Friday, February 25, 2011

Wow for Wednesday.

Lookout for La NiƱa from Evan Phillippe on Vimeo.

An interesting phenomenon around here at these little Mom & Pop ski areas that we frequent in western Montana is the Powder Wednesday. When you're in the business of selling people rides up a snow-covered mountain, I'm not sure why you would ever close your lifts down mid-week, particularly during an epic winter like the one that's currently kicking us in the mouth. But they do. Whether it's to save money, give the employees the day off, or simply let the snow have a chance to recover (deepen?), closing your doors on Tuesday--when inadvertently timed with an approaching storm cycle that rolls in Monday afternoon--can lead to sickeningly epic shit Wednesday morning. Freshies? Try "waisties."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dr. Faceshot. Paging Dr. Faceshot.

I certainly don't want to give the impression, what with my fawning over mid-February sunny afternoons on the river and all, that winter is over. Not by a long shot. Short-lived warm spells and superstitious woodchucks (eh hem, "groundhogs" in PA) aside, winter weather is still very much a threat--or a pleasure, depending on how you look at it--that western Montana will risk encountering well in to April. Hell, it's been known to snow in June and July in these parts. Since moving west nearly a dozen years ago, I've often wondered: does a freak snowstorm in July qualify as the last snowfall of the past winter, or the first snowfall of the coming one?

Any way you want to look at it, forecasts in mid-February that look like this (from the NOAA site):

This Afternoon: Snow. High near 35. West southwest wind around 10 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. Total daytime snow accumulation of 3 to 7 inches possible.

Tonight: Snow. Low around 23. West northwest wind 6 to 15 mph becoming southeast. Winds could gust as high as 23 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow accumulation of 7 to 11 inches possible.

Wednesday: Snow showers. Temperature rising to near 26 by noon, then falling to around 20 during the remainder of the day. Calm wind becoming south around 5 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow accumulation of 3 to 7 inches possible.

....can mean only one thing: White Room Wednesday. Bring your snorkel or risk suffocation, kiddies. Game on.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ready, Set, Go!

Like an old friend dropping by unexpectedly, the odd--yet not that unusual--mid February warm up is a welcome surprise every year in western Montana. You can't predict when it'll come, and if you don't act fast you'll miss it. Rest assured, it is still absolutely, positively winter. After three days of above 40 degree temps and mostly sunny skies, things are cooling right back off this evening and the mountains are expecting 8-10" tomorrow. Good thing the skis are still leaning in the corner of the kitchen, the pool of water collected at the tails having only recently dried from the last blower pow day.

We thought about resisting the lemming-like urge to hurl ourselves in to the nearest open piece of water come Sunday's sunny, 50-degree afternoon, but it was futile. Come 2 p.m., we were driving down the Root, poking in to fishing accesses only to find three, four, six SUVs and pick-ups sporting similar TU license plates and industry-related "cool" stickers on the back windows. Dirt bag fishing bums, every last one of us. Or at least we want to be. Anarchists unite.

Here is where I could ramble on about just how nice it was to be out, to soak up the sunshine, to run the dogs. And it was nice. We found a few decent winter runs to ourselves, kicked the gravel and talked about bugs. I even caught a few trout under the bobber, though the only cuttbow worthy of even a half-hearted point-and-shoot photo was snagged in the ass with a pink worm, and I figured that was already sufficient soul robbing of the critter for one day.

What caught me off guard, though it shouldn't, was how many damn people were out fishing that afternoon. It's safe to assume anyone who owns a fly rod has the shack nasties by mid-February, so it only makes sense that the Root, which usually warms up the fastest and starts fishing the earliest, would see some of it's first true pressure of the season on a weekend like this. But Jesus, you'd think it were first week of April and the skwalas were peaking. As we walked back to the truck, there had to be four or five boats pulling out at the bridge. Several looked to be brand spanking new: Christmas presents or splurges from last fall that had been just dying to make it out of the garage on a maiden voyage. My old roommate had floated from here down. Two other friends were taking out here. Wade fishermen were scattered throughout all the visible, likely-looking runs. I wouldn't have been surprised if a guide had rolled up with clients, sporting his shiny new 2011 tags.

Poor trout. Suckers have a reputation for being smart (well, then there's cutties...), but against these odds many of them don't stand a chance. All of a sudden, after what really only amounts to two or three months of relative peace and quiet, every potential food source once again becomes suspiciously threatening. Stonefly nymphs bite back and scar lips. Other fish's eggs swim upstream through the current before miraculously launching from the water--only to reappear again moments later. And you'd be smart to question any big, squirmy-looking creature wiggling across the surface of the water before taking a bite...especially if it's pink or chartreuse.

Yep, let the games begin. As an outfitter I work for often says, in the spring it's not so much about fly pattern as it is boat position. Get up early, get out fast, keep moving. I have friends and colleagues who love this type of float fishing. I tend to prefer a mellower pace and will opt for lower fish counts or slower overall action in favor of fewer boats and less molested trout. Maybe it's just me, but I didn't come to Montana to get in line. So as winter breaks free and spring fishing actually starts to show signs of heating up (as opposed to this mid-winter tease), I'll take every chance I get to wander around a bit and find some good fishing outside of the daily Bitterroot skwala junk show. You'd be wise to do the same--just don't follow me.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Please take action now to protect Montana stream access from HB 309!!

Rep. Jeff Wellborn (R-Dillon) is sponsoring a dangerous and frighteningly stupid bill in the Montana House that will severely weaken public access on many of Montana's most famous and productive trout streams. The bill is essentially a manipulative re-wording of the current Montana stream access law, and would redefine miles and miles of what are now public waterways as private "irrigation ditches" that would provide no legal public access.

This bill would impact and potentially eliminate public access on portions and entire channels of the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Bitterroot, Clark Fork, Ruby, Jefferson, Gallatin and Yellowstone rivers along with many, many more. Why a representative from one of these communities would ever want to negatively impact the significant economic benefits tourism and recreation dollars bring to Beaverhead County and countless other communities in Montana escapes me. Much of the appeal of Montana fly fishing--the reason thousands of anglers travel here and spend millions of dollars each year on gas, lodging, food, equipment, guided trips, park fees, licenses, and tell their friends to come to Montana as well--is our incredible public stream access. Take away the access, and those folks will take their fishing trips and their money elsewhere.

If you ever want to fish here again:

Then click here to learn more about HB 309 and find out how to contact your local legislators. Tell them to say "NO" to HB 309 to protect everyone's right to enjoy the tremendous public resources--and preserve what has become a way of life--in this remarkable state.

Montana Trout Unlimited Action Alert Against House Bill 309

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Powder Tuesday

Down in Colorado and Utah, these kinds of things are more commonplace. Up at Snowbowl, bluebird blower powder days are a coveted rarity. More often than not, a Snowbowl powder day involves socked-in or even whiteout conditions, the best turns limited to riding in the trees because out in the bowls it's nearly impossible to tell where the ground ends and the sky begins. Not yesterday.

The weather rolled in just after the Super Bowl. It then proceeded to puke at a rate of about 1-2" an hour through Monday evening. From those that were up there, it sounded like the skiing Monday afternoon was ridiculous, tracks-are-covered-next-pass-through kind of conditions. The rest of town, including saps like me, watched it snow through the window while maniacally checking NOAA reports that warned of impending "snow, heavy at times, accumulations totaling 10-16." We ended up with 2 feet.

Things cleared up overnight, and by dawn Tuesday much of Missoula had arranged--or neglected to arrange--at least the morning off. It always amazes me how many people can make a powder day happen in a town like this. I wonder how many jobs were lost yesterday, in a city where part time gigs are about as easy to come by as supermodel girlfriends and million dollar bills. If you're lucky to work in a cool enough place like a ski shop, it's understood that business simply is not conducted on mornings after the mountain gets 6" or more. Period. Though I didn't have to work yesterday, my boss did. I saw him in the lift line at about 10:30, beard freshly crusted in snow.

It was mayhem up there for sure, but well worth every bit of it. We were in line 45 minutes before the chair started loading, and still probably ended up 50 chairs back by the time we hopped on. As is tradition at Snowbowl, the bugle marked the loading of the first chair by sounding the cavalry charge and the chaos ensued. Whoops and hollers and gloved hands pointing off chairs to far off lines. Envious, almost pissed-off mutterings when someone is spotted getting there first.

I don't think I crossed another track for much of my first three runs, and the stashes stuck around until well in to the afternoon without a single hike. That's saying a lot for the Bowl, what with the staggering population of ridiculously good skiers up there who obviously have no worldly obligations, coupled with the geography's unfortunate resemblance to an upside-down laboratory beaker. Long story short, shit gets tracked out fast at the Bowl. It is a rare day to have sunshine and soft snow on the same afternoon. To top things off, I somehow managed to stay up top and run laps of fresh snow on the LaVelle chair while hundreds of poor bastards sat trapped on a busted Grizzly chair. Only at Snowbowl would the main chair break in the middle of an epic powder day, and after a half-hour wait only then proceed to run on auxiliary power for the rest of the afternoon.

Regardless of the mechanical (heh-hehm, management) issues, smiles and high fives were widespread in the bar. The Snowbowl bar is a good time on any given evening, but yesterday afternoon the stoke was on radioactive. I'm not sure the pizza and Bloody Mary's tasted any better than they do on a normal gray, icy Snowbowl day, but that's OK. They're already amazing. God this place sucks.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Spectacle

I watched the Super Bowl last night, one because I love football and two because that's what good 'mericans do on that blessed Sunday in February. It's the last real football game until August, pitting what are arguably the two strongest teams in the foremost league in the world against one another in a game that receives unparalleled herald internationally. You're almost guaranteed some good food and good times with friends, all while witnessing some gladiator-like brutality and athleticism right alongside some well-received hilarity and strategically-placed boob shots, what with the current trend (and our accompanying fixation on) commercials and what not.

So watch I did. And having absolutely no vested interest in the outcome (thanks for NOT stepping up against A-Rod and the Pack when the time came, Vick...), I was able to absorb the game for what it was: a strong football game played between two teams who gave their hearts for the whole 60 minutes in the name of a championship. In the end, it came down to turnovers--as it often does--and a final necessary drive that Big Ben just didn't have in him. Much kudos to Aaron Rodgers: homeboy is good, and he deserves every bit of the Brett Farve-replacement fame that is about to come his way. But that's where the solid, respectable aspect of the evening stopped, for me at least, and the embarrassingly dim, spectacle-based circus began.

Now, it's nothing new that the Super Bowl is a hot bed for marketing, capitalism and the outright exploitation of Americans and the people who entertain them in the name of the almighty dollar. Plenty of people swear year after year that they "only watch the game for the commercials." And that's fine, because usually the commercials are, for the most part, hilarious, entertaining and well written.

But for some reason this year I was much more acutely aware of how dumb they must think we've all become. In lieu of intelligent, unavoidably hilarious commercials--even from the heavyweights like Budweiser and Coke--we were given spot after spot of animated sensationalism, adolescent violence and desperate reconnoitering of Eminem's supposed "talent" from rap star to Detroit mayor (although the cinematography in that ad, right up until Eminem appeared, was solid). The crowning slap in the face for me was the Groupon commercial mocking the plight of the Tibetan people for the promotion of an American-based It was shameless, disrespectful, anything BUT funny and represented yet another nail in the coffin for U.S. international relations. No wonder the whole world thinks we're a bunch of imperialist dicks.

Without a doubt the evening's highlight for me was the Volkswagen Darth Vader commercial. Who can argue with the Imperial March and the endearing nature of a fully-costumed six-year-old channeling the motherfucking Force? Damn you, VW with your likable marketing schemes and what not. Makes me wanna go buy a Jetta and a six-year old in a Darth Vader costume. I digress, but that one-minute spot represented not only the highlight of the first half, but the entire game. Then came halftime...

What once could have almost been considered a real hip hop group (before Fergie) has now clearly decomposed in to the musical anti-Christ. I've never been a huge Black-Eyed Peas fan, but after watching that talentless degradation of what were already terrible club hits, I'm positive I never will be. What was with the light-up Tron-themed space suits? Really? I never saw the movie, mostly because I'm positive it sucked, but I'm also pretty certain that it barely made any money, other people thought it sucked too and we sure as hell didn't need to theme the halftime show around it. Why would any self-respecting musical act sign on to a carnival like this anyway? Oh wait. It's the Black-Eyed Peas and they need a pay check. No doubt The Situation and his minions will be macking bitches to the "Super Bowl Medley" for the next 364 days.

I especially like how we can no longer count on the audience--or the band--to pay attention for an entire song, so we've adopted this frantic, stage-morphing flow of artists rappelling from the rafters and popping up out of the floor as myriad artists course through a medley of 30-second mini versions of super hits. Even Slash doesn't get a full song, and after Fergie strutted over to vomit all over Axel's part, one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time is now forever ruined in my memory.

Nor can we count on the audience to be an audience anymore: instead of letting several thousand actual "fans" rush the stage to make this Disney/Fox Productions Cockfight look like a real "concert" as they've done in Super Bowls past, now they simply pay a few hundred professional dancers to further blow our minds as they spring around the field making fun, choreographed geometric shapes out of their illuminated hazmat suits. So does the same dude hold the remote control for the light-up suits on everyone? Man, next year we should hold a contest for some lucky 'merican to win a chance to light up Fergie's boobs on stage.

I'm still not quite sure what the producers of the Super Bowl commercials and half-time show were going for, but I know who they were after. Broadly targeting the overfed and over-sensationalized masses has clearly proven profitable, and these days they're unashamedly stepping up the assault on Joe Six-Pack and his old lady. The current trend in marketing and entertainment is impossible to ignore, and is frighteningly reminiscent of our own demise that was so hilariously predicted in the movie Idiocracy.

Most frightening to me, however, is the fact that as much as I hate to admit it, I think they're right on target. Ohhhhh, shiny, pretty, 'merica. Shiny pretty.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Food Series runs on New

A short edit I worked on last fall regarding "food deserts" that recently appeared on