Learning to love skiing again

Editor's Note: Learning to Love Skiing

Smalltown ski area reminds me of growing up in Montana


(Originally appeared in Montana Living magazine, 2007)

“That was the coolest jump ever!”
I couldn’t help but smile when I heard those words from a young skier at Blacktail Mountain Ski Area last week. The child was skiing through some trees under the chairlift as I rode overhead. Hearing that youthful exuberance was refreshing. I smiled. Smiled because I am fortunate to live in an area where I can ski two ski areas within an hour of each other. I smiled because I was skiing: something I learned at a very young age growing up in western Montana.

When I was nine my parents took me to the Sportsman Warehouse in Missoula, where they bought a pair of Kastle skis for me. I didn’t have ski boots, so I used my Sorels in the cable bindings. And I guess there wasn’t budget in the Reese household appropriations bill for ski poles, either. So, being an enterprising Montana boy, I chopped down a single, long piece of alder that I used between my legs to steer.

David Reese montana living editor skiing marshall ski area missoula 1976
The author at Marshall Ski Area in Missoula, 1976

Only one other kid in town, my buddy Steve, had skis. On weekends, we’d trudge up the mountains behind our house in Alberton, and make runs, naming them as we went. As far as instruction went, we did the best we could with what we had. The idea of “parallel turns” was something we were not aware of, so we went straight down the hill. I laughed at my older brother who was getting lessons at Marshall Ski Area in Missoula, and was learning how to make turns. 
“What do you need those for?” I asked him.

Driving past Alberton on Interstate 90, I can look up and see the run where I had my first real powder day. Steve and I stood on an old logging road above the wide-open field, our ski tips pointed down. 
I went first, and went fast. It wasn’t long before I piled up and began rolling end over end through the snow. I think that’s when I first fell in love with skiing. It felt so free.

Probably what that kid on Blacktail Mountain was feeling last week.
Last week, on Christmas Day, I took my kids up to Big Mountain, where they had received over a foot of new snow.

The mountain had just opened Hellroaring Basin, and we were the first ones to be able to ski it. My youngest son dropped in first, and he disappeared into a swirl of white. Then, my oldest son and I made tracks, followed by my 20-year old daughter. We giggled as she flailed her way through the steep, deep powder. “We’re laughing WITH you, honey, not at you!” I shouted. It was a family moment, on Christmas Day, that I’ll remember.

Families from around the world were doing the same that day on Big Mountain (er, Whitefish Mountain Resort). In the lift line you could hear accents of Europeans, even some Arabic. We were surrounded by smiling, happy people. How refreshing.

The skiing bug bit me hard this year. This fall I threw down on a new pair of randonnee skis, an alpine ski with a specialized binding that allows you to ski alpine, but release the heel for hiking. I’m having a blast on them. So on Saturday, as the snow kept piling up, I just had to go back up to Blacktail Mountain.

I jumped straight into the glades, through knee-deep powder. On the chairlift I chatted with a guy from Shelby, Mont., who farms peas, lentils and wheat. He makes the frequent drive over to the Flathead Valley for mountain and lake fun. On the next run I met a family from Kalispell who were making their way down one of Blacktail’s gentle, secluded runs. Their youngest child was three. But he made sure he told me he was “almost fowah,” holding up a mittened hand.
I snapped a few pics of them as they worked their way downhill—a family of four having the time of their lives. Times they’ll remember forever.
Having skied thrice in one week, my knees are bit sore for this 52-year old. It’s only 2 above, and I’m enjoying the warmth of the newspaper office. But outside my window, the Swan Mountains are beautifully dusted in white, calling me. Up, up, up. 

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