A Montana Rope Tow

warren miller

By Warren Miller

Warren MillerWith several Washington State ski resorts opening the week before Thanksgiving a lot of people are leaving work early or arriving late so they can spend more time in the local bump and grind sweat shop (aka. the gym). They do this so that they will be able to get up easier and faster the first half a dozen falls on their skis or snowboard.

I have been involved in watching and waiting for a favorable snow report ever since I got out of the Navy in 1946. For years it involved filing my edges, shining up my leather ski boots, applying yet another coat of lacquer to the bottoms of the skis and varnish to the tops. Spending time in the local ski shop drooling over the latest and greatest new stuff that Hugo Gundelfinger might have decided was best for the newest technique and the worst thing in the ski shop on my checking account.

That first trip to the higher altitude from my digs in a city somewhere as the falling rain switched to sleet and finally to snow, the highway patrol would be standing there with a Coleman lantern making sure you had chains on the bald tires on the back wheels of your car. No front wheel cars back then.

warren miller

Today some of my friends just leave all of their ski gear in their ski resort condo all summer and call Freddie the fixer about this time of the year and have him pick up all of the ski and snowboard equipment and take it to a ski shop and have the edges tuned up, the spring wax scraped off and winter wax put on so that when they drive into their condo garage, sleep well and are first in line the next morning when the lifts opens, they’ll be all ready to go.

I receive a lot of e-mails that skiing in the old days was different. Going down the hill is still the same but the ski experience is different. If you want to turn back the clock and ski it like it used to be I suggest you visit Montana. Some resorts of course have as many as sixteen chairlifts and others are fabulous because they have one chair lift and a hand tow. We used to call them rope tows and we got thousands of miles on them until one of our arms was longer than the other from hanging onto them all day.

There are sixteen resorts in Montana and 106 ski lifts. The advertising is almost non-existent for them and if you Google ski Montana you can read ads such as this one:

Ski Resort (x) is open Thursday through Sunday, one Chair lift and one hand tow. Accommodations are within fifteen miles of the chairlift in the Linger Longer Lodge. There are three restaurants in the nearby town and there is color television in all the rooms at no additional charge. On the edge of town there is a great food at the Truck Stop and they will fix you a great brown bag lunch you can enjoy in front of the fireplace. The chairlift services 2700 vertical feet of trails and meadows with 55% of the terrain expert and the balance intermediate. Our terrain park is a great place to get away from your parents after they buy your lift ticket. For more information Google Ski Montana.

I’m kidding of course, but I love Montana as I can experience skiing the way it used to be: great snow and great people, with wonderful restaurants and shops.

These small Montana ski resorts are the places to ski if you have a hard time finding a parking place within a twenty-minute local bus ride from where you have to park your car. What is not to like about sitting in a base lodge with the fire going and only twenty or thirty people at the whole resort that day. Show up in the morning and chances are you will have untracked Montana Powder snow almost all to yourself all day long.

In 1935 when Averill Harriman gave Von Gottschalk the assignment to find the perfect place for the first destination ski resort in America he only had one criterion. It has to have Union Pacific Railroad access. In 1935 Von Gottschalk added two more criteria to the site selection. The base of that resort had to be below 6,000 feet because of potential pulmonary and heart problems. Sleeping above that altitude will be very difficult, particularly for anyone over forty years old and the resort cannot be located near a large city because of potential weekend crowding.

The Montana resorts follow those same criteria because there are no large towns in Montana. As a matter of fact the entire population of the state just passed the one million mark and the city of Bozeman, has fewer people living in it than live in the entire Vail Valley.

This is not to say that any ski resort in Montana is better than any other one. The best ski resort in the world is where you are making your turns that day. It is your favorite at the time or you wouldn’t be there.

If you want to try skiing as it was when there were only fifteen chairlifts in America, when I was making eight mm movies, try one of these smaller Montana resorts and send me a report on your enjoyment level of a different experience doing the same thing: making turns on the side of a snow covered hill.