LOST TRAIL PASS – There are certain mythical days on the mountain – when the sky is deep blue, the pristine powder is piled up waist-high and the cold air bites the lungs – that make every skier and snowboarder feel like they’ve won the lottery.
Thursday, the opening day of the 75th consecutive season at Lost Trail Powder Mountain south of Darby, was one of those days.
With an accumulated base of 53 inches of sugary snow and temperatures maxing out at no more than 5 degrees, the conditions at Lost Trail for the first day of the 2013-14 season were so perfect that everyone in the lift line at 9 a.m. had the same blissful grin on their face. The parking lot was only half full by lunchtime, so there was enough untouched cold smoke for everyone who wanted it. Every few minutes, the frozen air was pierced by the triumphant shouts of a powder addict getting their fix and releasing a dreary offseason’s worth of pent-up frustration.
“It’s a great opening day,” said Scott Grasser, who manages the ski hill with his sister Judy. “My foreman Justin thinks it’s the best we’ve had in 10 years, and I agree. It’s just absolutely insane out there. The cold temperature is helping the snow, so we’ll take it.”
Grasser, taking a break from changing out a beer keg, said that employees from other ski hills in Montana have been amazed at how much of the white stuff has fallen on Lost Trail’s slopes in the past few weeks.
“We’ve got folks here from Big Sky and Bridger, all over the place, and they are saying we have the best conditions in the state right now,” he said.
The first “Powder Thursday” of the year, as it’s known locally because the mountain is open Thursday through Sunday during the ski season, is always an occasion for catching up with the hill’s loyal customer base, according to Grasser.
“It’s just like all our family has come back for Christmas, it’s really cool,” he said.
The mountain first officially opened in the winter of 1937-38, and Grasser’s father, Bill, bought the ski hill in the late 1960s. The family has made numerous upgrades since then while avoiding the corporate feel that pervades many other resorts in Montana and Idaho. There are no electronic ticket-scanners, apparel shops or lattes to be found here.
This past summer, crews removed dead or diseased lodgepole pine from about 230 scattered acres on the mountain to ward off a mountain pine beetle infestation and to reduce safety hazards. The thinning left dozens of new 15-foot-wide trails through the remaining timber, which powderhounds eagerly took advantage of on Thursday. Grasser said he’s seen a lot of changes and improvements to the area over the years.
“From when I was a kid just having chairs 1 and 2, we’ve added chairs 3, 4 and 5,” Grasser said. “And all the thinning the new glades on the Idaho side are just epic.”
Judy Grasser said she looks forward to opening day every year.
“Today was really cool, watching all the season pass people come in,” she said. “The new terrain and everything, it’s really cool. The conditions are really good, other than the cold. This has been one of our better openings in quite some time. Obviously we have gotten a very nice snow niche. It’s a nice secret family.”
Aaron Hoffman of Salmon, Idaho, was definitely appreciative of the conditions and the new terrain as he exchanged high-fives with his buddies at the lodge during lunchtime.
“It’s a powder day to remember for sure,” he said. “It’s as good as we get normally like in January or February. I mean it was like three feet, easy. It was just soft snow. I could stick my pole all the way. And it’s like a new mountain with all the thinning they’ve done, it’s really great.”
Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or email@example.com.