Skiing The Blaze on Blaze Mountain in SW Montana
Location: Blaze Mountain, Spanish Peaks, Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Madison Range, Montana
Trailhead: Spanish Creek Trailhead – 6100 feet
Distance: +/- 16 miles round trip
Time: 7-10 hours
Top Elevation: 10384 ft
Vertical: 4550 ft
USGS Maps: Lone Mountain, Willow Swamp
There aren’t too many things better than going skiing on a sunny Saturday afternoon in the middle of June. After a warm spring/summer, the snow is melting quickly, but one great summer ski line in Montana that is still skiing great is The Blaze.
Skiing the Blaze is a classic backcountry ski line. The Blaze is a beautiful, long lasting snowfield down a small gully on the northwest face of Blaze Mountain in the Spanish Peaks of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness of the Madison Range. It doesn’t get skied much mid winter due to a seasonal gate closure. Call the Bozeman Ranger District to find out when the gate opens. Even from the trailhead, skiing the Blaze is a big day, but well worth the effort to get 1600 feet of continuous fall line corn skiing in the summer.
My ski buddy for this mission was splitboarder, Jeremy Wood. Wanting to take advantage of the nice June weekend, Jeremy and his wife decided to camp the night before at Spanish Lakes – just up the trail from Blaze Mountain. With loose plans to meet near a strategically placed ski pole on the trail near the Blaze, I was left to hike in solo.
On Saturday morning, I turned onto the Spanish Creek road off of Highway 191 as the sun was cresting over the Gallatin Range. Cruising down the dirt road I was making good time and could see Blaze Mountain in the distance. After I passed the seasonal road closure gate (usually opens mid-May), I was delayed three times by bison in the middle of the road – a classic Montana traffic jam. FYI they like to charge the car when you honk at them!
Finally I made it to the crowded Spanish Creek Trailhead at 6100 feet. At first I couldn’t find the right trailhead. Then I spotted trail 407, the South Fork of Spanish Creek Trail, – a bit set back to the north of the parking area. By 6 am I was all aboard the old heel-toe express making good time down the trail.
I love long Montana days in June. I always make lots of noise on the trail – especially in the early morning light. This morning I saw a handful deer, startled two moose, and stumbled across several steaming piles of bear poo. It’s always an adventure hiking by myself in the mountains of Montana.
The trail forks several times while hiking in to the Blaze. I was glad to have my Beartooth Publishing map to ensure I was taking the correct trails (407 to 413 to 411). Eventually, I had good eyes on the massive snowfield on the NW face of the Blaze.
After 7 miles, 2100 vertical feet, 2 moose, and at least 4 bridge-less stream crossings (bring extra socks), now all I had to do was find my friends in the middle of the wilderness. But guess what? After you get far enough up the Spanish Creek drainage, cell phone service is outstanding! A few text messages later, Jeremy strolls down the trail. Let the adventure begin.
We left the trail at about 8100 feet and headed toward Blaze Mountain. I was expecting a heinous bushwhack to get to the base of the snow, but the forest was nicely spaced and it was easy walking. We crossed a creek and started the slow steady climb up Blaze Mountain.
We passed a few quickly melting snow patches and reached the base of the main snowfield at about 8700 feet. Our original plan was to don crampons and bootpack up the snowfield. Instead I wore my La Sportiva Boulder X approach shoes to the top and made better time climbing up the grassy/rocky slopes next to the Blaze.
At the top of the snowfield we ditched packs and wandered along the ridge to the summit of Blaze Mountain at 10,384 feet. The views were outstanding – the north side of Beehive Peak, Gallatin Peak, Wilson Peak, Cedar Mountain, Fan Mountain, Lone Peak Mirror Basin, Spanish Lakes, Ennis, Bozeman, and beyond. You can see classic ski descents like the Hanging Garden, North Twin, North Couloir on Fan, and plenty of other unnamed ski lines in the Spanish Peaks. It’s incredible. There is so much untapped skiing potential in these mountains.
At around noon, we spotted another group heading up Blaze Mountain, so we decided it was time to ski. We weren’t the first people to ski it this year, nor will we be the last. Today, we timed it perfectly to take advantage of the corn superhighway called the Blaze. The skiing was a blast – 1650 feet of summer snow. Let it rip!
Enjoying a quick drink of water, we switched back to approach shoes and headed back toward the trail. Jeremy headed up to Spanish Lakes for another night in the wilderness with his wife and chihuahua. I headed back to the Spanish Creek trailhead trying to explain to the people that I passed that, yes, there is still snow and yes, there is skiing to be had if you’re willing to work for it. It’s funny how people look at you wide eyed when you have skis on your back in June.
Car to car the adventure to ski the Blaze took just under 9 hours. I covered 16+ miles and 4550 vertical feet. It was a big day, but well worth the effort. I carried my skis and boots solo through the wilderness and climbed a 10384 foot peak with a friend to ski for 10 minutes. I’d do it again any day.
For many, the Blaze offers up the last turns of the season. But there are still other summer skiing lines available for those who are willing to hike, like The Great One. Skiing rules.
See Route On Hillmap
Additional photos from skiing The Blaze In SW Montana:
This trip report for skiing The Blaze on Blaze Mountain in the Madison Range took place on June 13, 2015.