Discovery Basin, MT: March 16, 2021

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Discovery Basin, MT: March 16, 2021

Postby ChrisC » Thu Aug 19, 2021 9:27 am

Based in Missoula, MT for a couple of nights, I skied some of the local areas for the first time. Missoula really is one of the better Rocky Mountain college towns - might be more likable than Bozeman.

First up was Discovery Basin about 1.5 hours away...and I had some high expectations given the reviews on this list and others.

It was interesting that the Philipsburg area had the coldest temperature readings of the trip (nearly single digits) - but some of the lower snowfall totals up in the mountains. Definitely a place of consistent gradual snowfall accumulation with cold preservation - and to wait to ski later in the season.

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Spring skiing was a little different than other places on my Northwest trip. Due to cold temperatures, the south side of Discovery Basin did not really soften until almost 11/12pm. Therefore I skied the Granite lift groomers in the AM. It's not really a place to get out of bed early on a spring day since the Granite/Limelight lifts open a bit later.

Discovery Basin also has a weird policy regarding grooming on the Granite lift - no grooming over the weekend March 13/14 - but groomed steep cruisers for a Monday and Tuesday, March 15/16. The result was Center Stage and Truefisher were freshly groomed - and Orphan Girl the previous Day. These runs are on par with the best steep groomers in the US. (A groomed Center Stage compares quite favorably to Telluride's Plunge, Sun Valley's Warm Springs, Vail's Riva Ridge, etc.)

Pics of scenic Rumsey front side and Granite sectors:
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I soon moved over to the Limelight zone but then realized some of the terrain faces East and could be sun impacted. In particular, runs like The Fingers and The Pitch are better saved for the afternoon. Assumed everything was north facing. Anyways, spent the rest of the day skiing each line in the Limelight Bowls with a few south side corn groomers/bumps mixed in. The best snow and coverage were on Guns And Roses -to- Spooky Hollow sector.

Important note: Reached the Limelight lift at 11am - the liftie said I was the first rider of the day! :-k \:D/ You could make a full lap in about 10 minutes really racking up the vertical. (Minor issue: I wish Disco could groom a runout from the east bowl, but it does not look possible. It remained frozen crud all day.)

Tried to document all of the various Limelight runs over the day to entertain myself since roundtrips are so quick. Here are a series of runs:

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I skied some of the main face/south side runs over the course of the day, the corn stayed good/untouched in places to almost 1-2pm. Surprising.

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Visited historic Philipsburg at the end of the ski day. Fun town reminiscent of the remote ski towns of Colorado (Crested Butte, Telluride) in the 1980/90s. Had a beer at the local brewery - quite busy on a sunny weekday.

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Really enjoyed Discovery Basin - the corn on the Front Side, bowls of Limelight, and north-facing groomers of Granite. However, not sure how they ever made the decision to develop the Silver Chief section on the mountain. For a place with few skiers, developing terrain almost no one can use due to lack of snow seems inexcusable.
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Re: Discovery Basin, MT: March 16, 2021

Postby snowave » Thu Aug 19, 2021 1:38 pm

Nice report!

Discovery is owned by the same family that own Wolf Creek (Pitchers). After riding at Discovery a few times, and several years later having 3 seasons at Wolf Creek, I can say that they are not the brightest people at operating ski areas, IMO. The Silver Chief chair at Disco and the Charity Jane Chair at WC are good examples of wasted money, and poor decisions. The grooming at Wolf Creek was inconsistent and bizarre.. Many more other stupid things, but you get the idea.


That said, I generally liked the backside terrain at Disco, but the low snowfall is a killer most years until late (as mentioned).
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Re: Discovery Basin, MT: March 16, 2021

Postby Tony Crocker » Thu Aug 19, 2021 10:14 pm

ChrisC wrote:It was interesting that the Philipsburg area had the coldest temperature readings of the trip (nearly single digits)

Yes I think it's one of those valleys where the cold air settles. It was about 0F when Tseeb and I got up on March 1, 2015.

ChrisC wrote:Discovery Basin also has a weird policy regarding grooming on the Granite lift - no grooming over the weekend March 13/14 - but groomed steep cruisers for a Monday and Tuesday, March 15/16. The result was Center Stage and Truefisher were freshly groomed - and Orphan Girl the previous Day. These runs are on par with the best steep groomers in the US. (A groomed Center Stage compares quite favorably to Telluride's Plunge, Sun Valley's Warm Springs, Vail's Riva Ridge, etc.)

+1 on all of the above. The Grizzly groomers were not freshly groomed on Thursday March 4 and so were more forgiving in the afternoon than first thing in the morning. There was no melt/freeze but they were stiff chalk and not completely smooth early on. Most ski areas would groom one of these runs every day instead of grooming all of them but only a couple of days a week. Tseeb and I got lucky with the Grizzly runs being groomed on a Sunday in 2015 but did not know that at the time.

ChrisC wrote:The best snow and coverage were on Guns And Roses -to- Spooky Hollow sector.

That was my opinion also on March 4.

ChrisC wrote:I wish Disco could groom a runout from the east bowl, but it does not look possible. It remained frozen crud all day.

+1 March 4 was before much melt/freeze, but it's still an annoying runout of irregular choppy moguls. The west bowl runouts are wide open, only funneling to a groomed exit trail.

ChrisC might give q a run for his money with the 35K, and most of it on Limelight. =D>

snowave wrote:Discovery is owned by the same family that own Wolf Creek (Pitchers).

Maybe some of it is the natural topography, but Discovery is very well laid out in terms of lifts and terrain to maximize high quality skiing, while hardly anyone could say that about Wolf Creek. Discovery also scores brownie points for operating 7 days a week in its ends-of-the-earth location.
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Re: Discovery Basin, MT: March 16, 2021

Postby q » Tue Aug 31, 2021 7:11 am

Great to see someone visit home! Hopefully I'll get back in 2023.

Few random points more for info than anything else.

Both East and West Bowls have cut throughs which I'd use 90% of the time V the long cat track in West Bowl and the bumps in East Bowl. Both have names given by regulars, One is the Ewok Trail I think and damned if I can remember the other. The one in West bowl can be reached from just about the bottom of all trails if you know where it is and takes you thru the trees to access the open powder stash you see on the RHS as you go up the lift. Easiest way to find it is ski down Guns and stop at the last big tree dead center and look 20 feet below and you will see it heading to the right. East bowl has a similar track that cuts thru the trees just I dunno, 50 yards maybe after the big tree dead center at the bottom of The Pitch on the left hand side before the moguls start.

I'd generally agree about the $$ spent on Silver Chief but the reason it was built was 2 fold. It's used throughout the summer for mountain boking and is also going to be used in time to be a second base which will shorten the commute from Missoula considerably. I think when I was there in 2020 the road was finally completed to allow winter use but may be wrong. They will have to put in significant snowmaking IMO for that to ever realistically be practical and from a personal perspective i'lll continue to spend an extra 30 minutes to go to the front side and park. There are far too many unanswered questions on how it would work. Granite doesn't open until 10am so what time can SC open, can you ski down at close of day etc etc. Although not my thing as the incline is pretty shallow like the snowpack out there but on a good day the skiing there can be spectacular. It's also on land owned by the Pitcher's so that is another reason it was built with potential real estate etc.

Thanks for sharing the report!
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Re: Discovery Basin, MT: March 16, 2021

Postby Tony Crocker » Tue Aug 31, 2021 4:51 pm

Yes I read somewhere that Silver Chief is the focus of summer mountain biking and thus has utility for Discovery even if winter use is limited.
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Re: Discovery Basin, MT: March 16, 2021

Postby ChrisC » Wed Sep 01, 2021 6:54 am

q wrote:Great to see someone visit home! Hopefully I'll get back in 2023.

Few random points more for info than anything else.

Both East and West Bowls have cut throughs which I'd use 90% of the time V the long cat track in West Bowl and the bumps in East Bowl. Both have names given by regulars, One is the Ewok Trail I think and damned if I can remember the other. The one in West bowl can be reached from just about the bottom of all trails if you know where it is and takes you thru the trees to access the open powder stash you see on the RHS as you go up the lift. Easiest way to find it is ski down Guns and stop at the last big tree dead center and look 20 feet below and you will see it heading to the right. East bowl has a similar track that cuts thru the trees just I dunno, 50 yards maybe after the big tree dead center at the bottom of The Pitch on the left hand side before the moguls start.


Interesting about the cut-throughs adding some powder turns at the end of a run. Always takes a while to learn a mountain.

It looked to me that there was no way for a groomer to bypass the Limelight lift to get from the west bowl run out to the east bowl run out. Minor issue.

Overall, I thought Discovery Basin compared favorably with the best of Montana resorts for expert terrain and groomers - Whitefish, Bridger, Montana Snowbowl - with exceptionally low skier density. Would love to ski on a powder day! See how many locals are lured out of the woodwork.
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Re: Discovery Basin, MT: March 16, 2021

Postby flyover » Wed Sep 01, 2021 11:52 am

ChrisC wrote:Would love to ski on a powder day! See how many locals are lured out of the woodwork.


Not many locals turned out for powder when we were there in February 2014 on a Friday and Saturday: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards ... =3&t=11409";

However, that was the "polar vortex" winter and it was cold, which probably helped.
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Re: Discovery Basin, MT: March 16, 2021

Postby q » Tue Sep 07, 2021 7:22 am

flyover wrote:Not many locals turned out for powder when we were there in February 2014 on a Friday and Saturday


I don't find it that bad at the weekends in March but it certainly tails off from late February. My friends say weekends now are unbearable in Jan/Feb with more and more Bozeman plates appearing annually and most powder days are really busy.

I know it was a powder day but the coverage in Russell looks superb that year too. The sign is now gone, it was meant to put off people going in there but had the opposite effect. In 2018 I think it was I had to call my patrol buddy at closing he was passing the top of the entrance. As I was dropping into Russell at 3.45 I found a father and grown up son in a mess in there. Both had fallen and were bootpacking out. The father was absolutely exhausted and pretty much had to be hauled out by ski director Brad. I spoke to Brad over a beer that night and he said they could barely ski the small section of bumps on the cat track after he got them back into their skis never mind Russell. Next day I dropped into Russell and skied it and saw the bootpack more clearly. The father had fallen and bootpacked all the way up from the apron into the powder field below. No wonder he was knackered!
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Re: Discovery Basin, MT: March 16, 2021

Postby Tony Crocker » Tue Sep 07, 2021 12:01 pm

q wrote:My friends say weekends now are unbearable in Jan/Feb

:rotfl: Spoiled locals.

What is the longest lift line they have seen at Grizzly or Limelight?

Sometimes there can be a logjam first thing in the morning getting out of the base at areas where the prime terrain is up the hill or on the backside, but even there Discovery has the Anaconda lift to double Rumsey's capacity on busy days.

It is hard for me to envision a better lift system at a mom-and-pop area than Discovery's.

q wrote:The sign is now gone, it was meant to put off people going in there but had the opposite effect.

Those signs are of course relative within a ski area. But that should tell anyone who has skied a Limelight double diamond that triple diamond is serious.
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Re: Discovery Basin, MT: March 16, 2021

Postby q » Wed Sep 08, 2021 5:04 am

My experience is that even on the busiest weekends the line at 9.30 on the front side is quickly dealt with. It then gives you time to lap the front side and jump on the lift in time for rope drop to Limelight/Granite.

I cant recall exactly but seem to recall 15-20 minute waits at Limelight being mentioned, i've not seen more than probably 5 minutes TBH and would tend to think that they are a tad spoiled to be fair. I used to stand 30 minutes in a line for a 200ft poma that took 2 minutes to ski down back in the day. Most of my experience even on busy days is walk on or half a dozen chairs to fill on Limelight.

Tony Crocker wrote:But that should tell anyone who has skied a Limelight double diamond that triple diamond is serious.


It's a good job the Elevator Shaft isn't a marked run on the map, it is way more dangerous than Russell.
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Re: Discovery Basin, MT: March 16, 2021

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Sep 08, 2021 11:23 pm

q wrote:I cant recall exactly but seem to recall 15-20 minute waits at Limelight being mentioned

That would probably require powder and a Saturday/holiday. With the random grooming schedule and consistent pitch, I think Grizzly could be quite impressive in powder.
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Re: Discovery Basin, MT: March 16, 2021

Postby ChrisC » Thu Sep 09, 2021 1:56 pm

q wrote:
flyover wrote:Not many locals turned out for powder when we were there in February 2014 on a Friday and Saturday


I don't find it that bad at the weekends in March but it certainly tails off from late February. My friends say weekends now are unbearable in Jan/Feb with more and more Bozeman plates appearing annually and most powder days are really busy.


How bad are lines on a powder day at Bridger Bowl on a snowy winter weekend.....if Discovery Basin can accumulate 10-20 minute waits?

Montana SnowBowl and Bridger Bowl must be 20+ on prime lifts like Slushman's or Bridger.
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Re: Discovery Basin, MT: March 16, 2021

Postby Tony Crocker » Thu Sep 09, 2021 4:27 pm

I've skied both Snowbowl and Bridger on non-powder weekends and would expect major chokepoints on powder days. I've heard Snowbowl on a powder day is like Baldy: better get there by 7:30AM. As for Schlasman's at Bridger, the transceiver requirement probably helps a little bit.
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