Sled Zones Part I: Cooke City, MT

March 27th, 2012 by

AS SEEN IN THE 2012 FREESKIER BACKCOUNTRY EDITION

MORE IN THIS SERIES:

• SLED ZONES PART II: UTAH

• SLED ZONES PART III: COLORADO

• SLED ZONES PART IV: WHISTLER, BC

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PHOTO: BLAKE JORGENSON — RIDER: DAN TREADWAY

The snowmobile. They don’t call it the poor man’s helicopter for nothing. In the endless search for untracked snow, no machine offers more accessibility for your money. The machines of today are bigger, wider and faster than ever, with the ability to get skiers almost anywhere the snow sticks. But sleds also offer a fast track to trouble. Aside from the inherent risks of backcountry travel, sleds lure riders into the middle of nowhere and routinely break down or get buried. And a sled is no Prius. The braap-braap of two-strokes isn’t a universally loved sound. In many circles, the fact you have skis in tow doesn’t separate you from the beer guzzling, high marking slednecks who established a culture long before sled skiing. But the rise in snowmobile accessed skiing proves that once you’ve experienced the two-stroke chairlift, odds are you’ll be sold. From Aspen to Whistler, here is a sampling of the West’s best sled zones.

 

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WORDS: PETE O'BRIEN

Three hour’s drive from Bozeman, the grassy plains of the Lamar Valley turn to head-high snowbanks of the Absaroka Mountains of south central Montana. This series of ancient volcanoes mark the northeast edge of Yellowstone National Park. At the end of the road sits the old mining outpost of Cooke City, Montana. What originated as a tough town of miners is now a town of slednecks, whose toughness is measured by their model of snowmachine. Snowmobiles are everything in Cooke City—recreation, transportation, measure of manliness.

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(L-R) PHOTOS: PETE O'BRIEN (2), JAY BEYER — SKIERS: CHRIS COLLINS, BEN NOBEL

If you have your own snowmobile, a good place to start is Daisy Pass and from the top, you can see kicker spots on Mt. Wolverine, cliffs near Lake Abundance and lines off Miller Ridge. You can also ghost ride your sled off the back of Daisy Pass for a good warm up run.

Sheep Basin has some of the biggest and gnarliest terrain you can access by sled. Round Lake offers kicker spots before the sun gets to it by March. Mt. Henderson serves up fun freeskiing runs and Fisher has the jib cabin and chimney. Head to Goose Creek for good pillows and tree skiing.

THE CREW

Dash Longe, Dylan Hood, Wiley Miller and Chris Collins hibernated in Cooke City, Montana for two weeks last season, settling into a routine of sled skiing from dawn ‘til dusk. Within a few days, they checked a handful of lines and cliffs off the list. The wind had shaped the landing of the Heine Quarterpipe into a gap and there was potential to go huge. They spent the next three days shaping and guarding the landing from snowmobilers and sessioning. The quarterpipe is easily the best hit of the year for Dylan and Dash.

On the third weekend of April, Cooke City comes to life with skiers from all over the West seeking bonus backcountry powder days. The Sweetcorn Festival resembles an end-of-season party at most ski resorts, only it’s held in the backcountry with snowmobiles. Local skiers from Bridger Bowl and students from Montana State University have made the Sweetcorn Festival a tradition.

DREAM MACHINE

  • 2012 Polaris 800 Pro – RMK 155. MSRP- $11,799
  • Boondockers Turbo Kit with upgrades. $5400
  • Timber Sled Mountain Tamer Suspension Kit with Float X Shocks. $1200
  • Cheetah Factory Racing Rack. DD Rack with Dual Ski. $370
  • 5” handlebar riser. $100

Three shops in Cooke City rent for as little as $75/day. Split four ways (two people riding and two towing), it’s not a bad deal.

DOWNDAYS

Town Hill on the north side of Main Street is about an hour hike to the top and offers a wide open gully through a burn forest which takes you right to the front step of the Miner’s Saloon. A drive into the park to check out wildlife can be cool, especially if you have foreigners in your crew.

SNOW SAFETY

With mountains jutting to more than 10,000 feet and more than 500 inches of snowfall a season, it’s easy to see why avalanches are the number one cause of death in the small town of about 80 full-time residents. Hotspots like Crown Butte, Scotch Bonnet Peak and Sheep Basin beg for special caution. Always call the avalanche report (406-838-2341), talk to locals and dig a pit or two.

GAS/WEBCAMS

Exxon: cookecityexxon.com
Sinclair: cookecitysinclair.com

SLEEP

THE BIKESHACK — TGR, PBP, Level 1, and a host of snowboard crews are in and out of the Bike Shack all winter. The three-story, four bedroom sled in/out cabin boasts a large kitchen, internet, satellite TV and easy access to the bar. Ask Bill Blackford about his towing and guiding services.

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MORE IN THIS SERIES:

• SLED ZONES PART II: UTAH

• SLED ZONES PART III: COLORADO

• SLED ZONES PART IV: WHISTLER, BC

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About the author:
Henrik Lampert loves hot dogs, the Boston Bruins and Norway. He's the Online Editor here at Freeskier.