Wild West Montana
A brief account of two weeks in the wilderness | Photos and words by guest blogger Kael Martin
After twelve feet of snow in twelve days at Mt. Baker, WA, the powder finally stopped falling and I got a call from Ben Gavelda asking if I wanted to head out on a tour of Montana. The timing couldn't have been better, and without hesitation, I accepted. We would be meeting up with Kyle Miller, Todd Kirby, Shane Stalling and Micah Hoogeveen – a group of individuals who have put a lot of effort into finding the best places Montana has to offer. I have spent a good amount of time in western Montana and keep finding myself wanting to be there more and more. With good company, amazing snow and even better terrain, it was an easy choice. We worked our way from west to east along the I-90 corridor, stopping first just outside of Missoula. Entering a sleepy spot with unlimited snowmobile access and no one else around, we found ourselves in paradise. Every time I get to Montana I feel like I find my new favorite zone. This trip was no exception.
Montana is not necessarily known for its pillows, but they are certainly out there. Above, Kyle Miller starts the trip off destroying a heavy stack.
It’s hard to find your new favorite place in the world and take off right away, but since we were doing a Montana tour I suppose it was necessary. Leaving Missoula, we headed east to Bozeman, which is home base for the crew. Getting some laundry done, working on the sleds and hitting the hot springs kept us going strong. From there we spent a day at Bridger Bowl and were greeted with six inches of new snow, sunny skies and no crowds. Being a group of six snowboarders, we attracted a lot of attention. Apparently that is a pretty uncommon thing at a skier-dominated resort.
Bridger lifts allow ridge access to a 180 degree bowl with spines, cliffs, and chutes waiting below. It is pretty unreal, and the views are okay too.
Following our day at Bridger, we got an early morning start and headed out to West Yellowstone to spend a night in a backcountry cabin maintained by the Forest Service. A short snowmobile ride gave us glimpses of the surrounding terrain and shredding opportunities... long wind lip waves, cliffs and pillow stacks galore. The following day we headed to a special place in a burn zone right off the highway in West Yellowstone. This was one of Aaron Robinson’s favorite places and it's clear why. A short hike gets you to one of the most amazing boulder fields. It is perfect for a day of party laps with your friends while reflecting. Now, one of ARob’s boards hangs at the top of the drop zone. It is a pretty powerful thing to be able to spend time remembering our good buddy while blasting pillows.
One of Aaron Robinson’s boards hangs in West Yellowstone and serves as a good place to remember our good friend. Shred in peace ARob.
To cap off our journey, we headed down to perhaps one of the most well-known zones in Montana – Cooke City. CC is a dead-end sort of place; once you unload your snowmobile, it will be the only transportation you'll need while you are there. It was pretty crazy being the only snowboarders out there amongst hundreds of snowmobilers. We were pretty sensitive to the avalanche danger, but many snowmobilers practice high marking regardless of avalanche conditions. Several times we moved zones because we were in potential avalanche runouts while snowmobilers were high marking. Then we saw one of the biggest human-triggered avalanches I have ever seen. A crown up to 15 feet deep and 1000 feet across. It was incredibly eerie and discomforting knowing that easily someone could have lost their life in it. Avalanche danger was mostly limited to wind-loaded areas like the one shown in the photo above, so we were still able to ride certain aspects and terrain, getting on some fun pillows and jumps. Cooke City is a place you could easily spend an entire season and still not find all the good spots.
Cooke City marked our final destination. We spent the following day traveling back to Bozeman observing endless wildlife and soaking in the Boiling River. Breaking up the group was pretty hard after two amazing weeks in Montana, but I know I will be back soon with plenty of adventures ahead.
Todd Kirby sends a laid out backie over a road gap.