Christmas in July: Three Summer Ski Lines
Freeskiing legend Glen Plake once pointed out that, “Skiing is a snow sport, not a winter sport.” This sentiment is no more true anywhere than it is right here, right now, in our corner of Montana. Montana’s snow totals shattered historic records this winter and, as a result, the 2018 summer ski season is continuing to go off.
The Great One
Overview: Perhaps the best-known and most accessible summer ski adventure near Bozeman, skiing The Great One in the Northern Bridger mountains is a right of passage for die-hard local skiers. Hiking to and skiing down this 1,400’ long and steep couloir located on Naya Nuki Peak’s northeast face makes for a demanding, but extremely rewarding day trip.
Directions: From Downtown Bozeman, follow the signs to Bridger Bowl Ski Area, which will bring you through beautiful Bridger Canyon via MT 86. Continue past the ski area for 7.3 miles, and turn left onto Fairy Lake Road. Follow this Forest Service road (4WD recommended) until it terminates at the Fairy Lake Campground/Trailhead. From there, take the Sacajawea Peak trail to its summit (2 miles), traverse south along the ridge to Naya Nuki (1 mile), and you’ll be looking right down the barrel of The Great One.
Prime Time: July-August (It’s good earlier too, but the road usually doesn’t open until July 1.)
Pro Tip: Skier’s left holds the most/best snow. Use caution and check your speed as you approach the bottom of The Great One. Depending on snow depth, the runout can be riddled with shallowly-buried hazards like rocks, logs and debris from an old airplane crash. Also, stash a beer or two near the lake for your after ski celebration.
Fourth of July Couloir
Overview: The Fourth of July Couloir on Beehive Peak gets its namesake from the local tradition of skiing this Big Sky classic on, you guessed it, July 4th. The scenic, straightforward approach to Beehive Peak’s summit, coupled with the perspective skiers gain of more advanced lines once there, make tackling this ski line a lofty objective for first-timers and seasoned summertime skiers alike.
From the Big Sky Town Center, take Lone Mountain Trail (MT 64) toward Big Sky Resort. Continue past the ski area for 3.5 miles, following signs for Upper Beehive Basin Trailhead, and turn right onto Beehive Basin Road. Stay on this road for 1.5 miles and you’ll see the trailhead and parking lot on the left. From the trailhead, follow the well-marked, 3.5 mile trail to Beehive Basin. When you arrive at the lake, look due north, toward the most prominent peak overlooking the basin, and your objective will be plain-as-day.
Prime Time: December-July
Pro Tip: If you like to fly fish, bring a rod and a small assortment of terrestrial dry flies (ants, beetles, grasshoppers). The lake mentioned in the directions is chock full of very willing cutthroat trout.
Overview: Named after its resemblance to a horse’s blaze (the wide, white stripe down the middle of its face), almost everything about this line in the Spanish Peaks is a real butt-kicker, but totally worth it. Once on top of Blaze Mountain, the descent can last for nearly 2,000 vertical feet, but getting there involves an eight-mile, 4,500’ climb. Being the case, the best way to go after this golden goose of summer ski lines is to make a long weekend out of it by camping out at one of several nearby lakes the night before and/or after your big ski day. Doing it this way will allow you to maintain a casual pace to and from the snowfield, and provides you with more time to ski multiple laps once you’re there.
Directions: From Bozeman, head south on US 191 toward Big Sky. Just two miles after entering Gallatin Canyon, take a right onto Spanish Creek Road. Follow the signs to the Spanish Creek Campground and trailhead, and park your car. From the trailhead, follow trail #407 south for approximately five miles, until you reach the junction with trail #411. Take a right here, following signs to Spanish Lakes. Continue for about two more miles, and begin looking for an unmarked trail on your left. Take this trail and, after a little bit of bushwacking, you’ll find yourself standing at the bottom of The Blaze. From there, scramble up either side of the run to the summit.
Prime Time: Late May-early August.
Pro Tip: Hiking into The Blaze entails a few bridgeless stream crossings, so bring some extra socks. Also, if you tackle this beast of a hike in mid-to-late summer, bring an empty bag along, because there are gobs of huckleberries growing along the trail. To the same effect, this journey brings you through the heart of Grizzly Country and bears love huckleberries. Be bear-aware here by carrying bear spray, making plenty of noise and exercising proper food storage techniques.