Cottonwood Butte T.R.

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downontheupside
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Joined: Fri Dec 18, 2020 7:46 am

Cottonwood Butte T.R.

Post by downontheupside » Fri Dec 18, 2020 10:56 am

Cottonwood Butte Trip Report
Cottonwood, ID
February 2019

Just before the start of the 18/19 ski season my wife and I relocated to Idaho. Our motives were (1). A rare job opportunity for myself and (2). An attempt to escape the increasing challenges of living in a major ski town.

I had a great job opportunity in a location offering the things we had appreciated. The attitude had been changing in our Colorado ski town. Crowds were increasing. Each year seemed busier than the last. Even the mud season which offered reprieve from the onslaught of tourists seemed to be busier. I know its cliché to complain about the topic of crowds and tourists. It’s a topic which has been beaten to death, discussed in lift lines, city newspapers, skin tracks, online forums etc., etc. This year seemed different though. The Kook pass was making its debut to our mountain the upcoming season. We didn’t own real estate and I couldn’t find a permanent position in my field of work… The writing was on the wall.

Luckily, I landed a nice job in Idaho. The housing market, while expensive was nowhere near the circus that housing in the Colorado high country had become. The local ski hill offered 1900’ vertical and was regionally known for good snow and small crowds. There were a number of communities to pick from with access to our jobs, skiing and public lands which would host various recreational activities. It was the type of place which ends up in chamber of commerce fueled pissing contests, the ones with names like “The Next Great Ski Towns”. Our life plans were starting to really come together. Light at the end of the tunnel.

Things began to go sideways pretty fast though. For the holidays someone decided to give me and my coworkers an impromptu 35-day unpaid (at the time) vacation. I didn’t mind too much at first since we had just come out of a storm cycle and the skiing was decent. We were living pretty frugally, as always. Ski passes were paid for, the rent was very cheap. I did miss out on purchasing a certain ski I wanted at the time.

The season was pretty dry with the exception of February. Worse, we had underestimated the effect that the PNW winter would have on our psyches. Perhaps they had been softened by one too many bluebird days at 11’000 in the southern Rockies. December had a few storms, and a skiable base began to form. It didn’t snow much in January. I started slipping into depression for the first time in my adult life. I’d drop my wife off at the job which she was beginning to hate. From there I’d dick around town until the hill opened. When I felt like it, I would skin up to take a lap before the chairs would spin. Some days, after gearing up in the parking lot I’d make two left turns. Left to the lodge and another left to the cafeteria where they sold beer at 9:00 in the a.m. First chair.

I’d drink a few beers before skiing. I would then sample the mountain in search of soft snow or sunshine. I was having a hard time finding enough of either to be satisfied. From the summit there was a run at skiers left which went straight down the fall line for probably 1000’ verticle. A good run. Seemed like no one was ever on it. I’d point my 189 cm Volkl’s to the bottom and see how far I could make it without a turn. For the first time in my life skiing was actually feeling boring. A chore? an addiction? It was something I felt I had to do. But I didn’t feel happy doing it.

In February it snowed. A lot, almost every day. The resort skiing was consistently among the best I’d ever done. Instead of just going skiing, I began to look forward to skiing again. Familiar feelings returned. The excitement of hearing the county grader firing up at 3:30 am to open roads. Scoring first chair. The panicked frenzy of the first run on a powder day. Competing with 100 + other people for a blank canvas. Balancing the enjoyment of the first run with a race to the bottom for the second. Skating farther down the ridge than everyone else for a clean line. Hiking up before open and selfishly laying your best turns down the middle of the buried piste. Standing in line pissed off while the mountains promo film crew and ski patrol take lap after lap. What time is the lift supposed to open?

Many different approaches to a powder day. After the first lap of the day the skiers would spread out over the mountain. I’d lap powder stashes by myself, farming my turns until I was so tired I’d leave for the day. Sometimes days it was really deep. You would never find the bottom in some turns. The ski hill pimped it out over social media as “Februburied”.

The storms weren’t enough to save it though, my wife was having a rough time. Her work environment was toxic. She was the only non-Mormon employee at her office…She’s a skier for Ullr’s sake, brainwashed years ago by the quest for untracked powder turns straight down the fucking fall line. I’d spend the week in the white room while my wife worked away. Her brief turn to ski each weekend seemed to be marked by the arrival of out of towners and breaks in the storm cycle.

Well during one of these weekend breaks in the storm cycle my wife and I decided to stock up on weed. My jobs have always had policies against using marijuana (I’ve never had a job that didn’t). I had pretty much ceased smoking in my early twenties, right before the wave of legalization began. My wife still enjoyed it from time to time and we usually had some around the house. At this time however, we didn’t. And besides skiing there wasn’t much to do in our old town of 500 or so.

We planned a road trip to Washington state. Word was that the dispensaries in Eastern Washington were better than the ones in Eastern Oregon. Mostly it was an excuse to get out of town and see some new locations. But man, backwards fucking Idaho. We actually thought we might need a cover for our yuppie wagon of a truck which still had Colorado plates at the time. Throw our skis in the back and make it a ski trip. It seemed like it’d work just fine. After all, Cottonwood Butte ski area was along our route. From there it’d be smooth sailing. I can talk my way out of any situation after I’ve made some turns.

The drive was great. I always love seeing a new area for the first time, whatever the mode of travel. On the way to Washington, we passed the turn off for Cottonwood Butte. It looked cool to me. The surrounding Camas prairie was golden and windswept. Rolling hills climbed higher and higher towards the rim of the Salmon River canyon to the south. They weren’t huge, but they reminded me of the rolling hills and valleys where I learned to ski. The ski area was nestled within these hills next to a former Air Force radar station which had been converted into a minimum-security prison.

We arrived in Clarkston, Washington mid-morning. I think we had timed it out based on what time the dispensary we wanted to visit would open, while also leaving time in the day to ski Cottonwood. We got what we came for, picked up some lunch supplies for our ski later in the day and got out of Clarkston. Clarkston sits across the Snake river from Lewiston, Idaho. Lewiston, not exactly a utopia I will point out, had a few billboards stating the negative impacts of marijuana. We had a laugh at the billboards, the two cities, and also at the expense of the stoner “budtender” we had just visited. We accelerated southeast along 95 leaving all that behind as we headed back through the reservation and to the Butte.

Up through the Nez-Perce reservation and back to the prairie. As we were turning off of 95 towards the ski area the sun came out. It stayed until snow squalls snuffed it out in the late afternoon. As we got closer to the ski area the road got narrower and the snowbanks grew taller. The elevation increased just enough that the prairie had given way to forest. This area could hold a snowpack and therefore support a ski area.

We parked and scoped out the base area while we ate lunch and put our ski boots on. A genuine ski area with a beginners rope tow and a T-bar which climbs 845’ feet or so. Looked pretty great. Snow everywhere, no heated sidewalks, no B.S… no B.S. This was skiing. Half of visitors to any Ikon or Epic resort wouldn’t be able to make it to the ticket window! The groomer was a DIY model fabricated out of a corrugated steel culvert. I hadn’t seen it when we first arrived, but I could tell right away from the groom that it wasn’t typical. I should have taken pictures of it. We got our $16 lift tickets and headed up the T-bar. Smiles all around. There were still timber towers from a previous incarnation of the lift, in use to hold lights if I remember correctly. Some kids in carhartts and cowboy hats were racing down the lift line, right towards us. They jumped out from the lift line onto a run at skiers left just as they were reaching us.

We headed right from the summit and started sampling the groomers, Helicopter 1 & 2 and Main Street. We spent the next hour or two seeking out powder turns in between the groomed runs. There were plenty of open areas where you could squeeze out a few turns with minimal effort. Lots of cool rock outcrops to ski around too. We were dorking around, hucking off the rocks (to flat usually) and sneaking in a turn or two where we could down the short steep snow-covered pitches. There were also a few fun tight runs through the forest which felt like classic east coast skiing. Back on the main run to the base area I’d open it up carving big tele turns on my clapped out 189cm Volkl 108’s. The sun was shining, wife was happy, and I felt good.

It was around this time that we are confronted by Ski Patrol and a couple locals. They greet us at the T-bar loading area and invite us to ski with them. “Where are you guys from?” They laugh when we tell them where we live, they know its 15 minutes down the road from 1900’ of lift accessed skiing. “Why did you come here to ski?” They want to know “Oh, just passing through.” Would have liked to tell them, but why? It didn’t matter, the sun was out and we were all on snow. They took us on a tour of some of their other stashes. The patroller told us a bit about the area and its history. Sounded like the season was shorter than it used to be. The usual story these days. Winter starts later, ends sooner, storms aren’t what they used to be and its harder to keep the place staffed. He said they hike the hill for a month or so after it shuts down in March, April? I can’t remember. We spent the rest of the day skiing with our new friends. Closing time came fast. As we slid into the lift line for one more run the lifty calmly says to my wife and I
“Sorry, Lifts closed.”
“Actually, they are gonna help with the sweep.” Says our new patroller friend.
Well, I’m not going to argue with ski patrol. We oblige and are lined out with our task upon reaching the summit. I take in the view of the prairie below once more while skating towards our assigned run. One last meandering run down Hidden Valley. Milked every turn as the sun was sinking over our shoulders.

It was snowing as we left Cottonwood Butte. We passed Highway Patrol halfway through the Camas Prairie. On cue he flipped a u-turn and followed us all the way back to Grangeville where we went our separate ways.

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fisheater
Posts: 1262
Joined: Fri Feb 19, 2016 9:06 pm
Location: Oakland County, MI
Ski style: All my own, and age doesn't help
Favorite Skis: Gamme 54, Falketind 62, I hope to add a third soon
Favorite boots: Alpina Alaska, Alico Ski March
Occupation: Construction Manager

Re: Cottonwood Butte T.R.

Post by fisheater » Sat Dec 19, 2020 12:26 pm

My condolences on your wife’s job circumstances. While most of us don’t care about being with the cool kids as adults, being the ostracized kid is not something most humans are wired to deal with. It becomes more and more difficult without a plan to remedy the situation. I wish the both of you inspiration in finding a solution.
A different climate is a tough thing, personally for me a Michigan native I couldn’t wait to get out of the desert. That doesn’t even account for the very real Vitamin D deficiency’s lack of sunshine causes. Besides the real physiological effect of a place, atmosphere of a locale plays a huge role in happiness. I ran a project in Houston for the winter back in 2010. The people I met were very nice, but the “vibe” of the situation didn’t suit me. I didn’t realize that until I left. When I got on the road, I hit the green rolling hills near College Station and I felt tension that I was unaware of leave my body.
So it was great to hear about the joy you found skiing on your road trip. Kindred souls do so much for us! Perhaps some simple backcountry gear can help you and your wife find some peace on some low angle, lonely terrain near home? Hopefully you will also go west occasionally and ski with new friends.
Peace





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downontheupside
Posts: 8
Joined: Fri Dec 18, 2020 7:46 am

Re: Cottonwood Butte T.R.

Post by downontheupside » Sat Dec 19, 2020 1:10 pm

Thanks Fisheater. My wife ended up quitting that job after 8 months or so after finding a better opportunity for the time being. Ultimately we ended up moving back near where we previously lived/worked in CO, no complaints on that front, got a good thing going now.

This trip was a highlight of that winter for us. Though we prefer backcountry skiing, there was a great feeling at that little ski area. It was refreshing to ski with a bunch of strangers at an authentic hill. That should've be the highlight of the story I suppose ;)

There was a lot of snow low in the valley that winter and we were able to ski a beautiful hill that offered 1000' vertical of open low angle meadows, a short drive from our place. Only a few people were skiing that besides us it seemed. There was a good corn season that spring too. That kept us from exploring as much as we could have, but was a good problem to have I suppose. So things got better 8-)





User avatar
fisheater
Posts: 1262
Joined: Fri Feb 19, 2016 9:06 pm
Location: Oakland County, MI
Ski style: All my own, and age doesn't help
Favorite Skis: Gamme 54, Falketind 62, I hope to add a third soon
Favorite boots: Alpina Alaska, Alico Ski March
Occupation: Construction Manager

Re: Cottonwood Butte T.R.

Post by fisheater » Sat Dec 19, 2020 2:22 pm

So awesome that things have improved! Sounds like Cottonwood Butte was a great get away. I found a great out of the way place once. My friend and I were turned away from a sold out Arizona Snow Bowl. We ended up at Mt Bill Williams ski area. We ended up being befriended by some of the locals and had a great time.
Looking forward to posts from Colorado this season!





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Woodserson
Posts: 2238
Joined: Wed Feb 11, 2015 11:25 am
Location: New Hampshire
Ski style: Bumps, trees, steeps and long woodsy XC tours
Favorite Skis: DH: Voile V6, Altai KOMs, XCD: Asnes FT62, XC: Nansen, E99, Bonna 1800
Favorite boots: T2Eco, T4, Rossignol BCX10
Occupation: Retro Rager-grouch. Flailmeister. E99 Nerd

Re: Cottonwood Butte T.R.

Post by Woodserson » Sat Dec 19, 2020 7:03 pm

I read it last night.
I read it again today.
I'll probably read it again tomorrow morning with my coffee.

Fantastic TR





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Stephen
Posts: 327
Joined: Thu Aug 06, 2020 12:49 am
Ski style: Aspirational
Favorite Skis: Gamme (210), Ingstad (205), Objective BC (178)
Favorite boots: Alfa Guard Advance
Occupation: Beyond

Re: Cottonwood Butte T.R.

Post by Stephen » Sun Dec 20, 2020 12:45 am

Don’t let it go to your head, but it’s nice to read a good story. I love a good story. Storytelling is an art and connects us to authentic human experience (unlike phrases like “authentic human experience”). Thanks for sharing.





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