This weekend Beat came out to visit me in Montana. On Friday night we headed out for a "quick" mountain bike ride to try out brand-new super-high-beam headlights (possible review to come, if I have time, but not in this post.) Compared to my former usage of various combinations of low-end headlamps, these lights made night-riding seem as natural and easy as riding during the day, although they do remove some of the mystery and excitement of riding with limited visibility. It was one of those situations where we frittered away an entire evening and didn't even go out until after 10:30 at night. I said "OK, we'll ride 10 miles," which turned into the whole Kim Williams trail, which was passively extended to the Deer Creek Sneak, which the lead to necessary singletrack explorations on the Sam Braxton Trail, and before we knew it we had a two-and-a-half hour, ~25-mile ride ending at 1 a.m. This seems to be an early sign that Beat and I make a uniquely dangerous combination — alone, I usually talk myself out of my own unreasonable ideas. But when someone else comes along and adds a voice convincing enough to make these ideas appear reasonable, there's really nothing to stop the cycle of sleep deprivation, outlandish endeavors, and taking already overreaching steps just one step farther.
Anyway, that's why we overslept on Saturday and headed up to Kalispell later than hoped. My friend Dave recently moved to these northern climes, and we met up in the late morning with the express purpose of searching for snow. None of us thought we'd find much. I even left my snowboard at home, because I decided that I didn't want to ride it through bushes and rocks. We headed up to Big Mountain ski resort in Whitefish, and discovered a few fresh inches right at the base.
A couple thousand feet higher, there were dozens of inches of fresh heavy powder, and stunning views to go with it. Was I disappointed that I left my snowboard at home? A little, but the truth is I don't really care. I relish the climbing more anyway, and I actually really enjoy trying to run down 30-degree slopes of bottomless powder, possibly more than I enjoy carving clunky turns on my board. Last winter I was all about learning how to ski (with only limited success.) This winter I have more ambitious athletic goals, but I do plan to work toward becoming more avy-savvy, and also to continue to boost my beginner mountaineer skills by hiking/running snowy mountains.
It was a beautiful October day at Big Mountain, with intermittent fog and glaring sun, and lots of skiers, jump-building snowboarders and not a small number of snowshoers. It really warms my heart to see so many people out enjoying the early-season snow on snowshoes. When I was younger, cultural obsessions with gear and technical skills essentially drove me away from winter sports and all of the beauty and rewards outdoor winter travel has to offer. I fall into a rare group that really just wants to be outside, without the pressure of shredding mad pow with truck-fulls of shiny expensive gear. Snowshoes open up a much wider world to people with limited skills and resources. Of course, you can argue that winter cycling is just as, if not more, gear-intensive as skiing. That may be true, but I think we all find our niche, and I'm no longer ashamed to face the all-encompassing ski culture that surrounds me and declare my love of snowshoeing, even as nearly all of my friends complain that it's boring and slow.
Beat had also never tried snowshoeing before ... or really any winter sport to much extent. (Beat: "I grew up in Switzerland and never skied." Me: "I grew up in Utah and never skied!" Aw, so much in common.) He found snowshoeing to be marginally fun when marching up steep inclines through knee-deep powder off trail, but not tolerable on the boot-packed trail. He eventually took them off and ran full-speed downhill, carrying the snowshoes like lunch trays in both hands.
Dave, on the other had, looked like he was having a fantastic time on skis. Here he is, apparently posing for a Patagonia ad circa 1992.
Here's my imaginary ad pose. Deuter backpacks: Go-to gear for the extreme snowshoer. (Oh yeah, I forgot that snowshoeing is supposed to be super lame. Oh well. The dangling fleece jacket would preclude use of this photo as a product placement anyway.)
There Dave goes again, ripping it up on skis, making the rest of us look bad.
The real reason for heading up north was Danni's annual Halloween extravaganza. At the bottom of my enormously overstuffed list of duties was finding a Halloween costume, and I hadn't completed it yet as of Friday night. While Dave and his wife, Meredith, came up with brilliant adaptations of characters from the Rollergirl movie "Whip It," I could only dig up a pair of mega-short shorts, cut up a T-shirt, pull on a couple of wrist sweatbands and call myself an "'80s jogger." I talked Beat into wearing his Google kit (Ha ha, I'm a runner and he's a cyclist, get it? No? Oh well.) Beat couldn't quite settle for that lame excuse for a couple's costume, so he donned a blaze orange cap and explained to everyone that he was a "Trail scout for Google Maps, trying to blend in with the Montana hunting community." Then, people would look inquisitively at me, waiting for my extensive story. "Um, I'm a jogger," I'd say, and then bend my elbows and knees in a jogging pose. They'd politely nod and look away, waiting for the conversation to return to Danni's "Sexy Ewok" costume.
Snow, costumes and candy. Could you really ask for a better holiday?