Beginning in the Backcountry

By Kelsey Dzintars

Not long after moving to Montana, I became interested in backcountry splitboarding. But I was well aware of the risks involved and determined to venture out with the right equipment and education. A guided trip to the Bell Lake Yurt, set at 8,500 feet in southwest Montana’s Tobacco Root Range, was the perfect introduction.

In the last stretch of the 3-mile approach to the yurt, the beautiful face of Branham Peak appeared. Our guide and Bell Lake Yurt owner Drew Pogge pointed out endless lines peppered with varying terrain – from low-angle trees to steep, 2,000-vertical-foot couloirs.

Our group of four arrived at the snow-buried yurt around noon and after dumping our packs and gobbling up ham sandwiches, we began a tour around Bell Lake. Just a minor skin above the yurt, the lake offers stunning views as the terrain opens up to bigger faces and a whitebark pine forest with 10,000-foot peaks beyond.

In two days we were schooled in backcountry safety, skinning and split-skiing techniques. We rode incredible terrain and were enlightened by Pogge’s infectious zeal for the backcountry over mountain margaritas crafted with fresh snow and Crystal Light powder, and satiating cuisine including eggs and bacon, spicy curry and spaghetti Bolognese. The yurt provided a comfortable home base, including six custom bunks with memory-foam mattresses, a library, and solar LED light system.

The Bell Lake Yurt – the only one in the Tobacco Roots – is available for all-inclusive catered trips or self-guided rentals, and backcountry skiers and splitboarders of any level should add it to their bucket list of Montana adventures. I look forward to exploring more of this wild range by taking one of the immersive Avalanche 1 courses Bell Lake will offer again this season.

Avy 1 courses

Jan. 16-18
Jan. 30-Feb. 1

Yurt Gear

Tequila and Crystal Light – check. Here are some additional essentials to ride and lounge in style.
G3 Blacksheep Carbon Splitboard

Leave it to the backcountry experts. A full-rocker profile and CarbonLight construction allowed G3’s debut splitboard to shred all the varied terrain Bell Lake has to offer. Even with some of the challenging sunbaked spring snow we encountered in the Tobacco Roots, the board felt light on my feet trekking up, and incredibly solid ripping down. $749.95

Spark R&D Magneto Splitboard Bindingsbelllake_gear_tbusby

The Magnetos are everything you’d want in a splitboard binding. Transitioning is a breeze with Spark R&D’s revolutionary “pinless” Tesla system, which utilizes a snap ramp and Voile pucks to easily switch from touring to riding. The Bozeman-based company shaved weight on the Magneto model with maximum baseplate cutouts, and the dual-height climbing wires are easy to manage with a pole basket. [3.26 lbs.] $385.00

G3 Alpinist Splitboard Climbing Skins

Aside from being lightweight, high-traction, and fast-gliding, the G3’s splitboard skins’ innovative tip and tail clips allow for a perfect fit on any board. $169.95

Ambler Mountain Works Celtic Beanie

The Ambler Celtic features cute cable detail and wooden buttons, but the best thing is the fleece headband that helps this 100 percent wool hat stay warm and snug. $34.00

Suncloud Causeway Sunglasses

The one undeniable fact about Suncloud is the company’s ability to produce top-quality, polarized sunglasses for nearly half the price of many industry shades. The Causeway’s classy, vintage-style frame is made of metal alloy; I wear them everywhere with everything. $59.99

OR Aria Vest

This vest has become a staple layer for me. With an ultralight,15D ripstop shell and 650-fill goose down, it works great for hiking, underneath a shell, or for just hanging out and drinking mountain margs. It stuffs small into a daypack if you need to shed a layer on the mountain. $175.00

Patagonia Activist Puff High Waterproof boots

The Activist Puff boot combines two pairs of shoes in one 12.2-ounce package. Simply slip the insulated fleece booties out of the ballistic nylon, waterproof softshell upon entering the yurt, and avoid being the wet floor culprit. These boots are a versatile alternative to your clunky rubber snowboots. $175.00

Smartwool Minturn Drape Neck Sweater

This 100 percent Merino wool, semi-fitted sweater is soft on the skin, and works in the office or in the backcountry. The longer length is flattering, while the cowl neck provides a touch of sophistication. This line’s deep heather colors are beautiful with any skin tone. $154.95

Endless lines and stunning views abound in the Tobacco Root Range.

Endless lines and stunning views abound in the Tobacco Root Range.

This story was first published in the winter 2015 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.