Making Friends on a Powder Day
I came to Colorado mountain college for the same reason as many others endless face shots with a small side of class. This winter has proven to be a struggle on the powder front. So when I asked myself what I wanted to do for spring break that also happened to be my 21st birthday. I had a few choices. Vegas like most 21 yr old's dream had it's appeals however when I asked myself do I really want to spend 3k plus to get drunk in the desert in mid march.... hell no that's enough money to helicopter ski.
Upon further research I didn't have any friends who could afford to go helli skiing with me but my best friend of 4 years did say he had enough to rent himself a snowmobile. Thus, the journey began. We rented 2 snow machines as they call them up here and set out for a journey I'm sure neither of us will forget. This trip started on March 13th at 8am. We loaded the snowmobiles up at the trailhead with all our food drink and supplies. I had spent months scouting this zone and before even setting out the terrain had met and exceeded my expectations.
For starters Montana has about 3 times the base of Colorado. This means for the first time in way to long I was in the powder again. However, I was not on my tried and true splitboard... I was on a snowmobile! Neither of us had ever ridden these things before. Let me assure you there is a brutal learning curve to snow-mobiling in pow. Our cabin was 15 mi in to the west Yellowstone wilderness behind big sky Montana. This ride in good conditions would take an experienced rider an hour. On the first day of this trip the ride took about 4 hours. My friend got his sled buried 3 times in those 15 miles. As I'm sure anyone who has done this knows digging these things out also has a learning curve. Anyways, we had camp set up by 130 on that day.
The cabin was buried up to the door and we had to dig it out. Totally worth it! It was so cool this cabin took me back to a time where people just lived life and enjoyed nature. It was small but plenty for the two of us. Two cots a table and huge cast iron fire pit. This cabin is located in a valley between tons of prominent jagged peaks with terrain up to 55 degree slopes. It was the playground I dreamed it would be. First things first we had to build a jump. We quickly found a good spot built a good 35 footer and the sesh began!
That whole afternoon was a blur and a joy. The first day of this trip was in fact my 21st birthday. My friend also landed his first ever backflip on this jump! The hype was real going into dinner time! We ate some burgers drank some more drink and then the great Ideas came. We made a wakeboard style tow rope and attached it to a sled. The shenanigans didn't end there though, then we took our chainsaw and some gas then made a massive bon fire, but wait there is still more, then we built a jump over the bonfire and proceeded to tow each other into this "fire gap". This was the only time I have ever herd my friend say " I wish I had a go pro" as both of us were involved in the process we didn't get any videos or pictures and that's a bummer! We slept like babies that night.
Our cabin was so warm I slept in a tee shirt and shorts using my sleeping bag as a blanket. Pitch black. I could of slept till 4 the next afternoon. However, that would be a waste of time. We set an alarm for sunrise. Boy am I grateful that we did that! The sunrise the following morning was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life! Ironically as I write this I am watching another beautiful sunrise out of the window of my flight home. The shades of pink and oranges reflecting off the snow was truly breath taking. I could go on forever about this sunrise, but a picture is worth a 1000 words; or in this case even more. We made some pancakes after watching the sunrise then we set out on our first day of big line riding. This is what I was most excited for. I had high ambitions and I was hoping to ride some 50 plus degree slopes and some narrow chutes. We set out for sphinx mountain.
The face we could see was not rideable however when I was doing my research I saw a nice chute on the other side. We had a glorious ride to the mountain getting more comfortable with these sleds. Upon arriving at the base we quickly realized getting up this face on snowmobiles would be quite tricky. We definitely couldn't ride so doubles up this. My friend "offered" to let me ride the line first. What this really meant was get behind my snowmobile grab the tow rope and hope for the best.... I have never accelerated that hard on a snowboard. My friend says he was doing about 45 up this face. This worked well for the first 1000 vert however with a 1000 left the chute was starting to really narrow and things were getting steeper.
My friend flipped his sled. He was 20 yards up the hill from me climbing that 20yards to help him unfit the flipped sled was almost as brutal as the digging itself. Suffice it to say he took me no higher up the mountain. This 1000 vert we had covered on the lower half of sphinx mountain was an amazing playground. Cliffs, glades and of course tons of pow. We hung out here all morning trading off towing each other up to the choke point in the chute. Snowmobiling up is almost as fun as riding down! We went back to the cabin where we had left the door cracked to shed heat and we caught a fox stealing the remains of our breakfast sandwiches.
This fox was fat and had a guilty look on his face. You could tell he steals food from this cabin quite often. He ran off in the woods before we could snag a picture of him. It started snowing around this time. I remember eating lunch that day thinking I am the luckiest guy alive. We had a debate over lunch about who was faster on the big boy sleds. Of course, we had to go settle this. We left the snowboards put on the full faces and set out. The valley we were in had a floor about 3 miles long we lined up at the far end and agreed first to the cabin wins. This was a bad idea.
We both accelerate hard to approximately 65mph then all of the sudden the valley floor has a little dip. We go flying!.... I'm not sure how much air I caught but it felt so huge. Upon the miracle of lading I obviously let off the gas. My friend didn't. I proceeded to chase him. And he in turn beat me to the cabin.... may have lost a few drinks on this one. But it was totally worth it as I would not of had the balls to do 70mph on a snowmobile like that otherwise and that is such a crazy experience. We ended up riding snowmobiles till the sun started to set without even noticing the time. Dinner that night was something I was proud of cooking. I made bacon wrapped steak with mash and gravy. We unanimously agreed this was the best thing we had ever eaten in the back country.
We set out for a night time ride and about a half mile from the cabin my friends sled stopped working (we would later find out that the clutch chain came off). As it was getting dark and we were running out of things to try to fix it so we left it there and put a marker on the map. By some miracle we actually had cell phone service, so I called the shop we rented from. They graciously offered to take us out another sled the next a day and drive it up to our cabin. About 4 inches of fresh snow had accumulated by this point in time too. So we rode back to the cabin me getting towed by my friend. Snowboarding in the dark behind a snowmobile in pow.... was very scary yet very fun. This fresh pow motivated us to get a good night's sleep and thank God for that.
I woke up at around 5am the following day. I come out of the cabin to a straight 10/10 blizzard. There was a foot or more of fresh snow everywhere! I was so hyped on this! I set out for a morning ride while my friend was asleep. I could barely make it up the 35ish degree slope because the snow was so deep. But man was that a blast. I rode around for about 15 minutes before I took out my phone to take a picture. This is when everything got scary.
I had a voicemail from the guy who was supposed to bring my friend his back up snowmobile saying, "this is crazy I can't make it to you guys and the storm won't let up for the next 3 days so I will come up in 4 days.” This would be extending our trip past what we had food for, this would mean me missing my flight home. This scared me... I tried calling back, no answer. I go back to the cabin and with a sense of urgency wake my friend up. He agrees with me that we need to get out before we get fully socked in.
We quickly pack everything up then both get on my snowmobile as his is still not working. We attempt to get up the same hill I had made it up earlier and there is already another 2 inches in my track. We cannot make it up this hill we try over and over and we keep losing traction and sliding back. Panic sets in now. We think we are stuck for the next 3 days. The next hour was the most stressful of my life. My friend and I were lucky enough for him to have service where we started to lose traction on the hill climb. We call the shop who was going to bring us a new sled but left that voicemail. We get an answer! We let him know the situation and that we need help. He says " yeah that sounds really bad, let me see if any of my younger guys think they could make it to you.
Jeb and Tom jumped at the chance to get paid to go ride pow and said they could probably make it to us. This was a huge sigh of relief. We waited for confirmation that they were on their way then went back to the cabin. We go inside for a while and de stress. Then I think to myself might as well go play in the valley while waiting on the homies to come help us. I go do mad donuts for about an hour then go back to the cabin. It's 1130am now and our rescue party was supposed to be at the cabin at 12.
12 rolls around nobody there. At 12:30 we go to where my friend had service and call them. No answer and as I'm sure you would expect this freaks us out. We go back to the cabin and start counting out calories (33% of the cals we had were booze) this is becoming those horror stories you read about. At this point we hear a knock on the door it's the two homies! I have never been so glad to see someone I didn't know! They ask why we have all this food and booze spread out like this we tell them, and they die of laughter. Tom goes Jeb you won't tell Mark will you? Jeb goes hell no. Tom asks hey boys you look stressed need to blow off some steam. We go yes, he goes grab the beer and follow me.
We follow him, and he says okay now chug a beer we go to grab some and he asks for one of course we give them both a beer and we all chug them. At this point in like ok dude no offense but I'd rather be at home chugging beer than here. Tom laughs and goes there was a point to this, he walks 20 yards with the 4 empty bottles and sticks them in the snow. Then pulls out a 45 and tells me to "have at it". We spent about an hour shooting guns and drinking beer! One of the best parts of the trip! Then we go okay time to get out of here how are we going do that?
They tell us we are using their sleds because they are bigger and more powerful than mine.... I later found out they were the fastest sleds on the market. They said they could make it up the hill we couldn’t with 2 people on my original snowmobile. After having tried this ourselves we had little faith. They told us to go first so they can make sure we make it. We both go one at a time... I thought my old one was fast.... This one was a rocket ship! On a side note hearing a turbo while ripping pow it the best engine sound I have ever heard. I did 60mph up that hill!!! We both make it to the top and 5 mins later over the radio Tom and Jeb say they rolled our sled back down and couldn't make it and that one of us has to come back down because 2 people sled has to have turbo to make it. I volunteered.
I get to the bottom and they tell me to get on the back while Jeb rips the turbo one up the hill. I do so timidly. I have never in my life accelerated like I did with Jeb driving that sled. Honestly, I was so scared I closed my eyes and grabbed a hold of Jeb’s shoulders. At the top he told me we did 80mph on the way to start up the steep part of the hill! He gets back on my original non-turbo sled with Tom and says follow us. The skill these two had was astonishing. I could barely keep up as 1 person on the faster sled. The 13 miles out of there on that snowmobile following those guys knowing we were on our way to safety was glorious. So fun and such a relief. We get to the parking lot and thanks are going around. When my friend and I are done packing up our stuff Jeb and Tom tell us we need to go again next year, we make plans for such a trip! Then Jeb and Tom hop on the snowmobiles and ride back off into the storm to “Go Play”