Anyone driving to a ski area must be good at driving in winter conditions. It goes with the territory and I consider myself a pretty good winter driver. Even so things don't always go according to plan.
I left home on a breezy morning well before sunrise to get in a day of skiing at the Izaak Walton Inn. This is a two hour drive under normal conditions but in winter I usually allow a little more time. A nice snow cover blanketed the prairies. The breeze was picking up the snow and skittering it along the ground. In a few places drifts had formed that extended out onto the road surface. The state highway department plows were keeping those pretty much in check though.
When about 30 minutes north of my home the wind began to increase. The drifts were reforming across the road within minutes after the plow had passed. The drifts were still pretty small and I kept driving.
The road began a series of curves winding through some hills. With the snow blowing around I slowed to around 40 mph. Visibility was good for a few more minutes.
As I came around a corner I was smacked with very high winds and blowing snow. Visibility dropped substantially. I took my foot of the gas and coasted while following the white stripe on the edge of the pavement and the line of reflectors off to the right.
After a few more seconds the pavement disappeared under the blowing snow and only one reflector was visible. Once I passed that reflector I saw nothing but white out of the windshield. My pick-up continued to coast and slowed some.
Another reflector appeared in the white out and I aimed to the left of it thinking it was the next one in line after the one I had just passed. I was wrong! The road made a little jog to the right and the reflector that I thought was next in line was actually on the left side of the road. On most Montana roads there are no reflectors on the left but this one was the exception to the rule.
Just as that little white reflector passed my passenger side window I realized my error. The truck coasted right off the road and into the borrow pit burying itself in about 2-3 feet of snow.
All I could see in front of me was snow blowing horizontally onto my windshield. Looking out to the left I saw the snow was piled up against my door. As the rig came to a stop it leaned quite a bit to the left down the slope into the borrow pit.
I engaged the low 4 wheel drive. Very fortunately I was able to back up the truck a foot or so. I began the back and forth rocking motion I usually use to get unstuck. The truck moved forward and back a few feet. It began to slip sideways further into the pit though and if I turned the wheel any the truck wouldn't move.
Keeping the front wheels straight I rolled forward and back extending the distance I could cover with each move. More slippage occurred but it was the rear end that was moving left. That helped aim the truck back toward the road. A few more attempts at backing and going forward, all the time throwing rocks, grass and snow from the tires, and I was able to make progress toward the road.
A second reflector on the wrong side of the road threatened to tear off my side view mirror but I missed it. The front wheels bit the gravel at the edge of the road and pulled the truck back onto the pavement. It was right then that I prayed no vehicles would be coming from either direction.
Getting back on the road where I belonged I continued on my way. The white out continued in full force so I searched for a safe place to turn around. Having accomplished that maneuver I headed back home planning to ski some other day.