Lookout Pass, Montana/Idaho - April 8th, 2006

With Lost Trail shutting down its lifts on April 2nd, we were forced to look elsewhere to get Ty some end of the season lift-served skiing. Ski Discovery over near Anaconda, MT was our next thought, but we found out that they had closed down the same weekend as Lost Trail. I'd also thought of Maverick Mountain, which is over toward Dillon, MT. I took a peek at Maverick's website, but not too surprisingly, they had closed down in the last weekend in March, even before Lost Trail. For some reason I hadn't immediately thought of Lookout Pass before the other two, but Lookout was running their lifts until April 9th, and they were an obvious choice. From our place in Hamilton, the drive times to Lookout and Discovery are both about two hours, but since Lookout is located right on Interstate 90, the trip feels a little more convenient. I've always gotten a kick out of the fact that, due to Lookout's position right on the state line, its interstate exit number is "zero". We've stopped at the Lookout Pass base area many times on trips to and from Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, but we'd never actually skied there. Back in December 2001 when we went to see the latest Warren Miller movie (Cold Fusion) in Coeur D'Alene, ID, we'd even received two free day passes to ski at Lookout. Unfortunately, we just never got around to using the Lookout day passes because we had season's passes at Lost Trail, which was much closer to us. We'd almost skied Lookout on that same Coeur D'Alene trip when Silver Mountain (where we had initially planned to ski) was closed due to high winds. But, we ended up heading in the other direction and skiing Schweitzer instead. However, as the 05'-06' ski season drew to a close, it looked like the planets had finally aligned for a ski trip to Lookout. We were hoping it would be our chance to officially check out yet another of Montana's cool little ski areas.

The combination of Lookout's location, orientation, and lift setup supposedly make the area resistant to wind closures even when big storms come through, so the ski area can remain open on almost any storm day. Although our December 2001 trip is the only experience we have with trying to ski in the Idaho Panhandle during a storm, this trend held true. Silver Mountain was closed, but Lookout managed to stay open despite the strong winds. According to my friend Jon, who's actually skied in the Lookout backcountry, the pass also provides some very nice terrain outside the ski area itself. I'd wanted to ski Lookout for quite some time, mostly because I'd been intrigued by a place with a base elevation of only 4,500 feet that somehow reels in an average of 400 inches of snow annually. At times, the snowpack can grow to over 200 inches (such as 225 inches in the 2001-2002 season) at Lookout's summit, which is at only 5,650 feet. That's a summit elevation almost 1,500' below Lost Trail's main base area! Yet somehow, even with their low elevation, they get dumped on. Like Lost Trail, Lookout is also in the Bitterroot Range, but you'd never find Lookout-style accumulations of snow at an elevation of 5,650 feet in the Lost Trail area. In some parts of the Bitterroot Range, you'd be hard pressed to find ANY substantial snowpack at that elevation through an entire winter. From several years of casually observing the snowfall of Montana's ski areas while we lived there, I think that Lookout is the snowiest of them all. Lookout Pass seems to have some of that northwest magic found in places like Snoqualmie Pass, where geography and weather patterns come together to produce a lot of snow at elevations that are relatively low for the region. It's also interesting that unlike some of the lower-elevation ski areas in the Northwest that are closer to the coast, Lookout is known for its dry powder snow. Obviously something happens between the time a typical storm comes in off the Washington coast, drops snow on the Cascades, and then moves on toward the interior.

Unfortunately, in the case of our visit to Lookout, dry powder snow didn't really seem to be an option that Mother Nature was going to provide. It was getting on toward mid April anyway, so catching champagne powder at such a low elevation in the Northwest is probably a tricky proposition - even when you're talking about a place like Lookout Pass. The forecast called for a high of around 40 degrees F at Lookout's elevation, and increasing rain throughout the day. There was a very good chance we could be skiing in pouring rain by Saturday afternoon. It certainly wasn't the typical day we would have chosen to try out a new ski area, but our main goal was to get Ty out for his weekly skiing. Regardless of the conditions, we'd be able to ski lift-served terrain that would suit his abilities.

Like Lost Trail, Lookout is another one of the Western Montana ski areas that straddles the Montana/Idaho border, so both states sort of lay claim to it. And, although getting to Lookout required a longer drive for us than our usual trips to Lost Trail, in a way we had time on our side. The area happens to be right on the line separating the Mountain and Pacific Time zones, and since Lookout's schedule runs on Pacific time, we get an extra hour in the morning as we come over from Montana. The lifts run from 8:30 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Pacific time, so visitors coming over from Montana don't have to get there until 9:30 A.M. if they want to catch the opening of the lifts, and they get to ski until 5:00 P.M. as far as they're concerned. I'm not actually sure which state (Idaho or Montana) provides Lookout most of its skier visits, but if I had to guess, I'd say it's Idaho. Apparently the business side of the ski area is considered to be part of Idaho, because you pay Idaho sales tax on purchases (whereas Lost Trail is considered part of Montana and you pay no sales tax). Lookout seems to get grouped together with Silver Mountain as part of the ski areas of the Silver Valley of Idaho. The main city in the Silver Valley is Kellogg (where Silver Mountain is located), and then there are smaller towns like Wallace etc. These towns are all within 20 minutes of Lookout, and then about an hour or so out, you've got bigger cities like the Coeur D'Alene/Spokane megalopolis. On the Montana side, the closest large city is Missoula, about an hour or so distant from the pass. While plenty of Missoula and Bitterroot skiers visit Lookout, I still get the impression that more skiers come from Idaho.

There were already a few spits of rain on the windshield as we ascended I-90 toward Lookout Pass, but we were still hoping that the heavy stuff would hold off as long as possible. Fortunately up at the pass there was even some blue sky visible, so we figured we had a good shot at getting in some relatively dry runs. It was around 10:00 A.M. PST (11:00 A.M. MST) when we pulled into the parking lot and examined the layout of the area. I'd looked at the slopes from the base before, but I'd never been there with the actual intent of skiing so I hadn't looked at them with quite that frame of reference. The front side of Lookout is known as the "Idaho Side" as it is physically located in that state. That terrain is serviced by one fixed grip double chairlift, which is one of those lifts with the pole in the middle of each chair. Substantial clearing of trees has been done on the main face of the ski area's Idaho side, creating a very open-slope feel. The steepest runs on this slope are Idaho Face and Montana Face, which run down the middle of the slope near the lift line. I'm guessing there are spots in there that top out at pitches in the range of 30 degrees. There's also a rope tow for beginners on the front side of the mountain, although we never ended up visiting that area.

Our first order of business before buying tickets was to confirm that we'd be able to ski around with Dylan in the child carrier like we usually did at Lost Trail, and the woman at the ticket counter assured me that it was no problem. So, we bought two adult tickets, which were reasonably priced like Lost Trail in the $20-$30 range. E brought the boys into the lodge and watched them while I shuttled over the skis and gear, and then I joined them at a table upstairs. The lodge at Lookout Pass is actually quite old; the original section of the base lodge is the second oldest ski lodge in the Northwest after the Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood. I'm not sure exactly what year Lookout's base lodge was built, but skiing appears to have started there in the mid 1930s. At the time of our visit however, the lodge had recently been renovated so everything inside was very new. The downstairs area had some nice looking wooden ski lockers that appeared to be part of the renovation. In fact, it seemed that some renovations were still going on in the lodge, because one of the stairwells was roped off. We spent most of our time on the second floor of the lodge, where we found a pleasant day use area that we shared with a few other families.

Once we were ready to ski, we headed out to the lift on the Idaho side. I rode up with Dylan, who occupied the seat next to me in his carrier. The center pole style chair took a bit or getting used to while working with the child carrier, but I eventually figured out a method that made for easy loading, riding, and unloading. E commented that the center pole also interfered with her usual method for loading Ty, but fortunately the height and speed of the chair were such that he was basically able to load himself onto it (with perhaps a little assistance from the friendly lift operator). That was a very big deal for him. We got off at the top, headed to the right, and took the beginner trail called Huckleberry Ridge, which wraps around that side of the Idaho terrain. The snow was beautiful corn, so we had fun carving it up, and Ty really took to the trail quickly. Before long we were playing games of follow the leader and having a great time. The rain wasn't much of a problem, as it was still just occasionally spitting at that point. Along the skier's left of Huckleberry Ridge, which marks part of the ski area's boundary, I noticed a couple of very interesting features. Large areas of trees had been clear cut outside the boundary. The cleared areas were probably 50 to 60 feet wide, and they almost looked like they could be some of Lookout's ski trails - except that there was nothing even resembling them on the trail map. Also, they were very clearly roped off and marked with yellow signs that read "SKI AREA BOUNDARY - CLOSED AREA - DO NOT SKI BEYOND THIS SIGN". I wasn't sure if the cleared areas were associated with logging, or future utility corridors or what, but they certainly looked appealing from a skier's perspective. The terrain in one of the cuts rolled over steeply and disappeared out of sight, presumably heading toward the valley far below. I had no idea how far down that cut actually went, but it could have been 1,000 vertical feet as far as I knew. There was no way of telling what sort of potential avalanche hazard existed beyond my vision, but the terrain certainly was intriguing. The second clear cut I saw had much more of its terrain visible, and didn't seem like it would be steep enough to slide. If I'd been a Lookout Pass local, that terrain would have certainly been on my hit list. Seeing the cleared slopes made me think about tales of the Lookout Pass backcountry that I'd heard from Jon, and I wondered if these areas were part of what people skied. It would be over a year before I actually knew what was going on there, but eventually everything would become clear.

Once we got to the bottom of the Idaho side and queued up at the lift again, the lift operator was already having fun with us as if we skied there every day. The fact that there was hardly anyone on the mountain, and that the four of us comprised the entire lift queue whenever we approached the lift, probably helped in this regard. There were probably a couple dozen cars in the parking lot, and there were certainly people around on the mountain, but they must have been spread out because we rarely saw anyone on the trails. It was certainly a cloudy day, and rain was in the forecast, but I'm not sure how many more people would have been there even if the day was perfect. I get the impression that Lookout Pass sees even less skiers than Lost Trail Powder Mountain, which is saying a lot.

While some of my Lookout Pass impressions come from my own observations of the area and discussions with friends who have skied there, most of them come from an interesting fellow, Philip Gregory Marsh, Ph.D. Dr. Marsh is a big fan of Lookout Pass, and skis there often. He lives down in the valley in the town of Silverton, ID, just outside Wallace, which is an interesting area in its own right. For anyone that has traveled along that part of I-90 (The "Silver Valley"), you'll know that as you drop down from Lookout Pass heading west into Idaho, the interstate passes through a narrow valley where you'll come across unique-sounding places like "Compressor District", "Morning District", and "Golconda District". I'm not entirely sure what the basis behind these "districts" is, but they do have obvious exits on the interstate, exits with absolutely NO services. It looks like few if any people live in these areas, so I've always thought of them like the leftover chunks of land called "Gores" or "Grants" that we have in Vermont. However, in Idaho they are probably related to the mining in the area. Not long after you pass through these obscure districts, you'll reach the town of Wallace, which is steeped in mining history because it, and its sister city Kellogg, reside smack in the middle of the richest silver deposit in the world. I've always felt that Wallace got a bit of a short straw in terms of the interstate, because I-90 literally runs right OVER the town. Perhaps there was just too little room in the narrow valley to put the interstate anywhere else, but now it sits there, blasting through the little town with cars racing along the upper stories of historic-looking buildings. On that note, if anyone has seen the movie "Dante's Peak", you've seen a bit of the Wallace area because some of the scenes were shot there. There's not actually a volcano there however, that was added digitally. Another 10 miles or so past Wallace, you'll finally reach Kellogg, where you'll find the other ski area of the Silver Valley, aptly named Silver Mountain.

Dr. Marsh came to the Silver Valley for a change in lifestyle, which you can read about on his website. He seems to be involved in monitoring the economic development of the Silver Valley on his website, and is very happy there so he also seems like a good ambassador for the area. I would never have known any of this except that for years, every time I would look up information about Lookout Pass on the web, his website would come up. He keeps a log of the snow reports for Lookout Pass (as well as some data on Silver Mountain) and gives short web updates every time he skis, so checking out his site was always a useful way to see the latest trends in snowfall. His website is also a great place to check out the snowfall history for the area from the past several seasons. Reading his daily updates from the ski area, it seemed that more often than not (especially weekdays of course) he would find just a handful of people with him at the ski area, so these comments along with the nice job he does of snowfall tracking, have given me some of my impressions of Lookout Pass. It was nice to finally be there in person to put some more context into what I'd read on his website, and I couldn't wait to explore more of the mountain as we prepared for another run.

We got back to Lookout's summit, and since Ty had easily handled the Huckleberry Ridge trail on our first run, we stepped up the pitch a bit for the second run. We tried out Black Bear, an intermediate run right next to Huckleberry Ridge that takes a steeper line. We coupled this trail with some similar terrain in the "Gold" and "Silver" trail areas below, and had another good run. Unsure of when the boys would get hungry, we decided to stay on the front side of the mountain until lunch, so we ventured over to the other side of the face and tried out some terrain in the area of the Bonanza trail. That side of the Idaho face (skier's right) has been cut to have a more open feel, so you can easily explore a lot of different pitches. The farther toward the center of the face you go, the steeper it gets, and we all had a good time checking out the area. I helped Ty find a couple of jumps in that region, and there was also a larger one set up near the bottom of the face on which you could do quarter pipe-style maneuvers. It was only a couple of feet high or so, but Ty was a little intimidated by it for some reason. I had Dylan on my back and didn't want to get too crazy with air, so I showed Ty that you could do a jump as small as you wanted simply by deciding how high on the wall you went.

We decided to head into the lodge for lunch after that run, and we were happy to find out that there was still plenty of table space. Even thought it hadn't been raining too hard up to that point, we still needed to hang up our ski clothes and give them some drying time. The Gore Tex was doing its job and keeping us dry on the inside for the most part, but the exterior surfaces of our outerwear were dripping wet. The lodge had plenty of hooks available for drying gear, which is always a nice touch. It was also pleasantly warm in the lodge, which I noticed because that isn't always the case at the Lost Trail lodge unless you're near their huge central fireplace. If Lost Trail ever remodels their base lodge like Lookout did, hopefully they'll make some improvements in insulation and the heating systems. For lunch we'd brought tomato soup in a thermos, as well as a bunch of other stuff that made quite a meal. The boys explored around that area of the lodge a bit while we ate, and played with some of the kids from other families. We took our time in the lodge as our clothes were drying, but eventually we had to motivate and get moving or we might miss the chance to ski the back side before heavier rain came in.

We returned to the summit after lunch, and headed for the back (or Montana) side of the mountain. We chose to ski Rainbow Ridge, an intermediate trail that wraps around the skier's right of the back side. There aren't actually any beginner trails on the back of the mountain, but Rainbow Ridge looked to be the easiest option and a good one for starting off the afternoon. Rainbow Ridge has that classic look of many of the trails I've seen at the smaller ski areas of Western and Southwestern Montana; it slices through what looks like a monoculture of evergreens. The trees are actually fairly small, maybe six or so inches in diameter on average, and the spacing is fairly tight, with just a few feet between trees. However, since the trees have no lower branches and there is often minimal underbrush or ground clutter, there's a lot of fun tree skiing to be had on low to moderate angled slopes. We enjoyed popping into the trees at times and making a few turns, and although the snow surface certainly didn't have the character you'd expect to find during mid winter, it was consistent and clean enough to make for enjoyable skiing. The character of these forests with the densely-packed, smaller evergreens presumably comes from a combination of wildfires, logging, and other environmental factors, but some of the local ski areas do have sections with larger, more widely-spaced trees that may have avoided these processes.

Rainbow Ridge wrapped around the skier's right of the area's backside terrain, and eventually dropped us at the mountain's backside lift, which is a fixed grip double chair like the one on the front side. In tune with the lift operator on the front side, the back side operator was very cheerful and made us feel like we were one of the few special guests at the mountain for the day (which we sort of were anyway). He was really helpful with regard to loading the boys on the lift and provided lots of personal attention. I guess you can get a lot of attention when not only is there nobody else in the lift queue, there isn't even anyone else in sight. The steepest terrain on the back side of the mountain is also directly under the lift line, with a couple of advanced trails called Sun Dance (directly under the lift) and Whitetail (to the skier's right of Sun Dance). You'd never know it from the trail map, but there was a lot of interesting terrain between these two trails. I was especially intrigued by a long gully that emerged from the trees between the two trails. As I cruised above it on the lift, I vowed to check it out later in the afternoon if I got the chance. E said that because the unloading area of the backside lift was rather low to the ground, Ty was able to unload by himself. Lookout's lifts were certainly making a good impression on Ty.

For our next run we moved one trail to the skier's left of Rainbow Ridge and tried out Cloud 9, which looked to be the next step up in steepness. There are actually only five marked runs in total on the back side of the mountain (three intermediate runs and two advanced), and it basically looks as though they gradually increase in pitch as you move from skier's right to left. Cloud 9 was certainly a step up in steepness from Rainbow Ridge, and there were some pitches on Cloud 9 that were getting a bit "blackish" in difficulty. Ty took the trail pretty slowly, and had to rest more often, so we knew he was approaching the end of his day. However, he still had some legs left in him, and on the more moderate pitches of the trail I recall that he would ski with his arms out, pretending that he was flying like an airplane. We found that the snow was still in good shape everywhere we went on the groomed or more popular trails, but once we were done with that run we decided it was time to head to the front side for a final descent. It was better to be on the front side BEFORE Ty's energy reserves and good disposition were depleted.

We'd sort of been stepping up the pitch of the runs throughout the day, so for our final descent together, we figured we'd give Montana Face a shot. It's probably one of the steepest "marked" runs that we saw, but the steep stuff (the area with pitches in the range of roughly 30 degrees or so) only lasts for probably 100-200 vertical feet. I'm sure that area is a blast on a typical powder day. The snow that we actually encountered in the Montana Face area was a little trickier than anything else we'd encountered that day, because up to that point we'd really just dealt with groomed runs. Therefore, the snow was further away from corn and a bit mushier and stickier. Some skier traffic in the area had helped to at least partially settle it down though. With the combination of snow and pitch, I actually had to focus on making good steady turns with Dylan on my back, so it wasn't surprising that Ty had some difficulty. I'm not sure if he could have tackled the slope more easily earlier on when he was in the prime of his day, but he had some episodes where he'd freeze up and be unable to commit to a turn because of the snow consistency and pitch. Fortunately the steep section was not too long, so we were able to get him down it with a combination of taking it slow and eventually traversing out into more moderate terrain on the skier's right. We finished off the run and Ty certainly seemed to be done for the day, so we all headed into the lodge.

We still had some time before the lifts closed, and since E was OK with hanging out with the boys in the lodge for a bit, I decided to explore the mountain for a couple of runs by myself. The rain had gradually been increasing in intensity throughout the afternoon, and by the time I headed back out to the slopes I encountered a cold, steady rain. Most people were heading into the lodge at that point so the mountain was even more deserted than before. My plan was to head to the back side of the mountain and check out that cool gully I'd seen from the lift, so as soon as I got off the front side lift I headed straight down the back side lift line. It wasn't long before I realized that I was going to be in for quite an experience... although not a really enjoyable one. The run under the lift (Sun Dance) had not been groomed, nor had it seen much in the way of skier traffic aside from a few random tracks. The snow surface was a different world from anything I'd encountered up to that point in the day. It was far from corn, but not too far from sludge. I couldn't believe how difficult it was to ski, and I was really thankful for the grooming that had allowed us to have such a fun day. I really had to pick my way down that slope, and while I still had that gully on my mind, by the time I got to it all I could do was traverse into its lower section and sample it a bit because aggressive skiing there was just not going to happen. The snow was so tough to turn in that it felt like I'd just be begging for an end of the day injury. I did pass a couple of Lookout Pass ski patrollers on my way down the trail that seemed to be having difficulty with the snow as well, so that assuaged my frustration a bit. Once I'd reached the lift, I knew there was no need to try out anything like that again, even if I'd had more time to explore. I'll have to try to get back and explore that gully under more appropriate conditions (like powder of course).

The rain continued to pour down as I rode the lift back to the summit, and it was plentiful enough that I even had trouble getting photos without raindrops spotting up my camera filter. E and the boys called me on the radio and asked where I was, and I let them know that I was riding the lift and would soon come back down the front side to finish off my day. I was sitting there lamenting the fact we hadn't had the chance to experience Lookout on a powder day, and half enjoying the rain because of the way my Gore Tex was so nicely keeping me dry, when something interesting happened. I was about 200 vertical feet from the summit when the rain suddenly changed to snow. It was really cool to be among winter again, and I radioed down to E and the boys and let them know that it was snowing up higher on the mountain. I paused for a few moments at the summit to enjoy the snowfall, and then took off in the direction of the Huckleberry Ridge trail. After battling the sludge on Sun Dance, I was looking for some nicely groomed terrain where I could enjoy some smooth carves. I ended up heading down one of the intermediate trails like Gold, getting to some of the open terrain in the middle of the mountain and skiing out to the lodge to meet up with E and the boys.

Based on the few times we'd stopped in at Lookout Pass, and the comments of friends that had skied there, the ski experience was very much what I'd expected. What I did find surprising about Lookout was how extremely similar it was to Lost Trail. Many of the small ski areas of Western Montana have a somewhat similar feel, but the high degree of similarity between Lookout and Lost Trail is simply uncanny. Perhaps it's because both areas are in the Bitterroot Range on the Idaho/Montana border, but the main mountain areas really seem to have similar vegetation, terrain, lifts, acreage, facilities, attitude, etc. If it weren't for Lost Trail's Chair 3 and 4 expansion area, the two areas would seem like clones of each other. Both mountains have expanded beyond their initial main lift to add a second one off the side or back with slightly more vertical. In Lookout's case, the additional was the chairlift on the Montana side of the mountain, known as the Timber Wolf Double, which upped the mountain's vertical drop to 1,150 feet. I'd still consider that chair a rather recent addition since it only opened on December 26, 2003. But Lookout hasn't added anything like Lost Trail's latest expansion that tripled or quadrupled the ski area's acreage a few seasons back. Lookout does continue to expand however. The mysterious out of bounds "trails" that I had noticed on our first run of the day are apparently part of a new terrain pod that is going in. The terrain will head down toward I-90 off the Huckleberry Ridge trail, with a new third lift dropping from the summit like the other two, but running a bit perpendicular to their orientation (see the proposed lift and trails on the map below). The new lift is yet another double, called the North Star, and is supposed to be completed for the upcoming 2007-2008 season to provide access to three new expert and three new intermediate runs. The North Star looks to provide a similar vertical drop to what the Timber Wolf provides, and when all three lifts are in place it looks like they will slice the mountain into roughly thirds. The new terrain at Lookout isn't nearly on the scale of what Lost Trail added with its Chair 4 expansion, but Lookout seems be surrounded by much narrower valleys and may have space constraints that Lost Trail doesn't. Regardless of exactly how much new terrain will be added with the North Star, I'm sure visitors will be happy with the new lift because it should spread people out even more at what already appears to be a sparsely-populated ski area.

We once again enjoyed the relatively warm lodge as we changed into drier clothes and packed up the gear from the wet day. Although I don't recall it raining extremely hard when we finally got ready to leave, I loaded the car and warmed it up so the others could stay out of the precipitation. It was definitely one of those days where you really appreciate the chance to sit in a nice warm car after skiing. As we headed east on I-90 toward Missoula and dropped in elevation from the pass, the precipitation gradually dissipated. That effect was totally consistent with the way Lookout's weather usually compared to what the valley saw farther west. Once we'd reached Missoula, there were actually patches of blue sky around and the rain was a distant memory. I was able to get some pictures of the north-facing trails of the proposed Bitterroot Resort, which still held visible snow even though it was well into April. Even though I doubt the snow was deep enough to be comfortably skiable, I was a bit surprised at how much white I could see on the trails. I've found that with only about 40 inches of snowfall a season, and relatively warm temperatures, the lowest couple thousand feet of the Bitterroot Valley (elevations of ~3,200' to ~5,500') rarely maintain much snowpack. But, the fact that I could still see all that white in April certainly revealed the power of north-facing slopes. I'd say I'm a little less skeptical now about the potential resort's ability to maintain skiable terrain all the way to the valley with the aid of snowmaking. The relatively low humidity and typically cool nights should allow them to make snow as long as they've got the water. A bit farther west of the trails, I could see the Lolo Peak area. Lolo Peak is the crown of the resort at 9,139 feet, and it turns out it's the northernmost 9,000 footer in the Bitterroot Range. It can be tough to see the actual peak from Missoula because another peak (point 8,694) is more prominent when you look from the north. Whatever difficulties there might be in maintaining snow at the lower elevations, they won't have to worry about the snowpack up there throughout the season.

We actually didn't head home to Hamilton that evening, because we had planned to combine another mini vacation with our Lookout Pass ski day. We'd decided to break up the drive and stay overnight at the Wingate Inn in Missoula. The Wingate has an indoor water park that is included in the price of your stay, so even local folks sometimes come to stay overnight to spend some time at the water park and experience a change of pace. We had heard about the water park from our friends Dave and Maureen, and finally had the chance to check it out with the boys. Ty was pretty excited about the water slides although he wasn't quite willing to go down them alone. So, he went down with either E or I and had a lot of fun. Even Dylan got to go down the slides, and seemed to have fun when he wasn't simply stunned by the whole experience.

The next day we headed home to Hamilton, having finally visited a couple of places that had been on our list for quite a while. As we passed through the Lolo area and were able to look at the lower, east-facing slopes of the proposed Bitterroot Resort, we realized the north-facing slopes we'd seen from Missoula weren't quite representative of what was really going on with the snowpack. From the east, you could see that in reality, most of the lowest-elevation terrain was completely bereft of snow. I still think the resort might be able to permit skiing to the base of the area with the aid of snowmaking, but they'll really have to pump it out in accordance with how long they want to keep skiing to the base. Unfortunately, Lookout Pass stopped running its lifts for the season after that Sunday, so it was time to broaden our search and figure out where Ty was going to ski the following weekend...