Low angle means high pleasure.
Crystal Lake, MT
When the snow flies and the Forest Service closes the Crystal Lake access road (December 1), quiet descends on Montana’s overlooked Big Snowy Mountains. That makes for little competition booking the one-room Forest Service cabin (sleeps six; mattresses and stoves provided) on the lake’s shoreline—and within striking distance of ice caves and plenty of low-angle skiing. Skin 6 miles from the road closure and then another mile across the frozen lake to survey the bounty: 8,000-foot peaks with snow-filled chutes splintering their forested slopes.
Set up basecamp in the cabin and set out on the Ice Caves Trail (#493) from Crystal Lake’s eastern shore for a 3-mile skin to Snow Crest along West Peak’s ridgeline. Douglas firs and ponderosa pines shelter the first part of the climb before views open over Montana’s central plains and north to the 6,000-foot Judith Mountains. Turn south (hiker’s left) on #654 and tour the 100-foot-wide cavern where it’s always winter: Cold interior temps mean the limestone cave’s icy floor and pillars remain intact all year. Return to Snowy Crest, click in, and ski the northern aspect back to Crystal Lake ( be avy aware). On snowshoes? Continue to West Peak’s 8,211-foot summit and descend via Grandview Point for an 11-mile loop.
TRAILHEAD 46.867097, -109.518337; 106 miles southeast of Great Falls on Crystal Lake Rd. CABIN Crystal Lake Cabin ($25/night for the whole cabin); recreation.gov PERMIT None CONTACT bit.do/crystal-lake
With a little luck, the view from Neahkahnie Sea Cliffs (off the Cape Falcon Trail) will include a sunset- colored Pacific and the spouts of gray whales.