Posts from October 2010

Bohart Ranch Opens to Skiing!
Posted October 28, 2010

Bohart Ranch near Bozeman, Montana reported they have received 16 inches of snow in the last three days. Trails have been rolled and are open to season pass holders only. Their projected regular opening date for the season is December 3, 2010.

New North American Avalanche Danger Scale
Posted October 26, 2010

Regular readers know that I post ski conditions for Montana as part of my weekly blog. Since backcountry skiing is an important part of the cross country ski scene in Montana I include a general report on backcountry ski conditions each week. In every one of the Montana Ski Reports I caution readers about the possible avalanche danger and provide links to some of the avalanche forecast and reporting agencies. This year there is a new Avalanche Danger Scale.

The new system takes into account more factors than the previous system and standardizes the avalanche danger across both Canada and the United States. Backcountry users should be able to quickly determine the likelihood of an avalanche, it's potential size and distribution and get important backcountry travel advice. The graphic below provides most of the pertinent info but there is a little more detail HERE.

Many backcountry users stick to low elevation trails and think the avalanche danger does not apply. All it takes though is for the trail you are skiing on to cross or approach and area with certain dangerous slope and aspect conditions and you are at risk. Here is one example

The photo shows the east side of Flattop Mountain above Marias Pass on the Continental Divide just south of Glacier National Park. It is an area frequented by backcountry skiers and snowshoers and is readily accessible from the parking area at the pass. Usually the avalanche danger there is low but certain weather conditions can increase the risk significantly. If a large enough avalanche began from this area it could impact skiers on an unplowed road in the forest well below the summit.

If you are planning to do any skiing or snowshoeing away from groomed areas you should pay attention to the avalanche danger. Reports are posted at regular intervals by several agencies and links to these are provided on the Montana Ski Report page.

Snow is Falling!
The good news this week is that the mountains of Montana are getting snow. I saw one photo from near Big Sky that indicated to me that some skiing is to be found right now. The mountains along the Northern Rocky Mountain Front and in Glacier National Park are not quite ready for skiing but with a little more snow I'll soon be out there searching.

Only 123 Days 'til the Birkie!

How Long Until Winter? Do the Bears Know?
Posted October 19, 2010

The weather is always a good guessing game. It amazes me how different each winter can be.

Last year by this time we had temperatures well below freezing and the mountains were already pretty white. Not so this year. It did get to 26 F the other day but that was our first good frost. Fall seems to be lingering along this year. Forecasts for this week include 70 degree sunny days and no chance of precipitation.

Oh well, it provides more time to finish the fall chores, organize the ski gear and plan for a good winter. One challenge I always have is to get into or stay in skiing shape until the transition to winter is complete.

I was working on some fitness exercises the other day. As part of my routine, I was ski walking along the lake near my house. At the southwest end of the lake, near the FWP Campground there, I came across the tracks of something else that was out getting their exercise.

Looks like two grizzly bears had been out and about -- probably searching for berries or other delectable treat before heading into the mountains and preparing their winter den. Hmm, I wonder if the bears know how long fall will last? They seem to be well out onto the plains right now. These bears passed within a few hundred yards of my house. So I'm betting we have at least a few more weeks before our first good winter storm.

BTW, seeing those tracks that close to home definitely put a little extra giddyup into the exercise routine!

Only 131 Days 'til the Birkie!

Summer is for Relaxation?
Posted October 12, 2010

Nikolai Anikin, coach of the former Soviet Union Cross Country Ski Team once told me, "Summer is for relaxation and winter is for sport."

His idea of sport was training hard and racing even harder in the various cross country skiing venues of the World Cup and Olympics. His philosophy allowed him to win gold and bronze medals at the Sun Valley Olympics and take the Soviet Union to glory his later years.

Nikolai's definition of relaxation though, was quite different than what one might expect. In summer he put away his skis but still practised a very active outdoor life style.

I've tried to copy some of his relaxation drills myself. The "drills" I like most involve backpacking and mountaineering. This past week summer seemed to hang on in Montana, so I took a little hike to the Chinese Wall.

Now don't confuse this with the Great Wall of China. The Chinese Wall in Montana is a 12 mile long, 1,000 foot high natural escarpment extending from White River Pass to Larch Hill Pass deep in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The Bob, as it's often called, is the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states and the Chinese Wall is way in there.


Sphinx Mountain rises above the south part of the Chinese Wall and Silvertip Mountain is way off in the
distance in this July view from Red Butte.

To reach the "Wall" though, all you have to do is walk and be prepared to spend a little time. There are several approach routes but two are my favorite. I either hike to the Wall from the Benchmark trailhead or start at the Headquarters Pass trailhead. The first alternative requires a hike of about 21 miles while the second is a little longer at 28 miles. A third alternative is to hike in from one trailhead, go past the north half of the Wall and exit at the other trailhead. Doesn't matter how you do it, you'll find the views worth the effort.


The north end of the Chinese Wall as seen from near Larch Hill Pass.

To make sure I was fully relaxed this summer I made three trips to the Wall. The first, in July, was to the south end of the Wall. That trip provided great views and tons of wildflowers. The second trip was in September to the north end of the Wall. Finally this past week I visited the middle of the Wall at the Cliff Mountain Saddle.


The middle of the Wall from the Cliff Mountain Saddle.

The weather on my last trip was not as cooperative as I might have liked but I still had a good time. There were plenty of grizzly tracks on the muddy trails and a little rain and fog let me practise my staying dry" routines.


Left: I'm ready to hit the trail for a six day adventure.
Right: My Lake in late September when the larches are in full color. By the way, it's My Lake, not my lake. Ha! Ha!

In any case. I think I've gotten enough summer relaxation for now, at least of the multiple day variety. My backpacking gear is going into storage for the winter. I'll be getting my cross country gear ready to go real soon. Snow flurries are in the forecast this weekend for the mountains.

Only 137 Days 'til the Birkie!

Welcome Back for the Seventh Year of
Ralph's Blog
(formerly Ralph's Nordic Web)!
Posted October 4, 2010

I can't believe this will be my seventh season of Ralph's Blog. While there is still some summer/fall type fun still to be had in Montana, I'm definitely looking forward to another great winter of skiing fun.

The spring and summer of 2010 has been unusual. Wet, cool and occasionally white. More snow fell in April and May than we had in January through March. In summer we only had one string of more than three dry days. And by the end of August there had been several mountain whitening snows.

Here a couple of photos from Labor Day weekend.

We hiked up to Gunsight Pass in Glacier National Park. Just before reaching the high pass the snow came in a blizzard! The ground turned white and even the mountain goats looked like they wanted to get in the little shelter cabin there. That Labor Day weekend snow was the third snow of summer 2010.

Fall has come and along with it we've had some nice warm dry days. Time to get out in the mountains for a few more summits and a little more backpacking. I'll keep you posted on my trips as they unfold.

What will this winter bring? Well, it's pretty hard to predict. But here are some of my goals for 2010/2011.

The Birkie! After skiing 31 consecutive American Birkebeiner ski races it will be pretty tough to not give it another go. I'm looking forward to the big race as well as my annual visit to the Midwest. That will hopefully include some of LaNora's world class cuisine and a bunch of camaraderie with her, Steve, Juliane, Kyle and all my other Midwest friends.

Skiing! That goes without saying I suppose. I want to ski and improve my skiing. I also want to visit some new Montana ski areas along with visits to old haunts.

Camaraderie! This one should be on top of the list. The camaraderie of friends and the joy of time out on the snow with them is the main reason I ski.

I also hope to bring all of you a look at Montana's winter!

So stay tuned. I will be posting on a regular basis, usually once a week. You can check back often to see the latest from my Montana Winter. Or, better yet, subscribe to the RSS Feed and be automatically notified each time Ralph's Blog is updated.

Now, since winter hasn't come to Montana just yet I'd like to share with you a few pics of some of my summer of fun.


In July I coordinated a climb of Goat Haunt Mountain for the Glacier Mountaineering Society. Here's the group on the summit with a sea of high peaks in Glacier National Park as a backdrop.


On top of White Crow Mountain in Glacier National Park.


A little Nordic walking on top of Bear Mountain in Glacier National Park.


Photographing the sunrise scenery from the summit of Ear Mountain in August.

Only 145 Days 'til the Birkie!

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