Smokin Through Montana: An Attempt To Detail Montana’s Idiosyncrasies

In an attempt to detail Montana’s idiosyncrasies, some fancy New York Times slick once declared, “Don’t expect fashion; do expect character.” True as far as I’m concerned, though it is contrary to my general travel philosophy of, “Don’t expect anything… least of all fashion.”

Snowboard Magazine and Smokin’ Snowboards just finished a two week journey through Montana and all of its fashionless majesty. With a minivan full of childhood friends from Vermont (Kyle Clancy, Jeff Kramer and Colin Langlois) Maribeth Swetkoff-Kramer and I rounded out a crew whose only aim was to enjoy themselves; unfortunately for us, that in large part consisted of a twisted game called “Fart Box” and the more intellectual, “Fart Pit.”

What follows are some casual thoughts of grandeur and paranoia taken from my field notes as we traversed a region with more rideable acreage than any state, barring of course AK.

Words/Photos: Nate Deschenes

Sharp sensed spirits. It’s not my fault…

Somewhere along the I-90 near Butte I felt the first crack in my spine–a lighting bolt of pain shocking the mainline of my central nervous system with torturous accuracy. The whiplash of blood boiling heat jolted me out of the peaceful highway trance in which I had descended and into a new level of self-awareness. Then strangely, I remembered my mom once alleging that somewhere down the line we’re related to General Custer.

That’s my claim to fame. Now, I’m not one to boast but come on, a man who rivals Kanye as the single biggest asshole in the history of America? The personification of our injustice and cruelty at the time–that’s somethin’ right there. Needless to say, I don’t go around playing the Custer card that often, strangely I am more proud of the dysfunctional, alcoholic lineage I have inherited in recent generations, or as I like to call it, “the standard issue.”

For those of you not up on your history, General Custer was this old timey fucker killed at the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana by a fierce collection of Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe warriors. His aim was to secure the territory in our righteous expansion and/or exploitation called Manifest Destiny. In terms we can all understand, the United States wanted the riches of the land and if any person, place, or thing was in opposition they were deemed hostile. In short, the beginnings of our exemplary foreign policy had begun. Yet, due in large part to the underestimation of his foes and a cocksure attitude, Custer was slain on a hillside along with hundreds in his regiment. Obviously a disrespectful man, he broke the cardinal rule of charting new territories: Don’t piss off the locals.

I’ve seen Jeremiah Johnson and Dances With Wolves; I know what happens when you tread where you’re not welcome. Now it appears that I have been on the receiving end of a forceful spirit whip. Can the great ancestral ghost’s of the native people smell my family’s distant bigotry? Maybe I should wear my Gore Tex outerwear just to be safe…

When expectations are low and ambition is high, you can invent the future…

In my limited experience and knowledge I have found that trying to control your environment is ultimately met with failure, which is partly why I’ve decided to let the whole Custer thing go. That concentrated hell blasting up my spine could be attributed to many things: an affection for leg numbing scorpions, a tendency to over crank my methods, a liquid LSD binge ten years prior… a mere speed bump… possibly a blood clot…

It’s only when you release the grip a little that the ride becomes a bit looser, things become pleasantly unhinged. Too long have I tried to wring snow from the clouds, too long have I doubted the ethics of dragging hotel televisions behind stolen snowmobiles on down days and too long have I labored over the riders, demanding they get up earlier, land their tricks. This time I am letting go. Like Donnie’s ashes, I’m throwing caution to the wind.

Conversely, given my job and its various duties, colleagues do expect a certain amount of professionalism and as a whole this isn’t usually a problem. However, being “pro” about shit has its time and place, mostly with emails and phone calls… a general abstinence of the word “shit” usually works to my advantage as well. As far as the actual execution of the task at hand, “pro” is probably not the most accurate word.

In the end though, it all eventually wraps up with a pro delivery (in this case a Montana feature in SB MAG this fall), but certainly not before some professional conjecture and professionally poor judgment. It’s that in between time where the adventure is, where you strike gold, where you receive affirmation that all the planning in the world could not produce these heroic moments…

Watch the road, not the geographical phenomena!

From the desperate last stand of the Bridger Range in the east to Rockies of Glacier National Park in the north, we roamed the many mountain ranges and valleys that comprise the western half of the state like the great herds of buffalo before us, snowstorms hot on our tail. Horizons extend in every direction for eternities until finally intercepted by soaring peaks or slow rolling foothills. In a unique way this stretches the canopy like an over filled balloon of nitrous oxide, allocating the sky some extra mileage. Though my scientific endeavors are limited to eighth grade physical science, I am going to postulate that all of this open space requires more atmosphere than average to stay alive, in turn creating a geographical phenomenon. The scientific term for this, I learned, is Big Sky Country.

Well suited for the Rocky Mountain Goats, the steep canyon walls of Gallatin Canyon are also an appropriate means for smashing the shit out of your rental car while the driver gawks at the river below searching for varmints. The road to Big Sky is marked with natural hazards, not least of which is awe…


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