Hooked on Snowmobiling::Glacier Country, Montana

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FYI: Snowmobiling is, during the day, a safe and sane way to get from point A to B while taking in some incredible views. At night, however—night in Montana, nonetheless, with its big sky gone dark and not even a scrap of moon to illuminate the snow-covered trails—snowmobiling seemed like pure insanity. For me, it was beyond “extreme,” which was the only paragraph on www.eHow.com snowmobiling ,that I had neglected to read, before leaving on my five-day Glacier Country snowmobiling press trip. I had joined this cadre of journalists (two outdoorsy male writers and a woman from Connecticut who wore full-dress make-up at all times) two days into the trip, because I had been enjoying some special Girlfriend Getaway add-ons, so this was only my second time snowmobiling, and never at night.

A voice came from across the room as we chattered about our afternoon ride up to Trixie’s Antler Saloon in Ovando, Montana. “You all had better wait for me this time,” the East Coast travel writer complained. (Amongst ourselves we referred to her as “Miss Priss,” thanks to her general disinclination towards adventure. And this was Montana! That’s “adventure” with a capital-A.) Ironically, it was “Miss Troop Beverly Hills” that got to spend the night in a yurt (complete with breathtaking views) sleeping in spartan bunk beds alongside a dozen Mountain Men, grown Montana-tough, who she claimed “did nothing but burp, snore and let loose other unpleasant bodily noises all night long.”

After hearing all her grievances, I thought it best not to divulge the fact while she was queuing up for the outhouse in the snow (yurts don’t have indoor plumbing), I was luxuriating in my back2back spa treatments, after my peaceful night sleep in my feathery bed at the luxe Lodge at Whitefish Lake, thankyouverymuch…

We were just finishing up our 32. oz. T-bone steak dinners at Trixi’s, which overlooks the breathtaking rugged peaks and towering forests of the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wildernesses. Trixi, the bar’s namesake, had been one tough little cookie – a former trick rider, roper and showgirl who bought the bar in the 1950’s (the jury is still out as to whether she was also a Madam or just really, really popular with men.) The place oozed Wild West atmosphere, down to the locals shooting pool while deep in discussion about the best way to smoke jerky—I overheard an interesting new recipe from one of the manly-men which consisted of soaking the venison in rhubarb wine and Cajun spices before smoking it. Tempted by the description, I went over and struck up a conversation and next thing I knew the man had offered to head back home and bring me back a sample. (Needless to say, Montanans are really nice.) Sure, I thought, anything to delay the moonlight return trip (wait, what moonlight? It was blacker than a biker’s jacket out there!) Five minutes later, gnawing on that tasty jerky, I took a last gulp of wine and attempted to man-up for the ride back.

I asked Curtis, our snowmobiling guide, owner of Kurt’s Polaris , where we had rented our snowmobiles earlier that day, how long the ride back would take. He told me that it was only about 35 miles and that it “shouldn’t take long unless we have to keep stopping for what’s-her-name…” glancing over at Miss P.

Since the temperature had been rapidly dropping I knew it would be nothing like earlier that day, when we were riding in broad daylight on nicely groomed paths covered by fresh, powdery snow. In the morning we had taken a couple of detours into a few pristine, snow-covered pastures where some of us practiced our loop-de-loops, but we might as well have been oldsters taking a Sunday afternoon drive through the park compared to tonight. I shivered, and started to re-layer myself for the trip back. As we were leaving the restaurant, Curtis’ sister piped up, that we couldn’t be in better hands since Curtis ( although too shy to mention it) had won “King of the Hill” in the World Championship Hill Climb Competition in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.( Picture of Curtis warming up is courtesy of Glacier Country Tourism) Phew. That’s comforting. Now, if I could only stop thinking of the little white crosses that peppered the hillside on our way up here…

We fastened our helmets and goggles and took off. For the next twenty minutes, we crept along the main road at about 10 mph before coming to the mountain path. I knew if we continued at this snail’s pace, I was going to freeze to death, plus it was boring. We decided to split into two groups, with Miss Priss-the-tortoise (now with her own private slow-poke guide) in one and the thrill-seeking-hares in another, saying we’d meet up again in about 10 miles.

What transpired next was one of the most hands-down exhilarating nights of my life: Curtis started racing over the hills going about a million miles an hour (granted, it was probably only about 45 mph, but on the dark winding roads, with the wind whipping through, and the slip-sliding crunch of the ice, it felt “yee-haw” lightning fast.) It was like a big snowball combination of flying, skiing, zip lining and driving a formula car. I could barely see thru my fogged mask, but I knew I had to stick with Curtis, “my higher power”, like the glue that holds on the Kardashians’ false eyelashes. So I slammed on the gas and went for it. The speed was intoxicating, until Curtis felt guilt pangs and decided to stop and wait for the tortoises, who were miles behind us.

I took off with fellow daredevil, Larry Turner, an amazing photographer from Oregon, and we raced down the mountainside like Batman and Robin, at an even faster clip, flying over the gnarly trails, singing Paul Simon’s “Slip Sliding Away” at the top of our lungs. Once when we stopped to catch our breath, we turned off our engines to see if we could even hear the others—nothing answered but a muted deep silence and then some low pitched hoots, which my outdoorsy companion informed me were probably some great horned owls… waaay cool serenade.

About two hours later we arrived safely at the rental shop without a scratch on us. We were all jubilant with excitement, gleefully hugging and high-fiving, feeling so alive. Yeah, it was a little scary (o.k. maybe a lot scary) but isn’t pushing the envelope, doing something risky and exciting, one of the main reasons to travel? Not for Miss P., though. She crept in much later, fighting mad at “how selfish we were not to have waited for her, blah blah blah.” But even her whining couldn’t put a damper on my unforgettable ride through the beautiful, wonderful, thrill-filled wilds of Montana.

Please continue for Part two.

Posted by Janice Nieder on March 30, 2010 in Travel

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