A Trip Through the Big Hole Valley to Lost Trail Powder Mountain Ski Area, Montana
*This blog written by guest writer, Mike Barrett*
Driving through the Big Hole Valley to Wisdom, Montana you will truly understand where the moniker “Big Sky Country” comes from, absolutely beautiful!
We arrived in Wisdom, Montana at about 5 p.m. and wondered where everyone was. After driving and skiing for several days in a row, including earlier in the day @ Maverick Mountain, we were in no shape to travel any further so a room in Wisdom desperately needed to be procured.
There are 2 hotels and 1 bed & breakfast in Wisdom itself so we tried The Pioneer Mountain Lodge first, and there was no one home, so we traveled the short distance to The Nez Perce Motel and once again no one was there; what to do? We decided that the best place to get anything done in a town like this was at the bar, so off to the bar we go.
In The Crossing we spoke to the owner, Diane, and told her of our plight. She responded by calling the owners of the hotels but to no avail. She then had the idea to call one of their daughter-in-laws and got through, so she hands the phone to me and the conversation goes…
“What can I do for you?”…
“Well, we need a room”…
“When do you need it?”…
“Well we’re at the bar having a beer so maybe in a half hour or so”…
“Funny I’m at the bar having a beer too, just the one across the street” (The Antler)….
“Sounds great, see you soon” … and that is how to get a room in Wisdom.
We ended up at the Nez Perce and the room, although it was nothing special, was comfortable and warm. We went back to The Crossing for dinner and more beverages. The food was surprisingly good and the place had quite a few more patrons when we returned, it was a Saturday night after all.
After dinner we journeyed all the way across the street to The Antler for more beverages and to see what goes on in Wisdom on a Saturday night in February…not much…but it was cozy and friendly. The short stroll back to our room in the crisp star filled night air was very enjoyable.
The next morning we awoke to clear skies and crisp temps…perfect for skiing! The lobby of the hotel was deserted with a fresh pot of coffee and a note telling us that the owners had gone to breakfast, so just help ourselves to coffee and leave the key on the desk.
We gathered our gear and journeyed through The Big Hole toward Chief Joseph Pass. The scenery is just amazing! We passed The Big Hole National Battlefield (which doesn’t open until 10 a.m. during the winter) and Chief Joseph Recreational area where there are tons of x-country ski and snowmobile trails.
After cresting the pass we descended toward Lost Trail Powder Mountain with an incredible view of the terrain we would enjoy for the day. We navigated the HUGE snowbanks into the dirt parking lot which was much more happening than Maverick was the day before. It was a sunny Sunday morning and the area had received 27″ of snow during the week so some people were to be expected.
Lost Trail, similar to Maverick, is closed Mon – Wed with some lifts only open on Sat & Sun. This is the kind of place where most folks seem to gather their gear and head inside the lodge to boot up and leave their packs, boot bags or lunch unattended without any worries whatsoever…very homey feeling. A day lift ticket runs $37 and once again we received the half day rate of $32 because of our Whitefish Mountain Resort passes.
What you can see from the parking lot only encompasses a very small portion of what is available to ski. I will definitely admit that the area has a quirky layout but the rewards for figuring it out far outweigh the negatives. The main area, accessed by the double chair right in front of the lodge, is punctuated by The North and South Faces but the cruising just over the ridge down the Idaho side (yes, the ski area straddles the state line) is top notch. The steep north facing chutes to the skier’s left of the North Face are not to be taken lightly even if they are quite short. After you have enjoyed the “old” ski area it’s time to make your way over to the Saddle Mtn lift, this is not as simple as it sounds.
There are several little sub ridges and a lift (lift #5) that seems to go nowhere, but actually gives access to some sweet short glade skiing which will break up the excruciatingly long flat traverse to the Saddle Mtn lift. It is during this traverse and while skiing on this side of the mountain that you will discover that the trail map is nearly useless. There are so many trails that are not on the map that it makes navigation tricky, add in all the little sub ridges and “holes” and the area skis much larger than it appears on paper. Once you get over to the Saddle Mtn lift it becomes much more straight forward.
The lift is long, it is slow and it takes you to some of the best terrain on the mountain. The mid-station allows you to enjoy the long, long cruisers while staying on ’til the top takes you to the steep open faces that seem much steeper and longer once you are on them. The perfectly spaced second growth trees down the remainder of the run go on and on and on and on. Once you are off the steep upper pitch the terrain flattens a bit but the rolling terrain just never seems to stop. The breadth of this terrain combined with the lack of skiers means that the powder almost never gets completely tracked out.
Unfortunately, the only way to return to the base lodge is to take one of two rope tows and although this isn’t a deal breaker it isn’t good for your gloves, either.
Back at the base lodge the fire was roasting and the beers were flowing lending an old-time feel to the scene. All in all, we had an extremely good time at Lost Trail Powder Mountain and we’ll be back soon.