundaries, off of Slaschmans. I was unaware of it at the time, but around noon there was the ominous buzz of a helicopter. On a mountain, that can only mean one of two things- someone is hurt or someone is missing. I hoped it was the first. I ran into a friend on the Bridger lift, and he asked me if I had heard- that Slaschmans was closed, that there had been an avalanche triggered by someone skiing out of bounds (common practice at Bridger), that even he had seen some snow start to tumble as he hucked it off a cornice on his teleskis (I know some pretty serious badasses). I said I hadn’t, but the helicopter confirmed his story.

Thirty minutes later after a few creamy runs and a gas station frozen burrito, the Copter was still buzzing overhead- a bad sign. Every lift conversation drifted away from the normal- gear heads blabbing on about their touring setup, experienced skiers humble bragging about how many fresh lines they got, and  instead turned to the situation at hand, who had heard what. More poignantly, every person I spoke with brought up the respect that one needs to have for the savage wilderness that can give, but can also take.

It’s so easy to forget that recreation in wild country does not come without inherent risk, and that each move you make can be your last if you haven’t got your wits about you, and sometimes even if you do. We have limits even when we feel invincible, as I imagine most people do when they hike up to the ridge and plan their lines. They are on top of the world (or at least on top of Bozeman) and maybe those risks typed in fine print on the back of their ski pass are overshadowed by the reward sitting in front of them.

Subdued by the events of the day, I headed home early, and my worries were confirmed- a story had been posted that one man had died in the avalanche. I was there, on the same mountain, skiing similar terrain. Granted, I don’t ski out of bounds yet, and I especially wouldn’t do it on a solo day, but still, the ‘it could have been me’ feeling lingered. I want to start skiing more technical terrain, and Thomas and I have both excitedly discussed the idea of getting backcountry setups and beacons and getting out there on our own, hiking the ridge, seeking fresh lines. This has been a wake up call. A beacon is not just a beacon- it’s an AVALANCHE beacon, for when you are in an avalanche and probably close to death. The gear you have is not for comparing on a chairlift or for street cred, but for keeping you alive.

I don’t want this to deter me from skiing, and I won’t let it. I have worked hard to improve, and I love a challenge- I see you, Bridger Ridge. I know that this day will linger in my memory however, and serve as a reminder that exploring the backcountry is not only a recreational activity, but also an actively dangerous situation that could turn against you at any moment. It’s exhilarating, and terrifying, and grounding. I am so grateful that I live in such a magnificent place, and I am humbled by the power it holds. We are only humans, designed to try and conquer everything- it seems to be in our nature. But nature always reminds us that she is ultimately in control.

Escape to the Mountains: Showdown

Time has flown since I’ve been living in Bozeman, and the beginning of 2018 was no exception. Before I knew it I had left the comfort of my sleepy Connecticut hometown and traveled back to Montana, then schlepped off to Las Vegas for CES on a whirlwind 5 day work trip that involved more hours walking around than sleeping. Lowlight of the trip? I unwittingly spent 23 dollars on a breakfast sandwich. A BREAKFAST SANDWICH!! Similar lowlight- I ordered an 8 dollar bowl of chicken soup, and it was just broth. oops. Vegas is not for the faint of heart or the light of wallet, let me tell you. With bright lights still shining in my eyes and sores on my butt from the horribly uncomfortable Allegiant flight back to bozeman, I had a few quiet days to recuperate before getting back to work and my busy winter lifestyle.

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In the lobby of our Vegas Hotel

I’ve been skiing every chance I get, so weekends fly by, and though being on the mountain is a welcome part of my week it is part of the grind. It’s a lot of work to get up early, put on 16 layers of mildly gamey cold weather gear (because washing ski clothes when all you have is coin-op is a choice, not a requirement, and besides, you only wear them once a week…). THEN you have to haul your gear to the car, warm up the car, drink 36 oz of coffee, pee 3 times, and drive up to the mountain. It’s a little exhausting just thinking about it. By the time ski day is over, I always feel like i need an extra day to recover from my recreational activities.

After a few weeks back in the cold grip of the Montana winter, I decided it was time for Thomas and I to take a little break from the Gallatin Valley and more importantly our routine. I still wanted to ski, just at a more leisurely pace and away from lots of people. Thankfully, There are several smaller ski hills all over the state of Montana that were prime for the picking and full of fresh pow- I’ve heard Montana has the best snow out of anyone in the lower 48 this year. I settled on Showdown Mountain, a local hidden treasure tucked away in the Little Belt Mountains, a smaller range that is nestled between the Bridgers and the Big Belts, with the Crazies looming to the Southeast. Showdown is in an ideal location- about 2 hours from Bozeman, but only 30 minutes from White Sulphur Springs, a sleepy town with natural hot springs and some humble lodging for the eager skier crowd.

The drive out was absolutely stunning- we watched the sun set as we drove North, winding along Bridger Canyon Road, then caught the last of the alpine glow as we headed up the flat, lonely Highway 89 the rest of the way. The view of the Crazies was so stunning- I was glad not to be driving so I could watch the giant crags and spines change in the dwindling light.

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After we dropped off our gear in the cabin, we ventured into the frigid single digit temperatures to find some libations and chose The Stockman as our destination- an unassuming western style wood plank front building with tiny windows and a heavy wooden door. Two seats at the bar called us, and the crackling fire made us cozy. We each had 2 beers from the only brewery in town, the 2 Basset, and shared a riveting conversation with a local about driving, trucks, and truck auctions. We left shortly after, shivering our way down the road to our cabin and gazing wistfully at the clouds of steam pouring off of the hot springs across the street. Our loud footsteps startled a small herd of curious Mule deer camped out on the Town Hall Green, and we ran away from the scene almost as fast as they did, to the safety of our cabin.

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View from our Cabin

The next morning we were treated to some questionable biscuits and gravy courtesy of the cabins, and off we went to Showdown! The temperature never rose above 5 degrees, so it was a bone chilling day of steep slopes, carving, and checking out new terrain. There was no fresh snow, and the cold kept most of the runs crusty for the better part of the day, but there was plenty of good skiing to be had!  Our ambitions of hitting every black on the mountain were dashed as we rode up the longest 12 minute lift and caught views of the steep, deep, quarter mile long mogul runs, named things like Glory Hole and Gun Barrel. Nice. Because of the heavy snowfall, those “bumps” were absolutely massive- doable, but not very fun for us without fresh powder (yes, I know we are spoiled). We did manage to finagle our way down some shorter mogul runs through some gorgeous glades, and even found a little gully that really sent us for a ride, aptly named James Bond. The steep wide open groomers rated as blues were probably my favorite, and the lack of crowds allowed us to take liberties with our sweeping turns down the corduroy runs.

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Cold

After 6 hours of non stop skiing (ok, we stopped twice- Once to heat up chimi changas and purchase some french fries, and once so I could use an indoor bathroom- The rustic outhouses were a nice touch, but  it was so cold you could literally freeze your ass off) we were ready to call it quits.

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Warming up with some Rainier at the summit

We hauled our gear into Geraldine the Jetta, and drove the lovely road through the Helena National Forest back to White Sulphur, where we made haste in putting our swimsuits on. It was time for Hot Springs!

Montana Hot Springs are kind of a special thing- there are developed ones, such as these, and natural springs as well requiring a hike in. I like to explore them whenever I can, so I welcomed this opportunity to see what White Sulphur had in store. The 3 pools of varying temperatures had drawn a crowd on the very cold day, and the winds of the storm blowing in from the East drove people deeper into the pungent waters. You can guess from the name what they smelled like, especially the Hot Pool- the original hot spring located indoors with heavy sulfur build up on the walls.  Despite our 30 minute drive from the ski hill we were both still quite cold, and the spring water was finally what brought us back to feeling our extremities again.

We fell asleep early, toasty and warm and curled up watching the Olympics. The next morning we opted to make our own breakfast- hash browns, bacon, and eggs, before heading back to Bozeman. Feeling refreshed and relaxed, the drive back was cheery and bright, and we even stopped in Wilsall for a hot cup of coffee to fight off the continual chill. All in all, a wonderful getaway in the midst of a cold winter that allowed me to forget about the daily grind that tends to consume us without us even realizing. It’s important to get out every once in a while!

The storms are coming

Well, it feels like it’s officially winter here in Bozeman, and the stoke levels are running high. Over the past week our little city has gotten over a foot of that fresh powder, and it’s almost comical to see the ripple of excitement everywhere I go. Whispers of “skinning up Bridger Bowl” to get some early season turns echo down the halls of my office and along bars up and down main street. Heads nod vigorously in approval when seasoned skiers compare their setups and just how much they did or didn’t spend acquiring the wide variety of skis, boards, poles, bindings, and what have you. People smile as they zip their jackets right up to their chin and say something like “it sure coming down out there!” before reaching for the door, in a hurry to get outside and feel the snow, just to make sure it really is that signature fluffy white stuff we have all been anticipating. There is something magical about the first real snow fall, and this year, like many in the past, it has come early.

In a time when there is so much turbulence on a national and local level, it’s nice to have something which unifies young transplants and locals that doesn’t involve some great tragedy or political battle. While the curmudgeon in the 1980’s US Ski team jacket may scowl at the park rats in their baggy Saga hoodies who in turn grumble about getting stuck behind a gaggle of 6 year old ski schoolers, limbs akimbo and skis hopelessly tangled, they all have something in common. They are here in Bozeman for a variety of reasons, but come winter, the mountains call to all skiers. The mountains are stoutly ignorant of our differences, and welcome all who are willing to brave the weather, the humility, and the overwhelming feelings of joy that come with riding down both their gentle and ferocious slopes. Would it be too much to refer to Bridger Bowl as The Great Equalizer? Yes. Of course we’re not all equal, even on the mountain. But it gives us Bozemanites some common ground in a time where there are serious disagreements about our cities’ growth. No one can be upset on a good Pow Day. And the excitement we feel now in the early season is a good reminder of that.