05 December 2009

Cross Country Skiing: first tracks of the year

Butte, Montana, is blessed with two excellent areas for cross country skiing (and virtually unlimited backcountry/Telemark terrain). Usually, we have good skiing by the time hunting season ends (Thanksgiving weekend). This is an El NiƱo year, however, which means we're off to a slow start.

I prefer skiing at The Moulton on National Forest land just a few miles north of my home in Walkerville. Butte/Walkerville are in the upper end of the Clark Fork River valley, which tends to be drier than the upper Big Hole River valley just over the Continental Divide. So I bit the bullet and made the "long drive" (about 30 miles) to the so-called Mt Haggin ski area on Game Range managed by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. I say "so-called" because although you can see Mt Haggin from the ski area:

it's miles away and on the other side of the Divide. Much closer is the landmark Sugarloaf Mountain:

It was a delightful afternoon. The windless, bright sunny skies made it feel much warmer than the air temperature of 8 def F--a Green Wax day for those of you that share an appreciation for classic skiing. The ski club has not yet gotten around to grooming the trails, but there is only about a foot of snow and others had set tracks a day or so earlier. The trails are laid out very wide and with a generally gentle grade (ideal for skate skiing), but if you do want to rest the great view give you a good excuse to do so:

Note the many dead and dying lodgepole pine trees. The dominant species in this area, adult lodgepoles are being killed by a decade-long outbreak of pine beetles. The beetle epidemic is fostered by global warming (historically we experienced temperatures below -30 deg F which limited the beetle population), the even-aged stands caused by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company clearcutting the region c. 1900 to provide fuel for its smelter and cribbing for its mines, and by the very nature of the lodgepole pine species--a short-lived species very susceptible to bugs and  fire. Yes, fire--this area is ripe for massive fires that could easily consume tens of thousands of acres (not to worry--the trees will grow back and the ecosystem will recover, as it did after the nearby Yellowstone National Park fires of 1988).

Well, back to skiing. Speaking of which, this was 13-month old MollyTheDog's first ski outing. I fully expected her to be a wild & crazy maniac--biting at the skis, cutting in front of me on steep downhills, and otherwise earning her nickname (DamnItMolly!). Instead, she went about this as if she'd been doing it all her life. Who'd a thunk it?


walk2write said...

Glad I decided to visit your site when I saw your comment on Troutbirder's. I've never been fortunate enough to visit your great state, so I'm going to enjoy visiting it with you as you roam. My husband went to geology field camp in Red Lodge back in the late 70s, and he still talks about how much he enjoyed the experience. I hope we can make a trip out there and at least hike a bit before we're too old and decrepit.

Janie said...

How nice to have groomed cross country ski trails (sometimes). We don't have any established trails, but in a good snow year we have an area near our house that's just right for a 2 hour run if we break trail ourselves. So far, though, we have no snow. Some predicted for the next week. We'll see.
Nice that MTD has taken to the ski trails with aplomb. Daisy loves to accompany us in the snow.

secret agent woman said...

Wait, what? You taught your dog to ski?

EcoRover said...

Secret Agent Woman, thanks for that keen sense of humor. I'm gonna go open a bottle of wine...

ramblingwoods said...

Much better viewing than where we used to cross country ski here near Buffalo..I had to laugh..we have a cat named 'damn it Ollie' ...lol..