Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Skiing Montana: Havin’ a Blast at Blacktail Mountain

Sometimes in a lucky skier’s or snowboarder’s life, everything converges to create a perfect storm of ideal conditions. Say a storm cell stalls right above the mountain where you’re skiing and dumps fluffy dry snow most of the day. Lots of people decide to stay home or ski elsewhere. And you’re with simpatico buddies who enjoy skiing the same pace and slopes.

Good karma or just good luck? I can’t say for sure, but today I'm one of those lucky skiers.

We’re riding up Chair 1 on this cold, snowy day at Blacktail Mountain when Allison turns to me and exclaims the understatement of the day.

“I Iike to ski.”

With fresh Rocky Mountain powder falling fast and piling up on the slopes, and beautiful glades of uncut snow almost all to ourselves, we are over the moon about skiing. Every run we’ve been whooping, shouting, and laughing out loud about this incredible day.

Skiing at Blacktail Mountain seems just what the doctor might have ordered. After a nasty flu bug, I’m skiing on adrenaline because in the last 40 hours I’ve only eaten a half a banana. But I knew if I dragged myself up here I’d feel better.

And you know what? I feel fantastic! (Okay, I’m pretty pooped later in the evening.)

Blacktail is not a destination resort by any stretch. It’s a small, family-run operation just 14 miles up a mostly gravel road above the northwestern edge of Flathead Lake. But sometimes these local operations can be little gems when the conditions are just right and the crowds are thin.

Like today.

Blacktail, which opened in the mid-1990s, caters to locals around Flathead Valley. But it’s also a nice place to dial down a bit and chill-ax after a long day of hard skiing at Whitefish/Big Mountain up the valley (see an upcoming blog post about that). Most of Blacktail’s terrain is intermediate, but with amazing and abundant snow (an average of 250 inches annually), it makes for a fun day trip.

When we leave the valley floor, the weather is mostly clear, but a mile or so below the top it starts snowing hard. A beauty of Blacktail is driving and parking at the 6,780’ summit and skiing down from there. Take your first run without hopping on a lift! Another great feature is the north-facing runs, which skiers/riders know keeps snow colder and a better consistency.

Allison lives close by and knows the mountain well. “How about we ski Chair 1?” she suggests.

Our warm-up run is a blue cruiser down a wide swath cut through the forest. With the snow coming down nonstop, the base is truly packed powder (unlike so many ski reports in the western Northwest that fib “packed powder” on their ski reports).

Then we move on to the black diamond runs: The Glades, Ponchelon’s Powder (aptly named today), and Badrock. To be honest, by bigger mountain standards, these runs are pretty mellow for black diamond.

The Glades was recently thinned, so for tree skiing it’s not scary at all. We pick our lines and drop off the cat track into the trees below. On the first run, the underlying snow is a little chunky under a few inches of fresh fluff, but throughout the next few hours it snows 6 more inches and turns into a powder hound’s dream.

Amazingly, we have these runs almost to ourselves all afternoon. Run after run just keeps getting better and better. To keep things moving, we only ski to midway on Chair 1 and then hop back on for the shorter ride to the top (no high-speed quads here).

With the snow coming down so thick and fast, but no wind, it’s truly a magical day. Every single run we get fresh tracks in the silky light snow.

It really doesn’t get much better than this. May you, too, be so lucky to catch such a perfect storm.

When You Go
Here's a map showing how to get to Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, which stays open into April each season. It’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so Wednesday mornings can be pretty awesome. Lift tickets are a mere $36/day for adults and only $25 on Thursdays. Special thanks to Allison for being a great host/guide and Julie for taking and letting me use some her great photos for today's post.

Hey, I’d love to read your comments below about a great powder day you might have had!


EllieJay said...

The snow there looks SO fluffy! What a hidden gem!

Anonymous said...

Jill: It was a pleasure having you as a guest (let's try to forget about that nasty little flu bug). Love your writing, and looking forward to another adventure! Allison

Mary said...

So happy to hear you had such a great time in Montana!!!!! Your photos are fantastic!

Anne said...

Makes me want to strap on some skis after many years....would love a small, uncrowded area I love Montana too!

MaryAnn said...

OK, now I AM jealous. But I haven't skied downhill in years-wondering if I should try again after reading your Blog Jill. We are off to the Methow in two weeks- to try late-season x-country. Hoping the snow lasts.

TC said...

Awesome post! Makes me feel like I'm there, instead of stuck in the city! Thanks for keeping the dream alive!

Anonymous said...

My favorite line: "I like to ski." Thanks for the great post.