Having enjoyed a nice Saturday and Sunday relaxing but not having gotten out for anything epic (I know, I know, a potential waste of a three-day weekend) upon awaking on Monday morning I looked at my phone to see a text message announcing the automatic weather station at Bridger Bowl (now closed for the season) was announcing 6+ inches of fresh snow and that the previous 36 hours had been below freezing. This is the stuff that spring skiing dreams are made of so three of us quickly compiled our gear and were in the car headed North about an hour later.
The road travels nearly all the way to the base of the mountains and in a typical year would be completely snow-free at this time of the season. But this has not been a typical season and there was over six inches of slushy white stuff all the way into the parking lot. In typical Bozeman fashion there were dozens of cars there and skiiers and snowboarders dotted the face of the mountains, seen through patches of fog. We sipped our last drops of coffee, donned our boots, boards, and skins, and headed upward. The base of the mountains was just high enough in elevation and temperatures just low enough that it was snowing on us (and fortunately not raining). The temps were enough and the activity of skinning is steamy enough that we opted to skin in our base layers rather than rain shells and although the base layers were getting wet it was much more comfortable than the sauna created by a rain jacket.
The skin track was well-defined as there have been people skiing up in these parts everyday since the resort closed in early April. The precipitation has been full-on for the past week and new snow has been hitting the mountains like a deluge. The new snow of this day was perfect however as it came during a low temperature period that reached way down low in elevation allowing for a beautiful, creamy layer of snow that was upwards of 18″ in depth up high. This was not without problems however as it was sitting atop a very defined layer of hard, crusty snow that had little to no adhesion to the dense, heavy stuff sitting atop it. Wet avalanche activity was very prominent.
We gained the top of the Bridger Range in good time and with lots of energy. The snow continued to fall and without much discussion we headed to a point slightly south along the crest called The Nose. It provides for great fall-line skiing that’s not so steep that the wet avalanches would limit our descent and that also is home to a good quantity of trees which help ease the deception of skiing in foggy conditions with no point of reference between the snow and the sky.
The first turns were made in only a few inches of fresh snow. Wind must have moved most of the freshies downward off the ridge and into the trees because after the first half dozen turns we quickly moved into calf-deep, heavy powder that was an absolute delight to ride. We played leap-frog, taking turns skiing and watching. We were riding in terrain that is in-bounds at a ski resort but given the resort closed almost two months ago this terrain is now considered avalanche-prone. Mason is a former ski patroller and Mike and I are avid backcountry skiiers and the propensity for a wet slide to push one of us down the hill gave us caution. We came to the choke at “Exit Chute” toward the bottom of The Nose and Mason opted to ski it very cautiously. Small slides were pushing off his skis as he made his way through the choke. I went next and opted to ski directly toward the chute and then away and left to a parallel chute. In doing so I pushed off a massive slide of avalanche debris that although moving very slowly would have taken a skiier for a ride. Mike, who was above me communicated the activity to me and I communicated it to Mason who was below. Everyone was safe as we knew where each other were located and were able to communicate effectively.
Mason shot a short video of our day’s trip.