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MAR/APR 2022, OUR 26TH YEAR
 
 
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WINTER PLEASURES in the FLATHEAD VALLEY MONTANA:
Skiing, Skijoring, Bikejoring, Dogsledding
 
 
Story and photographs by Larry Turner
 

“Life is short, so eat dessert first,” as they say. I’ve heard that many times before, and I often adhere to that...probably just because I love dessert so much. In these times of uncertainty with covid and now the brutish little man Putin spewing his lack of humanity, dessert tastes even better, especially served with winter sporting pleasures and activities such as skiing, skijoring, dogjoring, fine food, merriment, sightseeing and the pleasure of being in the company of the ones you love.

I write these words the last day of February, 2022, from my son’s Whitefish, Montana, home. He lies on the bed behind me as I write these words, talking with his first cousin (my niece) Alexandria, a naturopathic doctor in Portland, Oregon. His trusty companion Bosco, the red bone hound dog, lies on the bed beside him. We have a winter fire going near us in the living room. The 15 foot tall Christmas tree with bubble lights still sparkles in the living room corner. We’ll undress it tomorrow and toss it over the deck...and when the snow melts, he’ll find a proper resting ground for it. In winter ski towns, holiday decor is often left up until spring. A foot-plus of snow is still on the house roof. After he gets off the phone, we’ll make some crème brûlée from scratch to have for dessert tomorrow after we ski. Tomorrow will be our final ski day together this season as I depart for Edmonds, Washington, via Amtrak this Thursday, then on to Whistler, BC, Canada, this Sunday with my ski buddy John Paulson.

VALENTINE’S DAY 2022

I flew to Whitefish from Medford, Oregon, on Super Bowl Sunday this year. Being a 49er fan, I didn’t give a blank about the game’s result. My brother-in-law Rob Crawford and his son Max flew in just before me. They stayed at the www.kandaharlodge.com for a four night ski junket. My son Steen is the chef de cuisine of the www.cafekandahar.com. After skiing Big Mountain (https://skiwhitefish.com/) on Valentine’s Day, Rob, Max and I freshened up, then consumed a never-to-be-forgotten gourmet meal at the Kandahar. Our 8:45pm table was the last seating. Valentine’s dinner at the Cafe is booked months in advance, but because my son is one of the chefs, we were able to squeeze in a setting.

  Grade A5 Japanese wagu beef tenderloin tartare   Dry aged duck two ways  
 
Grade A5 Japanese wagu beef
tenderloin tartare
 
Dry aged duck two ways

 
         
  Elk tenderloin   Nougat glace poached pear  
 
Elk tenderloin
 
Nougat glacé poached pear
 
         
  Steen, Larry, Rob, Max   Max and Rob  
 
Steen, Larry, Rob, Max
 
Max and Rob
 

The Valentine’s Menu at the Cafe, five courses (can be paired with wine) is called Angels and Devils. Angels are seafood entrees and Devils are red meat. We had both, split between the three of us. At $150 each ($75 extra if wine paired), it is not for the faint of pocketbook. The Angels five-course consisted of kona kampachi (prepared with lobster butter, sturgeon caviar, Kaffir lime, Montana honeycomb, crisp pasta and kona kampachi), golden Alaska king crab (sweet peas, saffron, winter chanterelles, black winter truffles), oyster and brie soup (house cured bacon, hedgehog mushrooms, fennel pollen, black winter truffles), Columbia River sturgeon (dungess crab, black trumpet mushrooms, spruce tips, yuzu, coconut milk, parsnips) and a dessert of nougat glacé (poached pears, granola crumb, caramelized sugar). The Devils five-course: grade A5 Japanese Wagyu beef tenderloin tartare (truffle Sabayon, parmigiana crisp, tomato oil, microgreens), dry aged duck two ways (duck breast, huckleberries, ice wine, nettles, duck rillette, pomegranate, vanilla, ricotta, black winter truffles), veal sweetbreads (stone ground mustard, Castelveltrano olives, crème fraiche, grilled acorn squash, elk tenderloin (pink peppercorns, foam, duxelles, Montana chevre, tallo potatoes, Dauphine, spinach) and chocolate cake dessert prepared with banana mousse, caramel, Mandarin, Chantilly. Need I say more? Culinary paradise!

SKIING the FISH

  Skiing at Whitefish Resort, Montana   Skiing at Whitefish Resort, Montana  
         
  Skiing at Whitefish Resort, Montana   Skiing at Whitefish Resort, Montana  
         
  Skiing at Whitefish Resort, Montana   Skiing at Whitefish Resort, Montana  
         
  Skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana   Skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana  
         
  Skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana   Skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana  
         
  Skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana   Skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana  
         
  Skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana   Skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana  
         
  Skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana   Skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana  

The following day, the four of us skied the Fish (Whitefish Mountain Resort), formerly Big Mountain Ski Resort. From Base Camp, we took the first lift up to Chair One which took us to the summit where the clear sky views were splendorous, 360 degrees of nearby and distant Montana and Canadian mountains, all coated deeply in the white of winter. All of the troubles of the world seemed distant from our perch. By day’s end, we had skied a circle around the mountain, gliding effortlessly on the fresh and kind snow, in the four directions of south, west, north, east. We took a reprieve near day’s end at the Hellroaring Saloon and Eatery (https://hellroaringwhitefish.com/), wetting our whistle with a tap brew - mine was a splendid nitro stout. Among our favorite runs were the Hellroaring Basin’s Hell Fire, Heep Steep, North Fork and No Name. On a sunny day, the Summit House is a wonderful place to stop for refreshments, nourishment and views. The expanded outside porch is wonderful, except there were no chairs nor tables. Last call at the Summit bar is 3:15pm which we learned the hard way, having arrived 10 minutes late. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, there is night skiing until 8:30pm. Big Mountain is an awesome mountain for skiing and boarding with a variety of terrain and conditions, and if you are over 70, you can get a season pass for $125 (https://skiwhitefish.com/).

No covid mask rules were in play at the resort, other than postings of encouraging people to wear masks inside buildings if so inclined. I saw very few people wearing masks, as the general feeling was that the virus was waning and statistics were backing that up. With my vaccinations and boosters up to date, I felt confident wherever I went.

SKIJORING

  Skijoring in the Flathead Valley, Montana   Skijoring in the Flathead Valley, Montana  
         
  Skijoring in the Flathead Valley, Montana   Skijoring in the Flathead Valley, Montana  
         
  Skijoring in the Flathead Valley, Montana   Skijoring in the Flathead Valley, Montana  
         
  Skijoring in the Flathead Valley, Montana   Skijoring in the Flathead Valley, Montana  
         
  Skijoring in the Flathead Valley, Montana   Skijoring in the Flathead Valley, Montana  
         
  Skijoring in the Flathead Valley, Montana   Skijoring in the Flathead Valley, Montana  
         
  Skijoring Flathead Valley, Montana   Skijoring Flathead Valley, Montana  

Skijoring competitions returned to the Flathead Valley after a covid two-year hiatus. I attended the event on a brutally cold Sunday in late February. In skijoring, horses pull single skiers over a course that includes jumps and gates and rings that skiers have to grab. There are three competitive divisions: novice, sports (intermediate) and pro. The origin of the sport goes as far back as the Winter Games in Stockholm, Sweden in 1901. The first American skijoring took place at Lake Placid, New York in 1913. The sport would later become popular at Western winter carnivals, including Whitefish’s Annual February Winter Carnival.

When I arrived, there was a steady stream of spectators arriving and in the early part of the afternoon, the course was lined with folks. The day before, the weather conditions for the event had been perfect for the participants and the large crowd. A cold front moved in soon after I got there the following day, and before the afternoon was out, a Montana blizzard took over, pushing all but the hardest fans out through the gates and back home to warm fires. I braved it to the last, as did all of the athletes. In the sports and pro division, all of the players except a few, negotiated the entire course with an overall winning time in the late teens (seconds). Penalties were taken for missing jumps, gates and ring grabs. In the novice division, most participants failed to hang onto the rope or crashed off early jumps. It was wild and woolly to say the least, but most entertaining! I ended up getting so cold that I had to find a spot around one of their three arena fires to bivouac for the last competition. Horses fared better than humans as they are well insulated in their fur coats and used to the cold. The temperature dropped to 15 below zero Farenheit.

BIKEJORING, SKIJORING and DOG SLEDDING

  Bikejoring Flathead Valley, Montana   Bikejoring Flathead Valley, Montana  
         
  Bikejoring Flathead Valley, Montana   Bikejoring Flathead Valley, Montana  
         
  Bikejoring Flathead Valley, Montana   Bikejoring Flathead Valley, Montana  
         
  Bikejoring Flathead Valley, Montana   Bikejoring Flathead Valley, Montana  
         
  Bikejoring Flathead Valley, Montana   Bikejoring Flathead Valley, Montana  

A week after the Whitefish Skijoring event, I drove three miles north of Olney, Montana, to Dog Creek Lodge beside Highway 93 where the Flathead Classic Sled Dog Race was taking place. The Canadian border is less than 40 miles away. In addition to dog sled races, dog skijoring races with skiers, bikes and sleds were also on the program. Though I had mushed in Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia, I had never witnessed a competition, much less watched dog skijoring and bikejoring of any sort. A brand spanking new witness sport for me! And my, was it a hoot!

Dog Creek Lodge (https://www.dogcreeklodge.com/) has a Nordic center with nearly 30 kilometers of groomed trails. The lodge is open for year-round activities.

Though I loved witnessing the dog sledding, I especially loved watching the single cross country dog skijoring, mainly done by accomplished women. I was surprised by the variety of breeds used for all of the events. Huskies always come to mind when thinking about mushing, so I was pleasantly tickled to see German short-hairs, Greysters, Eurohounds and Alaskans. Basically, any energetic dog over 25 pounds can do this work.

Additionally, competitive events were held with one-dog and two-dog bikejoring. There was also a sledding dog event for children.

NORDIC MECCA

  Nordic skiing, Flathead Valley, Montana   Nordic skiing, Flathead Valley, Montana  
         
  Nordic skiing, Flathead Valley, Montana   Nordic skiing, Flathead Valley, Montana  

The Flathead Valley and surrounding area, including Glacier National Park, traditionally get ample amounts of winter snow, creating a Mecca for the Nordic skier and snowshoer. The Glacier Nordic Club (https://www.glaciernordicclub.org/) is located at the Whitefish Lake Golf Course. There are 12 kilometers of trails for classic and skate skiing. The club also promotes trails on Big Mountain and other places in the Flathead Valley. The golf course trails are a slice of heaven for skiers and stay open until 10pm (headlamps advised). Their Nordic Shop is open daily 9:30am to 5:30pm where equipment and tickets can be picked up. Depending on the snow levels, the course can be open until spring. This year, that looks promising as the Flathead Valley and surrounding mountains are currently getting ample amounts of that beautiful white stuff.

  Larry Turner is a productive, respected regional, national and international photographer/writer. His work has appeared in countless magazines and books, including Browntrout and Avalanche Publishers' calendars and books, American Heritage, National Geographic Traveler, Travel and Leisure, Sunset and many others. He is the co-author of the book Mount Shasta Reflections, and his photographs have appeared on covers of many books and magazines.  He is an active skier, gardener, fly fisherman,  and adventurer. His greatest love is spending time with his son Steen, Chef de Cuisine of the Cafe Kandahar in Whitefish, Montana.   Larry Turner