6:45, AM, wake up off a dirt road in the back of my old trusty 2006 Subaru Forester. She's got some problems, but we've been through a lot. I gathered myself together and rolled down toward town to grab some much needed coffee and breakfast before heading up to the top of the pass.
The pass is an ever climbing and winding grade up the side of steep crumbling mountains. Bits and pieces of rock came down into the road somewhat frequently as a reminder of the mountains slow decay.
As I turned and climbed, turned and climbed I was greeted by a distant glimpse at a chute off in the distance, it seemed as though the road might meander just close enough to get a good look at it, which it eventually did. A gorgeous pitch of summer snow laid down the mountain side nearly to a pull off on the switchbacks. From this point I could see small moguls and tracks which confirmed that it was in fact getting skied, and somewhat recently. I wanted to ride it, I hoped I would, but I tucked that thought away and continued up toward the ski area.
It was a quiet morning when I got my first look at the ski area. A short but fairly steep face with two poma lifts for access. As I hadn't been sure how the crowds might look I was one of the first cars in the lot. Next to me was a man already lounged in his chair, beer in hand next to his dog. I went and purchased a ticket for the day and set up my own chair next to him while we put on our boots and prepared for the day over some morning suds.
I wasn't entirely sure if my early arrival would leave me sliding crustier surfaces until the sun baked it. This wasn't the case as it had been very warm the days before. The runs go by quick but lie on terrain that is more than enough to keep the people hyped. Throughout the day I talked to and skied with various characters from first timers there like myself, to the veterans of veterans. One thing that was very clear from the start, everyone was there for the same reason, and everyone was stoked.
Throughout the day I ran into multiple people that were looking to do a lap on rock creek chutes(The lovely slice of snow I was admiring earlier that day) By the near of close we had a decent crew assembled or at least of interested parties. While taking a break the weather rolled in and rolled in fast. It looked dark and potentially bleak as we discussed it's impact on our plans for the chute.
It wasn't long before we felt rain, and saw lighting. The winds picked up, and the rain turned to hail. The kind of hail that blows sideways and pelts the poor souls caught out in it. A few people hung around hoping the weather would pass and the skiing would go on. A van pulled up next to us with friendly faces offering us a much improved shelter from the storm.
The storm did in fact blow over. The skies dried up, the clouds cruised away, and the golden sun leaked backed into our lives. All systems were a go. We jumped in our vehicles and drove down the pass to stash vehicles for the lap. The spot from which you hike to the chute is a small parking lot at the Wyoming/Montana state line. A grassy tundra littered with rocks stretches into the blue sky. We grabbed our gear and headed off. The landscape in this area reminded me of some of hiking in New Zealand. My thoughts occasionally bounced to The Lord Of The Rings which was fitting because one member of the group was a dog named Frodo. The hike itself was more of a steady walk with one hill to climb over at the mid point. In 20 minutes or so we were at the edge, each choosing our lines.
According to the regulars, the snow was fairly low this season. Even though the pass had just opened, many spots were burning out. We dropped 3 different chutes between the group, one of which had a small section of rock to cross midway down. I went with the larger group down the main chute. Back from the edge it looked like the end of the world. A patch of snow that dropped to oblivion with mountains and the winding road as a back drop. The cornice on this chute was small and entry was easy. We were off. Within the first few turns an overwhelming feeling of pure child like joy came over me and most of the group it seemed. Skiing in summer feels pretty good regardless, but a legit line with good coverage takes it to another level.
The snow was fantastic until we got nearly to the level of the parking lot. At that point it became more of a bobsled track littered with the occasional rock or two. As the days rolled on this sections would get increasingly spicy. The snow petered out parallel to the parking area with a short walk and boulder scramble as our last push to the lot. We sat down and soaked it all in over a few beers and bowls, reflecting on a great day of shredding. The weather was on point as were the vibes.
This was something that would repeat over the next few days. Camping with new friends on the dirt road not far down from the pass, waking up early and hiking some lines, hitting the ski area, hiking some lines, dinner in town, rinse repeat. There is also a brand new skatepark in Red Lodge if you're into that. I dabbled in it a little bit but mostly kept it to the snow. That said if you like skating Montana has some pretty fun parks and keeps building more. I checked out 9 on this road trip, 7 of which I'd never been to.
After 7 years of trying to make it to Beartooth Basin I finally succeeded. I met several amazing people, got some awesome June turns in, and had one hell of a time. If I can swing it this will be a yearly pilgrimage from here on out for me. If you know you know. If you've never been, don't sleep on this place! The sun is hot, the beers are cold, and the vibes are insane!
As much as I wanted to stay longer I said goodbye to the pass, drove around and through Yellowstone, hit a few skateparks, and continued onward toward hood for the summer. Until next year...