Montana on my mind

words and photos by Jules Older


When I teach skiing, I suggest to my students that, to establish and hold a rhythm, they find their ski song.

Truth is, my ski songs find me. My usual one is Sweet Georgia Brown. When I skied West Virginia, it morphed into Miner’s Lifeguard. When I crossed from Switzerland’s French side to the German, my song suddenly switched to Springtime for Hitler and Germany.

See? My song finds me.

So, I shouldn't have been surprised when, about a week before a trip to Whitefish, Montana, a new song came pounding into my head… and out of my mouth enough times to drive my wife crazy.

It has a couple of names: Leaving Cheyenne and Goodbye Old Paint. Here's how it goes…

I ride an old Paint

A leadin' old Dan

I'm goin' to Montana

For to throw the Hoolahan


Woody Guthrie sang it. Roy Rogers sang it. And now that I'm skiing Montana once again, I'm singing it, too. My wife can't wait for the big yellow taxi to take me away.

And I can't wait to get back to Montana. For a devotee of the beautiful and the peculiar like me, the state’s a double treat.

Montana is known for forested mountains, wide-open spaces, abundance of wildlife and absence of people. All true. It’s gorgeous.

It also has one of the most polluted cities in America; a history of bitter, sometimes deadly, labor disputes, and an over-abundance of weird villains including the Unabomber. It’s insane.

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Big Sky, Big Drama: It's Not Easy Being Dude

by Jules Older

It was — as skiing trouble so often is — intended to be the last run of the day. But hey, the sun was still shining, the snow was still soft and our legs still felt strong. Dick and Bud and me, we were dudes. Eastern dudes, old dudes, groomer-hugging dudes, but dudes.

We were also a wee bit lost. But everything on Big Sky’s Andesite Mountain had been so mellow, why worry? Why even consult the trail map? Real dudes don’t read maps.


Trails Named after Distressed Animals

We started down something called Crazy Raven. Which led to Mad Wolf.

Here's some free advice. Don’t ski trails named after distressed animals. You wouldn’t ski Hydrophobic Raccoon, would you? Or a route named Cow with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease? The same applies to Crazy Ravens and Mad Wolves.

What led us astray — apart from the inherent stupidity of dudehood — was the approach.

Crazy Raven lures you in with a broad and gentle approach that — once turning back is no longer an option — suddenly and sadistically narrows, steepens and bumps up.

Which, at the end of the day means big, mean, rutted moguls frozen harder than Dick Cheney’s heart. By the fourth or fifth awkward stem turn, we were feeling considerably less dudical.

Halfway down, when the moguls were dwarfed by jagged rocks, we decided to bail. The only option was crossing through a narrow stretch of woods to Mad Wolf, which despite its unpromising name, had to be better than the bloody Raven.

Uh, no.

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Skiing and Me

by Jules Older

Growing up in 1950’s Baltimore, outside of movies, I’d never seen a ski.

When I left for college, in cold and mysterious Vermont, my mother’s friend gave me a pair from her college days. They were ancient even by 1958 standards: taller than an NBA center, primitive beartrap bindings and lacking that newfangled invention, steel edges.

But they were mine. And I was heading for the snow.

I had no idea what to do with my new/old skis. So my freshman roommate trudged with me to the top of Hospital Hill, a steep slope ending at the curb of a busy Burlington street. He helped me strap into those outmoded bindings, held my arm as I steadied myself at the top of the hill, and pushed.

Fearing a fall onto the icy snow, I skied.

Been doing it ever since. Sliding on snow has been not only a major theme of my life but the way I've earned much of my income. More than that, snow-covered mountains have given me enormous pleasure, satisfaction and spiritual uplift. Skiing has been a huge and hugely wonderful part of my adult life. Hello, mountains. Farewell, Baltimore.

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