Most of us only dream about spending an entire season chasing our favorite outdoor pursuit, leaving it to a few hearty souls to make a life out of the sport they love. You’ve seen them before, the unshaven guy sleeping in the back of his truck up at the resort parking lot, the young woman washing her hair in the ranger station bathroom, or that bumper-sticker plastered van loaded down with snowboards or skis you’ve passed hundreds of times on your way up some Pacific Northwest pass. It takes a certain level of dedication to become a full-fledged mountain freak; to learn the secrets of comfortable, fulfilling, mountain living; to gain the privileged knowledge of a select few whose commitment has earned them a life pass into the hidden depths of an ever-evolving mountain culture. For the rest of us, we have our choices: stand back and watch or jump in-skis, board and passion first.
Winter Rights of Passage. Many of us are drawn to the mountains for the solitude and satisfaction of grappling one-on-one with nature. Yet there is something about the great, frozen outdoors-the vast open space and sky, the high, indifferent peaks and dark forest wildness perhaps-that moves us to seek community shared with like-minded companions. Such gatherings may be secretive, strange, even a bit clique-y. Others are a simple mouse click or page turn away in your favorite outdoor rag or web site. Assuredly, wherever people and mountains collide, a wild, creative spirit is lurking near the surface.
We Don’t Need No Stinking Lifts. What do you do when you can’t wait for the official resort opening date? Or the season ends before the snow stops calling? You break out the rock skis and hoof your way up the hill, that’s what. Most serious skiers own a pair or two of old skis, known as rock skis, for hitting the first and last few precious inches of snow. Ron King, an avid pre- and post-season skier had already skied up at Mt. Spokane three times by the middle of November this year. “I just love skiing so much,” King explains, “and if you’re not too lazy, the first snow can be pretty decent.” This lift-less tradition includes a few potential hazards: hidden rocks, stumps, holes and other obstructions. But a shot at a few happy turns while most people are at home raking or mowing their lawns is something to think about.
Two Chances to Puke Your Guts Out at 49 Degrees North. The annual Epic Adventures sponsored Hill Climb race, which is in its sixteenth year, was once known as the “Puke Your Guts Out” race. The rules are simple. Participants gear up with the tools of their choice-skis and skins or board and snowshoes-for a race to the top and back down to a mob of thirsty spectators. Several classes for men and women keep it competitive. “It’s an excellent time, a real communal event,” said Epic’s Jon Wilmot, who’s been coordinating the climb for the past four years. “The beauty is that somebody usually pushes it so hard that they crash at the finish. We’ve had some great photo finishes like that,” adds Wilmot. Beer, awards, and cash prizes await winnersand participants of this 2,000 foot climb set for Saturday, March 3. Visit http://www.ski49n.com for more information.
Another 49 Degrees North tradition is the Bavarian Race, which got its start as an unofficial, ski hill drinking game. The toned down version of the original event begins with teams of four drawn at random from the pool of racers. “They start at the lodge deck where everyone is given a glass of beer, and each team can’t leave the table until fellow members have finished their drinks,” explains Rick Brown with 49 Degrees North. Next, racers have to put on all of their gear and ski clothes, ride up the lift, and race back down through a slalom course before waiting until every team member is back at the table. Then it’s one more round of beer, which tops off the race. “It’s a really fun event that people come from all over the state to be a part of,” adds Brown.
Sacrifices to the Ski Gods, Naked Racing and Other Ways to Hurt Yourself. Just about anywhere snow meets the mountains, anxious skiers and boarders gather each year to give thanks to whatever god or gods grace the Earth with snow. Several regional ski hills host such events, which typically include a large bonfire fit for sacrificing old ski gear. Jon Wilmot, a past participant of Big Mountain’s locals-only version, describes the sacrifice scene near Whitefish, MT: “There’s a stage with live music, bonfire, kegs, people jumping bikes, packs of dogs running around-it’s a good time.”
Up north of the border, there are several traditions worth a look-see, that is if you don’t mind some blood, guts and a little nakedness. You’ll find the potential for broken bones, blood and a lot of guts at the Jeldness Cup Luge race the Rossland Radicals Luge Club puts on. The race, which is on snow rather than ice, is part of the Rossland, B.C. Winter Carnival held each January. “It’s quite psycho,” admits Mitchell Scott, co-Editor and Publisher of Kootenay Mountain Culture. The event does include luge lessons for beginners, however. For more information visit http://www.rossland.com/Events/Carnival.html.
Whitewater Resort out of Nelson is where you’ll see some skin if you’re up on the mountain for “First Chair,” an unspoken tradition where the first person up the lift each year must ride back down beneath the lift with nothing on. According to Mitchell Scott, who has witnessed a First Chair run or two, Nelson area free skier Moss Patterson got the honors a couple of years ago and made quite a spectacle of himself. “When he came down he was wearing nothing but a sombrero. He got some big air and did a spread eagle ball grab right under the chair.”
An Off-Piste Tradition. Preferring the out-of-bounds ski life to what some perceive as an over-groomed family feel at the locallodge and lift lines, backcountry skiers and boarders aren’t exactly known for overly social behavior. As one anonymous backcountry junkie put it, “backcountry skiers are notoriouslyindividualistic, so they don’t lend themselves well to clubs. They are, perhaps, a bit like Iraqi insurgents-shifting alliances of shadowy figures with illdefined loyalties.” Occasionally though, they band together for a few days of fun and festivities at events like the Kootenay Cold SmokePowder Festival set for the Nelson, B.C areaFebruary 23-25. The festival bills itself as “a grass-roots gathering of skiers and snowboarderscelebrating the deep, untouched snow onlyfound in the backcountry.” Heavyhitters Mountain Gear and Arc’teryx are working with backcountry skier Nils Larsen to make it anational affair, including clinics, demos, exhibitors, competitions, and socialsall weekend. For more informationvisit http://www.mountaingear.com/coldsmoke.
Hidden Huts and Outlaw Hideouts. Outlaw huts-these quirky, rustic shacks often resemble homeless encampments more than alpine chalets. In true outlaw spirit, these highly secretive, typically illegal shelters are excellent places for those in-the-know to escape the winter elements, toss back a cold one, or warm up the lungs next to the oft-included wood stove. They come in all shapes and sizes, from sauna-sized hovels to 30 – 40 foot cabin structures hacked out of the woods. And while they’re free and unofficially open to the public-at least to anyone who can find them and make friends with the locals-you shouldn’t expect a Best Illegal Huts of the Inland Northwest to be published anytime soon, thank god.
One such shelter in the Colville National Forest was known to some throughout its brief life as the “Visquane Villa.” The popular gathering place was cobbled together by backcountry skiers way back in the lawless 90s, before such secret places began appearing in the pages of major ski magazines. One anonymous Villa frequenter recalled its construction fondly: “It was a simple A-frame with 3-4″ poles, tarps and plastic sheeting. Eventually, canvas was added along with a wooden floor consisting of pallets with plywood laid over top and two bunks that slept four, although three was better.” Unfortunately, like many of the hidden huts that never met the approval of various land management agencies, commercial resorts, and their insurance providers, the Villa was recently dismantled at the public’s expense.
Other outlaw huts reportedly pop up from time to time anywhere skiers and snowboarders congregate, and, apparently, are burned down or hauled off by the local authorities as soon as the impact becomes too obvious or the word reaches the resort cafeteria lunch line. So, if you’re one of the few who cherishes the rustic splendor of your own hidden hut, a word of advice: Shhhhhh.
Disclaimer: While some of us at OTM might think the DIY, outlaw hut thing is a really neat idea (in theory), we do not endorse, condone, or encourage such illegal activity-especially when the construction includes green-tree logging and other sketchy environmental consequences and/or we can’t find the damn things for our own personal use and enjoyment.
Public Huts and Yurts: For those that prefer to play by the rules, there are a number of legal winter warming options scattered about the Inland Northwest. Close to home, several day-use, on-mountain shelters are open to the public at local resorts-check web sites or call your favorite resort for details on how to find them. Honorable mentions go to Mt. Spokane for the Vista House at the top of Chair 1 (http://www.mtspokane.com) and 49 Degrees North’s new warming yurt at the Nordic trail system parking area (http://www.ski49n.com/nordic.asp).
Overnight backcountry hut and yurt rentals within a days drive are too numerous to cover here, so we included a few web sites with all the info you’ll need to plan a trip this winter:
Alpine Club of Canada’s British Columbia Huts & Lodges: http://www.alpineclubofcanada.ca/facility/info.html
North Cascades Rendezvous Huts: http://www.methow.com or 1-800-257-2452.
If you want the scoop on local mountain culture you’ll need to look further than the national glossy mags such as Outside, Backcountry, and Powder. These rags are great but they fall short on the local scene. Here are five pubs guaranteed to jumpstart your season.
Kootenay Mountain Culture is a beautifully put together bi-annual pub from Nelson, BC that focuses like a laser on mountain lifestyle. “Mountain culture didn’t have a voice,” says editor Mitchell Scott describing the impetus for launching the magazine five years ago. Along with lush printing, great photos, and extended recreation features in KMC you’ll find content on mountain history and the environment.
“I’m very interested in the relationship between people and mountains,” says Scott. “We want to look at what’s happening in the transition from resource economy to tourism economy.” Did he mention getting major freestyle-air? They cover that too. You can pick KMC up from time to time at local gear shops, or subscribe and order back issues online at http://www.kmcmag.com.
If you don’t know what the term Off-Piste means you ought to pick up a copy and see why the magazine of the same names describes itself as “The Backcountry Adventure Journal.” Founder David Waag started the magazine eight years ago because “I couldn’t find what I wanted in other backcountry magazines.”
Off-Piste is a great read for anyone interesting in backcountry skiing, telemark and touring. “You are not going to see people hucking themselves off cliffs,” says Waag of the publication that comes out four times a season between October and March. While Off-Piste covers the world in its goal to “capture the spirit of backcountry skiing” there’s often great info about the Inland Northwest. Like KMC, you can pick up Off-Piste from time to time at local gear shops, or subscribe and order back issues online at
Sandpoint Magazine is published twice a year by Keokee Co. Publishing and is a great resource for mountain culture in the Lake Pend Oreille area. The latest issue has articles on Schweitzer Ski Patrol and Selkirk Snowcatting. “It’s a lifestyle and recreation magazine about Sandpoint,” say publisher Chris Bessler. “We are trying to make it for both tourists and locals.” If the Winter 2007 issue is any indication they’re doing a good job. You can pick up a free copy at the visitor information centers in Spokane, Post Falls and Coeur d’ Alene or go to http://www.sandpointonline.com. Keokee also publishes books including local recreation guides.
Even though it’s very Colorado-centric we would be lame if we didn’t mention the venerable Mountain Gazette in a mountain culture pub round up. The mags motto is “When in doubt, go higher.” The Mountain Gazette is literary with a capital “L”, but without a hint of stuffiness. Think Edward Abbey and Hunter S. Thompson. The Gazette features writers like Charles Bowden and last year’s OTM Outdoor Writing contest winner Ana Maria Spagna-as well as poetry in every issue. Always entertaining, the Mountain Gazette can be found at Mountain Goat Outfitters and Mountain Gear or at
North Columbia Monthly may not have the wider regional reach of the some of the previously mentioned titles, but it’s a must for anyone out and about in the Chewelah, Colville, and Kettle Falls area. Covering Northern Washington arts, entertainment and recreation NCM also has an excellent monthly calendar that includes some events from Southern BC. Readers are treated to regular offerings from local historian Jack Nisbet, too. You can find North Columbia Monthly free at locations in Spokane, or at
Mountain Music Scene
If you’re the kind of mountain freak who gets to the mountain early, eats three solid meals in the lodge, and has a few drinks in the bar before heading back down to reality, you know that live music forms the backbone of apres-ski socializing. After all, what could be better than jiving to a local band without paying cover and without having to get dressed up?
The area mountains aren’t planning on letting you down this year, Mr. I’m-So-Hot-Dancing-In-My-Snowtights.
According to Jim Schreiber, Lookout’s Marketing Manager, there won’t be much dancing in Lookout Pass’s lodge this winter, but there will be plenty of music and fun. “Most of the music starts in January,” Schreiber says, “we’re just geared toward putting them in the day lodge and letting them play the music.”
Ole Oleson, a Coeur d’Alene band, is the one confirmed act at Lookout; they’ll be playing in conjunction with the brew fest, February 3, but Schreiber says to expect music on the mountain throughout the season.
At Silver Mountain, the main stage is under the snow, but “once the season gets cranking we like to have live music at Terrible Edith’s,” says Stephen Lane, Marketing Manager. Silver also hosts local bands from Spokane and Coeur d’Alene in the Moguls Lounge throughout the season. No specific bands have been booked to play yet, but “we like to offer a mix of good bar bands,” says Lane, and (like the other mountains, as well) the roster will be posted on the website as soon as bands and dates are confirmed.
According to Patrick Sande of Schweitzer, “there are two main venues: Taps in the lodge, and we also play music in the Chimney Rock restaurant.” Most of the live music happens in Taps, the lodge bar. This year, “we’re starting a monthly music series,” says Sande, that would include at least one headliner each month, such as the Clumsy Lovers, who will play on New Year’s Eve.
Schweitzer also has an open mic night every Thursday, starting in December, and various local bands in Taps throughout the season.
At Mt. Spokane this year, you can expect about six nights of music throughout the season in the Foggy Bottom Lounge, says Gabe Lawson, Marketing Manager. Lawson also mentioned the prospect of Wired Wednesdays, a “kind of club night” with like-named sponsors. If partying it up in your downhill attire interests you, keep an eye on the website for more information.
49 Degrees is still putting the finishing touches on their music calendar for the season, but no details were available when this article went to press. Please visit their website on up-to-date information.
Most of the music at Mt. Spokane will be “a very wide mix-everything from acoustic folk rock to local alternative bands,” says Lawson.
So, if you’re one of those people who likes to spend a lot of time on the mountain, take a hat so your helmet hair doesn’t obstruct the view of people behind you in the bar, don’t forget a little change for local bands’ tip jars, and check out the mountain music scene.
Information on events will be posted on the websites of each mountain, at http://www.mtspokane.com, http://www.skilookout.com, http://www.ski49n.com, http://www.schweitzer.com, and http://www.silvermt.com.