While Alaska's snow-less winter made it difficult for us to partake in our dose of skiing and winter activities, we have since realized it was a blessing in disguise for the bus and us. A good snow season would have it made it too torturous, if not impossible, for Dillon to stay in a dark garage finishing the bus. So when we hit the lower 48 we knew finding some snow would be top on our priority list. I presented Dillon with a route that would allow us to hit some major resorts we had both wanted to ski. It just so happened that many of my closest friends happen to live in those resort towns, making the stops twice as memorable for me. We headed for Missoula, Montana from Idaho. Being in Montana always grounds me and reconnects me with my roots, as my great grandparents homesteaded on a remote lake there years ago. Backpacking trips to the big sky country are one of my most treasured pastimes. An Alaskan friend hosted us in Missoula and the stay has held up as one of our favorite. We ventured to Weir hot springs a few hours out of town. A short hike on an unmarked trail head into the natural springs lead us to a pool overlooking a river in the middle of nowhere where we found...more Alaskans. We are a strange breed that tend to be drawn to one another, no matter where in the world it might be. We spent the day with Fairbanks locals and a Kodiak fisherman, with whom of course we shared mutual friends.
From Missoula we drove east to the small town of Ennis, where we met up with an Alaskan friend who took us on our own private semi-guided, semi-beer drinking fishing trip for the afternoon. We were awe struck by the incredible views and warm temperatures. Fishing with a view is not abnormal coming from Alaska, but our senses were fairly confused by fishing in warm, sunny weather. A fairly different experience than sitting/walking/standing in the pouring rain or snow fishing that can come with having an old man that is not a fair-weather fisherman to say the least.
From there we headed to Bozeman, just in time to greet the snow storm. The Boiling River in Yellowstone was calling our name. It proved to be the perfect oasis; a blend of crisp river water and, well, boiling hot water...a combination that allowed each person to find their ideal temperature zone. We thought life couldn't get much better, and then it did.
We had one of the best days of skiing we can remember with over a foot of new snow, unreal terrain, and an Alaskan pal as a guide at Bridger Bowl. We may have overstayed our welcome with friends in Bozeman, as it has been our longest amount of time in one place thus far, but the combination of good snow, delicious breweries, and great friends was hard to leave. Our minds were blown at the sheer size of Big Sky Resort, the largest in the US. It was an absolutely stunning mountain with a peak that seemed impossible to put a tram to the top. Did it really go to THAT top? We hopped on the gondola and to that top it went. We were nearly blown off the top skiing down but the views were stunning and the mid-mountain yurt bar's beers were icing on the Big Sky cake.
From Montana we rolled, with lots of wind noise and semi-trucks pushing us around, to Jackson, Wyoming. We forgot that besides the Tetons, Wyoming consists of lots and lots of farmland. This paired with the semi-truck winds almost pushing us off the freeway made for a long drive. We arrived in Jackson a few hours before the lifts closed so we clipped passes (No we can not afford day passes to all these resorts) and got a bit of poor snow condition skiing in. The following day we drove into Grand Teton National Park and cooked breakfast with a stunning view. Our hopes of back country touring around the base of the Tetons were quickly clouded over, literally. On the drive back to Jackson we pulled over to photograph an Elk fight. While I was stretching my legs a car creepily rolled by then opened its doors. As a figure ran towards me my expression quickly turned from fear to what the hell to hell yea! An Alaskan friend that is living in Colorado and was visiting with friends in the area for the weekend recognized the bus and an impromptu PBR picnic immediately commenced. Shortly after we canceled our hotel reservation and were snuggled up on his rental condo floor. Again, us Alaskans have a bizarre pull to each other.
An even longer push from Jackson to Winter Park, Colorado left us exhausted but stoked that for once we matched the estimated drive time on google maps. (Thus far we had been taking at least 1/3 longer than google thought). We quickly realized that the too-smart device calculates our average speed, making the feat less impressive than we thought. Visiting a friend in Winter Park that works for their world-class Adaptive program was a fun stop along the way. With so many people and places to see we found ourselves groggily loading up the bus at 5am to make it to Breckenridge to meet a friend and more fresh snow. When the bus wouldn't start due to -15 degree temps, and it was 5AM, we looked at each other shivering and realized we needed to seriously slow our roll. Dillon quickly figured out that the bus' unwillingness to start in the cold was due to some frozen sensors that needed some wiggling. A beautiful sunrise drive through Berthoud Pass at 11,300 ft. made the early wake up call well worth it and the mountains reminded us of home.
The Alaskan friend trip, I mean ski trip, continued to Breckenridge. A short but low oxygen hike at 13,000ft. lead us to some untracked snow and fun turns. We got the full tour, including a night on the town, a past time that we are really getting too geriatric for. From there we detoured to Colorado Springs for an incredibly intimate concert. Gregory Alan Isakov and Mandolin Orange are both some of the bus favorites, so a chance to see them together was not something we could pass up. After filling our souls with folk tunes and our bellies with chile rellano burritos, we were off to the Garden of the Gods. We definitely were not in Kansas anymore. The scenery there was like nothing we are accustomed to. We wished we had more time to hike and play around the unreal rock formations but we were off to Crested Butte.
Again, the snow gods giveth. An Alaskan best pal hosted us in Crested Butte where we were spoiled with our very own room and very great snow. Crested Butte's charm and down to earth feel was a nice contrast to the more ritzy resort towns we had visited. We saw the first other bus on the road in town and met the owner, Eric, who told us his bus Leeroy was a working bus. And sure enough, it was full of construction and snow removal equipment.