The rentable Forest Service cabins scattered across Montana are one of the state’s best kept secrets. This winter, four of us made plans to ski into one. We made the reservations in January, back when Montana still looked like winter. I spent the next month frantically checking the weather, panicked that the unseasonable warmth would put a damper on our skiing plans. I need to remember that even when the lowlands are bare, the mountains still have snow. In fact, snow drifts almost made us ski in a lot further than we anticipated. To top it off, a blizzard blew in to southwest Montana on Friday and didn’t let up until Saturday night. This made driving difficult but skiing ideal. We stopped three miles from Hells Canyon Guard Station (west of Silver Star) and skied the rest of the way in. The skiing was incredible. The cabin was perfect. I love renting forest service cabins because you are still roughing it, but you don’t have to pitch a tent. The four bunks in this cabin had foam mattresses-the most comfortable I’ve encountered in a forest service cabin (though, admittedly, that’s not a high bar). It had a table, chairs, a wood stove, all of the wood you could possibly need, and a random assortment of pots, pans, and dishes. I would always advise bringing a few dishes or pots just in case, but Hells Canyon Guard Station was one of the best stocked cabins I’ve been to.
We played cards, huddled by the fire, and ate chips all afternoon while snow fell outside, making it my ideal day. The sky cleared by nightfall, revealing the clearest, brightest, and most populated skies I have ever seen. We could have spent ours staring at the sky, except that it was freezing, so we scurried back inside. Sunday dawned bright and sunny and revealed epic mountains we hadn’t noticed the day before. The clear sky and inches of fresh powder made skiing out even better than skiing in, and the views just kept getting better and better. I know I write a lot about excellent ways to spend your weekends, but this might take the cake. Skiing in to a remote cabin, playing cards, relaxing by the fire, marveling at the stars (plus three planets and a sliver moon)…this might be the best Montana itinerary I could possibly suggest.