October Chute

October Chute on Hardscrabble Peak gets its name from its ideal northerly aspect that captures early snow and doesn’t release it until late the following summer. And a couple years ago, on October 25, it opened for business when a powerful snowstorm put an abrupt end to the Indian summer. Two feet of snow fell in the mountains of southwest Montana, three feet on the Ridge, and it was every Bozeman skier’s wet dream: a “right-side-up” system that dumped the heavy stuff first, then cooled in time to drop a foot of early-season powder before the clouds dried out.

The dense snow on the bottom smothered the rocks and stumps at Bridger Bowl, producing an instant mid-season base, but Bridger was getting shralped hard the day after the storm. It seemed like a good time to pursue some less popular slopes.

The snow was deep and the skinning strenuous, but we surmounted the lower headwall of Hardscrabble in two hours. We contoured north up the broad, treed gully known as White Worm and gained the ridge in cloudy conditions. Our first run was mellow but exciting—the skiing was effortless for our early-season legs. We whooped and hollered all the way to the top of October Chute.

Given the generous fall daylight, we turned our attention to a line we had scoped on the way up. Looming to our south was a short yet beautiful north-facing couloir, hemmed in by the hulk of Hardscrabble above and a detached spire below. Though we were out of shape and still had October Chute’s long descent ahead of us, the gluttonous thirst for soft turns spurred us to start boot-packing.

We traversed over to the top of our final ski pitch in the burgeoning twilight. We peered over the lip of October Chute and our hearts began to race. It was steep and long, and the snow looked incredible. I was the first one down.

My first turn produced an explosion of choking proportions. The next few turns were more of the same until the pitch subsided into the apron. I watched my partner do the same disappearing act above me, until he was at the bottom. We exchanged the nonsensical exclamations of powder enthusiasts, snow-drunk after a summer of sobriety. We slid away from Hardscrabble in the fading light, relishing another October day in Montana.