Thursday, February 24, 2011

More thoughts...

One thing that we tried to do this trip that we haven’t done in the past is eat our meals at different places. In Bozeman we eat at our favorite places which I was more than ok with. Bozeman has some great little places and whenever we have gone we have stuck with the places that we know and love. In Bozeman we ate at the Pita Pit which is my favorite place in the whole world was on the top of the list, We ended up eating there 3 times total for the trip. I love that place, the pita sandwiches are just awesome and the place itself is a ton of fun. We also ate at the Montana Ale Works and MacKenzie River Pizza place. We discovered MacKenzie River 4 years ago when we were in Whitefish Montana. It is a great place and we enjoy going there.
While we were in Big Sky we decided that we weren’t going to eat our main meals at places we normally eat at. So we started asking the locals for places to eat and as usual the locals were on the money. Here is the list of places that we ate at. Both Melissa and I enjoyed the food at each place.

The Lotus Pad – Fusion Thai Food, really good.

Choppers Pub and Grub – A cool place down in the meadow area. We had a nice lunch there.

Cinnamon Lodge – Awesome spot outside of Big Sky on the way to West Yellowstone, gourmet Mexican food. We ate here on Valentine’s Day and had a great meal.

Bullwinkle’s West – A little bar in West Yellowstone with great burgers.

Wild West Pizza – West Yellowstone – Awesome pizza, a little pricey but well worth the money.

Bucks T4 – This is the place we stayed but the restaurant there is actually one of the best in Montana. We had a very nice light dinner there.

Lone Peak Brewing Company – An awesome little brew pub that is all locals. We had a blast there. They had great food and good beer.

Once again this trip was a little different than others we have had to Montana, since we could not ski a couple days we found other things to do and really had fun doing them. I will say I did miss skiing every day, but we filled our time wisely and did some really cool stuff and had some other great adventures. One thing that I really enjoyed was using the beacon parks in both Bozeman and at Big Sky / Moonlight Basin. Melissa and I bought and wore avalanche transceivers for this trip, we were planning on skiing a lot in the trees and also on the south face of Lone Mountain. We did a lot of tree skiing but didn’t make it to the south face sadly. But any way the beacon parks are a place you can practice your search and probing skills in a controlled environment. In both beacon parks they had a number of beacons buried and a control box to turn them on or off. Melissa and I took turns, turning a couple beacons on and then using our beacons in search mode to find the buried ones. Once we got close using our beacons we would probe for the beacon under the snow. The idea is to simulate searching for a buried victim. We both had a blast practicing searching and probing at the beacon parks. While we are in no way ready for backcountry skiing we learned a lot about searching with beacons and how that all works. We agreed that we it was a good skill to have and that it was fun to learn.

It is hard to be back. It is nice to see my friends at work but during the day my mind seems to drift to the quietness of the snow covered nooks and crannies of Lone Mountain. I miss being there.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Back - Recap...

I am back... Need I say more? I guess maybe. Our trip was awesome. I fell in love once again with the mountains of Montana and the peace, quiet and fun they bring to my life once a year. Wow that is hard for me to say, "Once a year" There isn't anyone on earth that loves a place more than I love the Bozeman/Big Sky area of Montana. I seriously love everything about it, the people, the smells, the towns, the views and just the vibe in that part of the country is just so much different than here. No one is in a real big hurry and you can tell that people in general just seem happier. No traffic, no pollution to speak of and mountains to look at in every direction. It is truly a peaceful place. And as I go out there more and more I begin to question more and more why we do not just move out there. This is a question that I go over in my head daily while we are on vacation out there and still question further on days when I sit in traffic for an hour and a half to go 18 miles. I guess fear of the unknown is at the top of the reasons. That and the fact that Melissa and I are very comfortable here. We both have good jobs and lead a pretty easy life. And also maybe it makes going there so much more special to us. For now Bozeman and Big Sky will just have to be a place that I enjoy once a year.

Now for the trip recap. We made it to Bozeman with no problems at all. We arrived a little after 1230 on Friday Feb 11th which is my birthday. It was great to spend my birthday in Bozeman eating at the Pita Pit and bumming around the town going into all of our favorite little shops. The weather was warm when we arrived, in the mid 40’s they hadn’t had any snow in a few days and the temps were pretty warm. So I was a little worried that the snow was going to take a bit of a beating. We talked to a few locals and they told us the conditions at Bridger were getting pretty bad and that unless we got some fresh snow that they would just skip skiing there and just ski in Big Sky because the temps haven’t been as warm to ruin the snow. Sadly we did not get any fresh snow while we were in Bozeman so we did not ski at Bridger. I was a little bummed because I wanted to ski there again but after going up there and just checking it out we heard a lot of skiers talking about the icy conditions. So we were glad that we made the decision not to ski. Instead we had a blast in Bozeman and actually went down to Big Sky for the day on Saturday to watch the annual Dummy Jump. That turned out to be just a ton of fun and we were so glad that we did that. People built these dummies to send off a big jump to watch them fly through the air and then get destroyed when they landed. It was a hoot.

Sunday morning, we left Bozeman for our week in Big Sky; we checked into our hotel and headed down to Moonlight Basin to ski for the day. When we arrived we discovered that none of the lifts were running due to extremely high winds. I guess they measured a 97mph gust on the top of Lone Mountain! We ended up hanging around in the cafĂ© area of the resort talking to people and enjoying the setting. After an hour or so we discovered that they were not going to open for the day because of the winds. BUMMER! What would have been our first ski day was cancelled due to wind. Oh well, nothing you can do about the weather. But during our time at the resort Melissa got talking to a lady that work at the Moonlight Spa and discovered that she was a massage therapist. So I offered to buy Melissa a massage with the lady for her Valentine’s Day present. She thought that was a great gift so we left the ski area and headed to the Spa to book her massage. The lady Melissa met had an opening that evening at 4pm so we booked it and planned for that. Now we had to find something to fill our time since skiing was out. We spoke with a couple of locals and they recommended a place to go for a hike. So we planned on that. We had lunch and then went to Ousel Falls. It was about a mile hike back to some really cool frozen falls. There were a bunch of ice climbers in the canyon by the falls so it was fun to watch them and just be outside in the really nice weather, it was sunny and the area was protected from the wind so it was nice. Even though we didn’t ski the day turned out to be a lot of fun. Melissa enjoyed her massage so that was good.

Monday we woke to windy conditions again, but I checked in with Big Sky and they were open, so skiing was on. We got ready and headed up to Big Sky and headed right to Swift Current lift with a plan on heading to the bowl, which we did. We made our first turns in the bowl at Big Sky. The snow was packed powder with a nice layer of windblown fluff on top so the turns were nice and soft and fairly easy. We learned that most of the snow had blown off the summit and that the run off the tram were very hard packed and icy. We decided not to venture up the tram and just stayed on our favorite runs. We were able to find good snow all over the mountain. It was so nice to be back at Big Sky, where the runs are long and the lift lines are short. We skied almost all day, we had a great Valentine’s Day skiing together and enjoying the awesome views from all over the mountain.

Tuesday we headed back to Big Sky and discovered that the conditions had gotten worse overnight, the wind had really taken a toll on the remaining snow on the runs. The few that we skied were hard and icy and frankly the conditions were horrid. We were bummed. We talked to a mountain host and he help us get a “Wind Check” with the high winds they were closing lifts and reopening them when the wind would seem to die down, it honestly wasn’t any fun skiing. So the “wind check” provided us with a free lift ticket for another day. Snow was in the forecast for Wednesday night so we were hopeful that things were going to change for the better. So we packed it in after just a couple hours skiing and decided to go down to West Yellowstone for the rest of the day and have lunch and bum around down there. It turned out to be the right decision. We had a very scenic drive from Big Sky down to W. Yell; I haven’t been down in that area since I was a little kid so it brought back a lot of memories when we arrived. The town was pretty quiet except for a few stores being open and a few snowmobiles running around. We went into Bud Lilly’s Fly shop while we were there and looked around at all of the cool fly fishing gear. I like to fly fish a lot. I am not very good at it but I have a lot of fun trying. I had a great time talking to the guy working at Bud’s and even asked for a recommendation for a place to have lunch. We made a call for us and sent us down to a little hole in the wall bar down the block that had great burgers. Melissa and I thought it was so cool he called! That would never happen here in the cities. I told him that we were thinking of coming back out in the summer and he told me to stop in and they would set me up with a few hot flies, a proper license and send me in the right direction to catch a fish. I got excited and am now counting the days till we go back this summer to Yellowstone. I told the guy that I just wanted to catch a fish, didn’t have to be a big fish, but just a fish. He said that would not be a problem. I bought a hat at the store and we headed to the little place he recommended for lunch. It was a cool little spot filled with a few local snowmobilers. We had fun sitting at the bar eating our lunch and listening to the other conversations. Even though the day started shaky with crappy skiing it turned out to be an awesome day spent at West Yellowstone.

Wednesday we woke to high winds again and Melissa and I decided not to bother with skiing which was a total bummer. We decided to head back down to West Yellowstone and spend some time doing a few things that were recommended to us. We got down there and went to the Grizzly and Wolf Center, it was cool, they had a couple huge Grizzly bears to watch in a habitat area and 2 separate areas for 2 small packs of wolves. I have never seen a grizzly that close or wolves for that matter so it was really a cool experience. We spent a couple hours watching the animals and looking at the other exhibits they had at the center. All in all worth the time there. We got a recommendation for a good pizza place in West Yellowstone to try so we found that and went there for lunch. And the best part, while we were there it started to snow! I could see outside from our table in the pizza place and it was snowing hard! Let’s hope that the snow had found its way 40 miles north to Big Sky. The pizza did turn out to be pretty dang good so we were glad that we went there. After lunch we bummed around a few open shops and then started back to our hotel. It snowed almost the whole way back to our hotel but about 5 miles from our hotel it stopped… NOOOO! When we got back to our hotel I could look out of our room window to the south and see the snow in the hills, it was a huge tease and not a good one either… Oh well, all of the weather forecasts were calling for some significant snow fall Wednesday night into Thursday so we were hopeful.

We woke up Thursday morning to 8-10 inches of fresh powder on the mountain! Finally fresh snow to play in. We got up, had a nice quick breakfast and headed up to Big Sky, today we had the Biggest Skiing in America ticket which meant that we could ski both Moonlight Basin and Big Sky on one ticket and what a day it turned out to be. All of that fresh powder and hardly any people. Melissa and I skied fresh tracks all day. We were the 10th chair of people up to the bowl so we skied a fresh line all the way down the bowl for the first time ever. It was so cool. It took us a few turns to get the powder rhythm going but once we did the turns were deep and effortless. The goal of a powder skier is to get snow deep enough that while you are going down the run you are getting hit in the face with snow. It is called a face-shot. Even though we were not getting face-shots, we were getting thigh shots, which was good enough for me. Feeling that soft snow hit me in the thighs was so amazing. We skied a few awesome runs at Big Sky and then made our way over to Moonlight Basin to do a few runs over there. We skied a few of our favorite runs at Moonlight, Powder River, Single Jack and Elk Horn. We also skied a few of the long green cruisers like Cinnabar and Lazy Jack. Moonlight was even less crowded then Big Sky so we had fresh tracks everywhere. It was awesome. After taking a break at Moonlight we decided to head back to Big Sky and have lunch and check out a tram lap, and do Liberty Bowl. We headed up the tram and discovered at the top the wind was blowing hard from the northwest. The mountain was protecting most of the resort from the wind so in most areas the wind was nice and clam. It was a very different story on the top. We decided to go for it, which turned out to be kind of a mistake. Liberty Bowl is the coolest run and it is the closest I come to feeling like a big mountain skier every time I have skied it, but this time I was a little nervous on it. There were a lot of bare spots and hard pack icy spots which makes for some interesting and scary skiing. Liberty Bowl is steep, huge and intimidating and the lack of snow in spots amplifies that by a lot. Even though we made it down, it took us a little longer then we wanted and we both agreed that was the scariest thing we had ever done. I was so bummed. I loved Liberty Bowl and I love to ski it. I have skied it 4 times before in other trips. It is huge, 3666 vertical feet worth of skiing and 6.5 miles back to the base area! But this trip the mountain just wasn’t showing us it’s good side. My goals of skiing a Marx or Lenin were shattered and it wasn’t going to happen on this trip… I was a little bummed and sort of felt disappointed. But I kept thinking about the amazing skiing that we had done and was excited for our last ski day on Friday.

Friday we packed the car since we were going to ski for about 5 hours and then start the long drive home. We arrived at the Big Sky parking lots at 930 and it started to snow basically right when we parked the car, it was kind of cool. It was like Big Sky was giving Melissa and me a good bye present. We used our “Wind Check” for our lift ticket and headed up. The snow was perfect. It was snowing steady and the flakes were nice and big. We skied a few of our favorite green runs on Andesite Mountain and they were all skiing well. Nice and soft. We moved quickly around the mountains getting in our favorite runs before packing it in and starting home. We skied a few new runs and headed over to the Shedhorn Lift which turned out to be a lot of fun over there. It was snowing steady the whole entire time we skied on Friday and our last run of vacation was down the 3 mile long green run Mr. K, it turned out to be one of the funniest runs of the trip. There was about 2 inches of soft snow on top of nice soft corduroy; the turns were amazing, so soft and effortless. I had a smile on my face the whole way down, as did Melissa, we got to the bottom and I looked at her and we both almost said at the same time how completely awesome that was. 3 miles of effortless skiing was worth all of the interesting things that we ran into on the trip so far. We were both very sad to leave and the walk back to the car was a long one. The drive home was fine, no issues at all. We talked and laughed the whole way home. We reflected on the trip and how much we both love it there.

While we ran into a few problems caused by the weather, the trip was awesome! We were bummed that a few of our plans didn’t happen due to conditions. We were a little bummed that we didn’t ski at Bridger Bowl and Red Lodge like we had planned, but were really glad that we stayed and skied Big Sky in the falling snow on Friday. Even with the problems we found some other fun things to do that we hadn’t done in past trips. I love Big Sky and I mean love it. Besides the few places here in Minnesota that I enjoying skiing, I don’t think I have any interest in skiing anywhere else but Montana. I just love it there; I love the people, and the vibe. It has everything that I want in a ski resort, no lift lines, good snow, fun runs, good places to eat and beautiful views. Home might be where the heart is, but my soul is on Lone Mountain…

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Love it

There is a quiet group in every mountain town. They move through life under the cover of snow, rock, forest and river. They know all of the best ski lines, climbing spots, trail runs and what the special beer is on tap each week at the local brew pub. They explore the backcountry under a veil of secrecy, keeping the private stashes private and sharing hard won experience only amongst themselves.

Back and ready to go

I am back, well pretty much. I have been under the weather since last Wednesday and have miss 4 total days of work taking care of myself and trying to get better before leaving for our vacation. Today is the first day in a week that I am starting to feel better. Finally! It sucks when you are sick and you have a vacation coming that you are so looking forward to. I think it prolongs the illness because all I thought about was getting better and I was worried that I would not be better in time. Hopefully I am on the mend.

My birthday is now 2 days away, wow 40! I am having a hard time with that one. It is hard to sit down and think where did all of that time go? For me I really don’t know. I have so many awesome memories from the past 40 years. It is really scary the things I can remember from when I was really little. I think some of earliest memories are from I am about 4 years old. I remember a lot of stuff from my childhood which I think is really good. Some old memories I have of my childhood are vivid. I like to sit back and remember those times when I was little and didn’t have a care in the world. Man, sometimes I really miss that. Life was so much easier then. So much easier. Now days, everything is fast and computerized. I am an IT guy and even I get sick of how everything is so digital and cold now. Sometimes it makes me sad. I miss my toys, my Legos, my little green army men, my Tonka trucks and my Star Wars action figures. Man I had a lot of fun with that stuff when I was little. I had some pretty epic battles with the little green army men on my living room floor growing up. Life was easy. Now it is about work, bills, making money. Life was better when it was about little green army men and riding bikes, or going outside to play baseball or ride your skateboard all day long. Sometimes I wish those days were still here. But they aren’t and life is still grand, it is just so much more complicated now.

Although I will say I am so excited to celebrate my birthday with my best friend in the whole world in my favorite place in the whole world. Melissa and I are going to have a great day on Friday. We are going to be hanging around Bozeman Montana. We love to browse all of the cool little shops in downtown Bozeman. I can’t wait to get out there. I love the little town of Bozeman it is such a cool place. I am can’t wait to have my birthday dinner at the Pita Pit! I might have my birthday lunch there as well. Love the Pita Pit! We are leaving Thursday at about 1230 or so, and hope to make it to Billings, it will be a long drive, but it will make Friday’s drive so much easier, and I really don’t want to spend the whole day driving on my birthday if I don’t have to.

Life is good, vacation is almost here. Plans are set; it is going to be good!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Confessions of a Jacket Junkie

I am a gear junkie. There I said it. But if you know me, you already knew that. But sadly it is true. I am also a steep and cheap junkie. Check it out here: it is both the greatest and the worse website all rolled up into one. It is the greatest for obvious reasons, item after item after item of things that I probably need and the worse because it is item after item after item of things that I truly don’t need, but hey at least I can admit my issue. So anyway I am writing this confessional because yesterday I received my 11th winter jacket in the mail. Yes, I have 11 winter coats. I have them because they all rule and I love them. I bought a Cloudveil (which I love) primaloft puffy coat and so far it is the best, well it is number 2 in my top 11 winter jacket ratings. I love Cloudveil gear and I mean love it! I love what the company stands for and I love the way their products are made. I know me and my new Cloudveil are going to have a lot of fun together. My favorite piece of winter outerwear is my Arc’Teryx gore-tex shell, I don’t think I could love a human baby as much I as I love that jacket. Seriously, every time I put that thing on I have tears of happiness in my eyes. It is a beautiful piece of gear. It is unbelievably bomb proof; it has a Recco reflector on it, good venting, a good amount of pockets, and just loves you back unconditionally by keeping me dry and confortable. Let me say that Gore-Tex is seriously the best invention since the all you can eat pizza buffet and the powder ski, now those two items are in no order because I could most likely write a dissertation about why each one of those things could be the best invention ever. But anyway I love winter clothes, especially jackets, they are my favorite. This is why I long for the endless winter. Now that I have that off my chest I feel a lot better. I sort of promised Melissa no more jackets… *sigh* I am starting to sweat and I think I am having heart palpations.

After much conversion between Melissa and I, and also after getting the opinions of sales people at REI and at Backcountry we bought avalanche beacons yesterday. Melissa and I are starting to ride steeper lines; lines that are in the low 30 degree range and also some slackcountry stuff. After a few inbound slides this year and a few deaths of skiers caused by tree wells, I brought it up and we thought it was worth money for the extra piece of safety gear. I have been researching avy beacons for a while trying to learn everything I could about them and after much thought I decided on the Backcountry Access Tracker DTS. I bought 2 of them yesterday, they will be here by Thursday, so just in time for us to practice with them out in the back yard to get familiar with how they work and also with our early arrival into Bozeman will give us time to practice at the new beacon park in Bozeman and again at the BCA beacon park at Moonlight Basin on Sunday. So we should have a few hours of practice under our belts before we ski the steeper lines at Big Sky and the Dakota Territory zone. Maybe it is silly since we are not going to be doing any hardcore backcountry skiing, but hey safety is a good idea and people have died inbounds due to avalanches and tree wells.

I am hitting the gym pretty hard and I am really enjoying it. I have a pretty good weight lifting routine that I have been doing. I think it is working. I went up 10-15lbs in all of my exercises yesterday. Today is my rest day, I am think I might go and do some cardio stuff, but I have to get my oil changed after work and then home to make dinner so I might just relax tonight.