Logging powder: Lost Trail ski area opens up new terrain with thinning project

2013-10-22T19:45:00Z Logging powder: Lost Trail ski area opens up new terrain with thinning projectBy PERRY BACKUS - Ravalli Republic Ravalli Republic
October 22, 2013 7:45 pm  • 

SULA – People who love skiing the steep and deep are going to love this news.

This summer and fall, loggers have been at work removing dead, diseased and dying lodgepole pine from about 230 acres scattered between the ski trails on the southern end of Lost Trail Powder Mountain.

Last week, the last of 300 or so logging trucks filled with logs taken from the mountainside left for the Sun Mountain lumber mill in Deer Lodge.

In their wake, they left dozens of new 15-foot-wide skid (and now ski) trails through the remaining patches of now widely spaced timber.

“There is going to be lots and lots more tree skiing available for people this year,” said Lost Trail co-owner Scott Grasser. “I can’t say for sure that we have the most tree skiing in the state, but in western Montana I would say we’re pretty darn close.”

Crews are still at work re-contouring roads, putting in erosion controls and burning slash piles as Lost Trail prepares for its 75th season this winter.

On Monday, there were still a couple of loads of firewood that needed to be trucked to complete the log hauling chore.

The work wasn’t just focused on creating new tree-skiing terrain.

The forest surrounding the ski area is under attack by mountain pine beetles. The nearby hillsides are pocked with red and gray trees killed by the bugs over the past few years.

“It’s a forest health issue,” Grasser said. “This was a sanitation and salvage sale. We worked to clean up the forest and get rid of the bug-infested trees. We were also looking to get rid of hazards.”

“We’re always looking for ways to make this area better and better and better,” he said.

This summer’s work didn’t remove every dead or dying tree on the 1,800-acre ski hill. What it did do was protect the trees on the southern end of the mountain from any further infestation.

When all the work is completed and snow starts to pile up atop the mountain this winter, Grasser said skiers will find all sorts of new places to explore.

At 75-foot intervals across nearly every patch of timber, there is a new trail about 15 feet wide where the loggers skidded their logs up the hill. Tree spacing inside the stands ranges from 12 to 30 feet apart.

Grasser said loggers working on the hill who also ski were pretty excited about what they were seeing happen.

“They knew what this meant,” he said. “They were just stoked.”

There was a corresponding project underway on the northern edges of the mountain, where crews were busy hand-cutting and burning beetle-killed trees and removing some understory.

Grasser said work will continue this fall to burn slash piles in both areas to make the area safer this winter.

“Skiers are going to notice the work that’s been done this summer in a really big way. It has really transformed the old part of the hill into something brand new. We’ve always been known for our powder. With all these opportunities, we’re going to be a powder Mecca,” Grasser said.

Reach reporter Perry Backus at 363-3300 or pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

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