By Alan Sorensen
Despite flurries along the Hi-Line last weekend, the drought of 2001 looks as though it may continue into 2002 and stretch through the rest of winter.
That would ordinarily mean a gloomy, cabin-fever winter for diehard Bear Paw Ski Bowl fans denied the joys of gliding, sliding or slashing down the challenging slopes of Black Mountain. They also would be denied Dave Martens' colorful radio ski report exhorting winter recreationists to "strap on their boards" and to "ski knee-deep cheap at the steep-and-deep," with its "bullet-proof base" and conditions rated as "atomic."
The latest news on Bear Paw was delivered Thursday by Snowdance Ski Association member Claire Stoner.
"We'll open if we have snow," Stoner said. "We're ready to roll."
Should the snow not arrive, though, there is a modicum of relief for those unable to "grab an edge" at the prairie resort extolled by hill manager Martens. That relief is an eight-page spread titled "Little Big Sky" in the November 2001 issue of Skiing magazine, plus a two-page color shot of Eagle Creek Ski Patrol member Herman Handstede lounging at the patrol shack atop the hill with a view of the back of Baldy Mountain (pages 14 and 15).
Written by Hans Saari and accompanied by 23 color photos by Kristoffer Erickson, "Little Big Sky" captures the young men's adventurous journey to three of Montana's little-known ski areas:
Bear Paw, 29 miles south of Havre on the Chippewa Cree Recreation Area of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation;
Turner Mountain, 22 miles north of Libby on Highway 567 ("cleverly marked 508" on Saari's highway map);
Maverick Mountain, about 40 miles northwest of Dillon or 30 miles south of Wise River.
Though skiers worldwide now know where Bear Paw Ski Bowl is, area residents are cautioned against expecting any great influx of winter sports enthusiasts and tourists. There is doubt among local enthusiasts that even this article can do much to promote Martens' and ski instructor Jim Chenoweth's boast that Bear Paw will host the 2042 Winter Olympics.
Taking the time to drive more than 1,000 miles from their homes in Gallatin and Park counties to the three remote ski areas and back again last winter was entirely the choice of the two Montana products.
"Hans and I sat around," Erickson said in a telephone interview last week, "and we decided that we had been all around the world skiing together, but we wanted to get back to where you don't have to pay $60 for tickets and wait in lift lines."
Erickson said Bear Paw held all the values and ideals of what the story would be about: Skiing at mom-and-pop locations in the state, cheap lift tickets, and a family feel were essential qualities to making it in the story.
"Getting back to the basics of where everything began for me was something I needed to revisit," Erickson said. "When we pitched the idea to Skiing Magazine, they loved it and in February we were off to tour the state in search of our story."
Erickson, a 1992 graduate of Havre High School, and his younger brother, Nate, grew up in a skiing family in Havre. His first exposure to skiing came at Bear Paw where his mom and dad, Max and Joanne, were regulars. He now lives in Livingston.
The magazine issue is particularly poignant for Erickson and other outdoor enthusiasts around the state because it also contains a tribute to Saari, who died three months later in a fall while on assignment with Erickson in the French Alps.
"We'd been to Peru twice, Antarctica twice, Tibet together, countless trips together into the Beartooth Mountains. We worked together in the summertime at Exum as guides in the Tetons," Erickson said. "We were pretty close."
Erickson said the two met through a mutual friend who played soccer in Bozeman with Saari while Erickson was still at Havre High. They skied together at Bridger Bowl on Erickson's visits to Bozeman. Saari was four years older than Erickson and attended Yale. After college he returned to Bozeman, where Erickson was attending Montana State University. They reconnected and formed a lasting friendship.
"When you spend time with friends in potentially stressful situations, you either learn to like the person you're with or hate them," Erickson said. "It usually doesn't take long to figure out which way it's going to go. We had a close friendship."
The idea for the trip around the state, an assignment that Skiing Magazine referred to as "undoubtedly the most mellow of their many trips together," was reached in the same manner many of their other trips had been.
"We would often get together at Hans' favorite pizza place, Colombo's Pizza in Bozeman, and brainstorm over ideas of what would be the next trip," Erickson said. "We had skied together on five of the world's continents, but for myself, it had been years since I had visited the place where everything started."
Erickson began the new year with yet another daring assignment. Under contract with Powder Magazine, North Face and Adventure Network International, he set out Wednesday for Antarctica.
"I'm a safety coordinator and also photographing the first-ever marathon at the South Pole," Erickson said. "The runners will be flown 26.2 miles from the pole and then they'll run to the pole, finishing at the gazing ball there."
Erickson said he didn't know how many runners were entered or what the entry fee was, but he did say that the flight to the South Pole costs in the neighborhood of $25,000 per person.
"Because it's such a difficult place to get to, a 50-gallon drum of fuel is worth about $5,000," he said.
The only two carriers allowed to fly into the South Pole, he said, are Adventure Network International, a private carrier, and the National Science Foundation.
Erickson said he plans to make it back to Havre for his class's 10-year reunion this summer and spend some time with his father, Max Erickson, a former member of the Eagle Creek Ski Patrol at Bear Paw. He may also get in a few rounds of golf at his father's golf course, Beaver Creek Golf Course in Havre.
"You know, I haven't been able to take advantage of it enough. I just haven't had the time," Erickson said. "I've only been out three times, I think."
A call Thursday confirmed that the magazine has back issues available for sale. Anyone who would like to place a credit card order for a back issue of the November 2001 Skiing magazine can do so by calling 1-800-647-9964. To place an order by check or money order, write Times Mirror, 1476 Massachusetts Ave., North Adams, MA 01247.
Erickson's Web site at email@example.com is down right now while the friend who is putting it together is away on a three-month junket to Chile.