By Alan Sorensen
Bear Paw Ski Hill has been the stepchild of Montana winter sports for years. But in recent years, the downhill ski area located on the Chippewa Cree Recreation Area about 29 miles south of Havre has been racking up kudos.
A few years ago it won inclusion in the state travel guides and was actually listed first in most. Bear Paw does, after all, precede Big Mountain and Big Sky alphabetically.
A couple of years ago, Bear Paw was recognized for having the best logo among the state's downhill resorts. Two years ago, its ski patrol, the Eagle Creek Ski Patrol, was named the best in the region covering several western and Rocky Mountain states.
The Chippewa Cree Tribe provided skiers with a few new runs a couple of years ago by doing some selective logging on the hill. Some of the runs are intended for beginners, but others were put in with the advanced skier in mind.
Run almost exclusively by volunteers with the Snow Dance Ski Association and Eagle Creek Ski patrol, the hill does rely on paid lift operators from Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation to help keep the lift lines moving and skiers happily ascending in the double seater chairlift.
Recreationists are reminded that Mount Baldy adjacent to the ski hill is a sacred site to the Chippewa Cree Tribe and is off limits. Trespassers to the Bear Paw's highest peak face criminal charges.
The hill is open Saturdays and Sunday plus school holidays from late December or early January until the snow melts, usually in April. In honor of Presidents' Day, the ski hill will be open this Monday, too. The chair will be running from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. all three days this weekend.
Skiers 8 and under and 80 and over ski free. Youth to 18 pay $12 for a day pass and adults 18 and over pay $15. Half-day passes begin at 1 p.m. and cost $10. Enrolled members of the Chippewa Cree Tribe ski for $10. Even free skiers have to stop at the ticket booth to pick up their tickets, though, to verify to lift operators that they're OK for the day.
Lessons for skiers of all levels are offered at the hill. Students must be at least 8 years old and meet at the ticket booth at 11 a.m. any Saturday or Sunday. The lessons are free, but donations to the ski hill are encouraged.
There's an outdoor barbecue stand adjacent to the warming house and ski patrol shack and concrete outhouse that serves some of the best beef in the state. The Eat Happy grill, operated by members of the ski patrol with "Over 3,000 served," offers Hermie Burgers (single burger) for $2.50. With cheese, it's $2.75. The Iron Mike Burger (double cheeseburger) goes for $3.50 and the Hermanator (triple cheeseburger) sells for $4.50. The Augie Dog (Rocky Mountain hot dog) goes for $1.75. With cheese, it's $2. Pop costs $.75 a can and bottled water goes for $1.
The only thing that seemed to be missing, the one thing that could make Bear Paw a legitimate ski hill was a trail map. That began to change a few years ago when Wayne Lossing painted the updated trail map at the base of the hill next to the ticket booth. A copy of that map found its way into the warming house last year and this year the final step was taken - a pocket trail map.
The map shows 24 of the hills runs and explains which are for beginners, which are for intermediate skiers and snowboarders and which are for the experts.
The hill has two exit ramps from its lone chairlift - one half way up the mountain and the other at the very top. The view from each is magnificent, with the glance north from the peak giving a skier the feeling that he may be looking at Canada. The view to the south as the skiers exit the chair on top shows peaks and valleys leading to the Missouri River Breaks and the Lewistown country beyond.
The pocket trail map also contains the skiers' code of responsibility. It also lists the dates of operation and other tips for skiers, including its own website address: www.skibearpaw.com .
The trail map also includes a map from Havre to the hill and a list of other activities available in the Chippewa Cree Recreation Area. Permit information for those other activities is available by calling the Tribal Office at 395-4478.
Want memorabilia of the Steep-n-Deep? Ski Bear Paw caps are available at the ticket booth for $12, while long-sleeve shirts in various colors go for $18 and black sweatshirts can be had for just $20.
The 5,900-foot high ski hill offers a variety of terrain within its 900 feet of vertical descent, most of which goes ungroomed - moguls, bumps and powder abound. Most of the lower trails are groomed with beginners in mind.
So, as Bear Paw Ski Hill Manager Dave Martens is wont to say, "Rack 'em up and roll 'em out and ski knee-deep, cheap at the steep-n-deep, Bear Paw Ski Bowl."