February Backcountry Newsletter

For the next couple of newsletters, we will be highlighting athletes and showcasing their own write ups of the month.  

This month we have Niamh Keating, telling us about the team's annual Montana Hut Trip. Thank you Niamh!

My name is Niamh Keating and I am a sophomore in the JHSC Backcountry Program. A few weeks ago, on January 6, nine athletes got up early and drove with their coaches and skis to Hamilton, Montana. After a 6-hour drive we reached Downing Mountain Lodge and hiked up an icy road to a fire-warmed cabin. Everyone's spirits were a little down, due to the low amount of snow, and on closer inspection, the quality of the snow. The first night of the trip, everyone settled in, chose their beds and got to know their teammates. We were lucky enough to have a professional chef accompany us on the journey, Mikey’s dad, Andy. Andy cooked the most amazing meals, both breakfast and dinner. I think the team’s favorite meal was the Thai Steak, which we had on our last night. I would like to thank Andy for his generosity, kindness, and cooking skills on this journey. 

The first day of skiing started out strong. Everyone was really excited and cheery to be spending time with friends and teammates. Coach Blake told us interesting facts about the geography and pointed out species specific to the area, such as the Ponderosa Pine. That day we summited the mountain overlooking the lodge, and read the note from last year's trip at the red mailbox. The mailbox was literally a registered mailbox on top of a mountain and I have to say I was not expecting that. After traversing along the ridgeline, and navigating over some rocks and tricky situations we skied “The Wave.” The snow was nice and fluffy and there was a dramatic difference at the elevation of the summit than at the elevation of the lodge. The team split at one point and Coach Blake led me and Mikey to ski some more. Everyone arrived back at the lodge weary but elated. That night, athletes, coaches, and chefs alike all enjoyed the soothing powers of the pine-needle aroma'd sauna and the hot-tub overlooking the twinkling lights of the town below. 

The second ski day of the trip went a little slower. Everyone was sore and tired from the day before, so we took it slow, stopping to smell the Ponderosa Pines along the way. The group split into two groups. One skinned to the mailbox and left a note for next year and the other continued on to “The Crown.” The Crown had been labeled the best skiing of a lifetime by athletes who attended the Montana Trip last year. Although everyone was tired, we were fueled by excitement and frozen candy. We made it to the top after numerous kick turns, where everyone got a chance to perfect their skills. The team enjoyed a windy lunch on top of a rocky outcrop overlooking the surrounding wilderness, including Downing Mountain. The rumors were true and the run we skied certainly was one of the best runs of my life. Each athlete got to lead a run down, and Coaches helped them focus on guiding skills. That night there was a ping-pong contest and another amazing meal. 

The third and final day of the trip was optional for skiing, but Charlotte, Charlie, Mikey, and myself got up early for a sunrise trek and got ready to roll. Coach Gavin guided us that day and although both the Kilgrows were hurting from nasty blisters, they persevered and we made it to the summit. We all decided that we were glad we went, even though it was a painful skinning day. We returned to the lodge and were greeted by teammates who dutifully helped pack up and clean the lodge while we were gone. After three days of snowy fun we said goodbye to the cozy lodge and ice-skated down to the van. The ice on the road to hike down was so slick, everyone was sliding and slipping the whole way. The trip was a success and an experience I will carry with me for years to come.

I want to thank Coach Blake and Coach Gavin for being amazing knowledgeable guides and mentors on this trip. It was inspiring to learn from and ski with such experienced people. I also want to thank Mikey’s dad, Andy, for being such a spectacular chef on this trip - I don’t think I would have been able to get up every morning if there hadn’t been the smell of breakfast wafting through the lodge. Lastly, I want to thank Blake’s wife, Elizabeth, for being so sweet to me and Charlotte, and everyone else as well. 

This trip is just one example of the wonderful opportunities and memories you can make in the backcountry club. This is my first season with the team, but I have made memorable experiences both touring in the park and while working hard at practice. I can definitely see myself becoming a better skier, and I will continue to do this program for the rest of my time in highschool.