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First Whitewater of the new year by Avbird

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Great Falls literally has whitewater in ever direction. Within a 3 hour drive, you can hit a number of great waves. Here is an illustration.

I happened to notice that while most of Montana was having winter last weekend. Down in Livingston it was going to be 60 and sunny. That’s where one can find Yankee Jim Canyon on the Yellowstone River. Out the door by 9am had us on river at 1 after scouting the main rapids along Hwy 89. Running at 1400 cfs, the largest rapid was a lean, mean, boat stopping machine at that low level.

Once onboard, we all agreed that the snow laced mountains and clear blue pre-run-off water was a treat. A few mintues later the edge of our raft slid over the entry ledge of Boxcar into it’s two huge waves. Water sprayed over the crew, kids laughed and screamed and adults “expressed concerns” with the rough ride.

We floated out the rest of the scenic canyon. We watched an eagle dismantle a fish just 10 feet above us. Then we loaded up, grabbed dinner in White Sulphur Springs and were home by bedtime. #genuinemontana

King’s Hill Backcountry Skiing by Avbird

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Great Falls is really fortunate to have a terrific ski area like Showdown, less than an hour away. The tree skiing there is among my favorite of the many areas that I have skied out west. They have a fantastic youth ski program that has gotten both my girls skiing black diamond runs in a couple years with a minimum of tears.

Of course, the youth ski program also frees up some parent time. The King’s Hill has has a number of great backcountry routes. On this day, I decided to ski Deadman’s pass.

The trail starts right at the top of the pass on the west side of the highway, behind the forest service cabin. This route gets only light traffic.

The trail follows a forest road to the top of the pass. I often stop here, ski several runs on the steep shoulders then ski back down. However, if you have two cars you can continue across the ridge and ski a very nice slope down to Deadman Creek then out to your car on Highway 89 near forest road 837. Allow 4 hours for the full trip. I ski up to the pass and back in 2 hours with a couple quick short runs on top.

Early in the season, I ski up to the pass and back on metal-edged skinny skis. After big powder or later in the season,like this day, there is one exposure corner that becomes fairly technical and could result in sliding down a short chute into some trees; so I go with full alpine touring gear. There are several sidehills that offer fun powder in the trees so bring a helmet.

Man I live winter in Genuine Montana!

How to take Mid-Winter Snowshoe Break with Kiddos by Avbird

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As a native of the Midwest, I believe that Central Montana is ideal location for raising kids.  I wish I could have grown up here.  But like anywhere, kids activities can dictate a lot of the family schedule.  Spying an opening in the calendar on a upcoming Saturday in February, we decided to take my girls and some friends on an adventure.

Snowshoes for kids have become really affordable and reliable in the past few years and are a great way to enjoy winter.  Taking a quick peek at the forecast, sun and reasonable temps looked perfect.  There were going to be little ones in our group this trip, so we opted for flatter terrain.  Great options for small kids in the area include Jefferson Creek, King’s Hill around the campground, Silvercrest Trails; all in the Little Belt Mountains.  We opted for Roger’s pass on Highway 200, about 45 minutes from Great Falls.  The north side of the road, has great snowshoe terrain and is really steep.  Fun workout, really pretty and I found a bobcat den on one trip.  However, there is a forest road on the south side of the pass that starts just behind a guard rail.   This was the perfect choice for moderate grade and nice views.

There is a science to these trips with the sub-10 year old crowd.  Whatever you do, bring hot chocolate and snacks.  Adults, in front of the train, stomp down a nice trail so that little legs can follow on a well worn path.  We were breaking trail in about 2 feet of fresh powder in places, so a great workout for the bigger folks.  Also, take a minute to look at animal tracks and discuss them.  We have seen deer, moose and wolf and its always fun to talk about what they were doing.  After an hour or so of elevation gain, everyone stomped down a wide area in a wind break to serve as our day camp.  We immediately dispatched all the littles to find sticks, old branches and logs for a fire.   They love the activity and usually collect more than needed.  Next, they were dispatched to find dry needles, old man’s beard and pine cones for fire starters.

The littles were off to sled and slide on a sidehill.  That gave a minute to work with my older daughter on some fire-craft; an important skill if you spend time outside.  We shaved down a dry stick for some wood flakes, added that to an old man’s beard nest with needles then we prepared a bed of pine cones and a teepee of dry sticks.  From my pack, a ferro rod and a cotton ball soaked in Vaseline (I carry about 20 in an old pill bottle).   Instant ignition and a warm fire ensued.

Hot Chocolate, snacks and even some hot dogs make a fun break before heading back to town.  Winter is incredibly beautiful in our region.  Taking a minute for an adventure this time of year provides fresh air and vitamin D to help shake off that holiday hangover.

The Skiing of the Bulls by Avbird

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You have probably seen the pictures and thought that the Running of the Bulls looks like a pretty crazy scene, right? Well here in Genuine Montana you don’t just run with the bulls, you ski – and we aren’t talking about some domesticated, about to be a whopper, cow. We have real, free range, born and bred wild – buffalo. Well technically they are American bison.

Looking for some quiet time away following the COVID holidays of 2020, we booked a cabin outside Gardiner on the north entrance to Yellowstone NP in early January. We got a lazy start on a Saturday and still made the easy and scenic three-hour drive to Gardner around mid-day . Awesome.

First stop, geyser skiing! This is one of my girls’ fav’s, although to me its always surreal The Park Service grooms a nice rolling trail around the Mammoth Hot Springs geysers. A quick 40-minute ski on the trail yields great views including looking into several boiling caldera’s – on your skis.  We actually spotted some tracks that I am fairly sure were wolverine.

The Park Service has also started grooming cross-country ski trails on the closed winter roads, which offers a great backcountry experience.  Taking advantage of that opportunity, on day 2 we skied the Blacktail Peninsula Road, where we met up with a small bachelor group of bulls. Fortunately, they were content to let us ski by without incident.  

We timed our ski in late afternoon so we would return to the car around sunset. Stopping trailside, we offered up a couple howls knowing there are wolf dens on a ridge several miles off the Blacktail road. As we skied back in the fading light, we could hear the wolves in the far distance returning our call and watched some wary elk on the ridge above us.

I am raising two young kids in one of the most amazing places, offering countless adventures. Decades from now I hope their grandkids listen to these stories and wonder if they ever really happened.

Great Falls has a plenty of jobs available, great schools, 15 minute commutes and is one of Montana’s most affordable communities.  Consider a trip to find your own Genuine Montana adventure or make “G Falls” your permanent location and adventure your new back yard!