Summer Stashes: Lance Riek tags solstice powder in the Gallatin Range

On the longest day of the year, Lance Riek mines powder outside Bozeman, Mont. [Photo] Lance Riek

From Fourth of July corn harvesting in the Northeast to mid-summer snowstorms that closed mountain passes across the West, there’s been plenty of opportunities for turns well into June and July.

In our first installment of Summer Stashes 2019, we celebrate this year’s deep snowpack with technical editor Lance Riek, who recounts skiing powder on Mount Blackmore outside Bozeman, Mont. on the summer solstice.

Location:  Mt. Blackmore, Highlight Range, Montana
Team: Lance Riek
Summit Elevation: 10,154 ft.
Prime Time: April-June
Descent Date: June 21, 2019

Riek snaps a selfie on Mt. Blackmore in the summer sun. [Photo] Lance Riek

The first official day of summer kicked off with six to 12 inches of fresh snow in Montana’s Hyalite Range around Bozeman after an overnight storm on June 20 blanketed the city and surrounding mountains. Remnants of the past winter still remained on some of the Hyalite Range’s highest peaks, so Riek decided summer turns on Mount Blackmore, one of the most popular destinations for winter and early spring touring near Bozeman, were on tap.

“Montana can really put together spring powder more than just about any other place,” Riek said of the Treasure State’s occasional summer storms. “April or May powder is common, and I’ve skied [Blackmore] a few times in June, but a storm this cold this deep this late in June is uncommon.”

After getting an early start on June 21st, he followed skintracks through six inches of fresh snow from Hyalite Canyon Road to the base of the climb on Mount Blackmore Trail. From there, he booted up to a north-facing cirque, a well know bowl to many Bozemanites.

A blanket of snow covers Montana’s Hyalite Range on the solstice. [Photo] Lance Riek

“Down lower there was definitely more heat in the ground and in the snowpack, so that warmed up pretty quickly,” Riek noted of the conditions between eight and nine thousand feet. Over the 9,000-foot mark, the old snow was firmer with colder, new snow on top, allowing for February-like conditions.

“The first run down was a little wind affected and a little bit foggy for a few hundred vertical feet in the circ. Then I remember I skied off this bench [earlier this past winter] that was a little bit lower—below the fog line—and a little more protected from the wind; perfect powder and face shots,” Riek said.

Plowing through 10 to 12 inches of untouched snow each run, Riek took a few laps in the cirque before moving to a secluded meadow, only accessible by a roundabout route on the northern face. “I remembered a north-facing meadow that would still be beneath the fog,” Riek said. “I did about three laps of about 300 vertical feet there.”

A rare powder-filled vista in late June graces Montana’s Mountains. [Photo] Lance Riek

That meadow, clocking in at around 9,800 feet, is where Riek said he found the best snow of the day.

The peaks of the Hyalite Subrange are renowned for accessibility to Bozeman and quality mountaineering for their elevation. While slashing powder this deep this late anywhere is unusual, skiing these mountains in June and July is a unique opportunity that Riek was excited to experience.

“It’s not like Beartooth where you can ski all July and August.” Riek says. “There will still be skiable snow in the Hyalites, but given that it’s the end of June and it’s at mid elevation, it’s going to be melting out really fast.”

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