Per the calendar, my first winter in Montana is complete. Of course, we might still get winter weather. But the season has gone far enough so I can provide my input on what a Kalispell winter is like. Or can I?
Apparently, the winter of 2019-2020 has been one of the mildest the Flathead Valley has seen in quite a while. So I can’t really do a full NY versus MT comparison. But I can give my input on this particular winter.
I live on a mountain in a snow belt and for several weeks this winter we would wake up to a dusting to an inch or two of snow. One day there was about 4 or 5 inches, but that was the biggest snowfall of the season. We had no snow storms since the official start of winter. Temperatures were often in the 20s-30s, with a few 40 degree days as well. In fact, I think we only had one or two days with single digit temperatures. So not only did we have a lot less snow this year than we have in the past when we lived in NY, the drier air made even cold days feel warmer. So my first winter was great! Even with the mild winter, though, I was able to learn a few things about Montana winters.
Here in the Flathead Valley, the highway department has 1,200 miles to maintain. In my old town, the highway department had 60 linear miles to take care of. I think it’s probably clear without my saying anything else that there is a big difference in the type of road maintenance done in the winter. In my old town, the roads would be cleared multiple times and lots of salt would be used. A day after a snow storm most roads were easily passable, and often dry. Here, the roads are often plowed once. Sand is only used on hills, curves and intersections and a salty slurry is only used on specific roads. That means that days after a snowfall, the roads can still be snow and/or ice covered. The sun needs to come out and do its job. So winter travel here requires an appropriate vehicle and careful driving. Oh, and a final thought on the roads – it is impossible to keep your car clean in the winter! If you’re going to be driving around, you have to get used to a dirty car.
But the road conditions don’t matter to Montanans. I took a vegetable gardening class at the local college. The first night of class, it was snowing at my home and I wasn’t sure whether class would be held. Sometimes it snows at my place and is fine in town. Nothing was canceled though, so I decided to head out. I found that it was snowing all over the valley, and the roads were snow covered and getting slick. I made my way to class and soon realized that every single one of the 35 or so students showed up. So what did I learn? Montanans show up. They all know how to drive in the snow, or at least DO drive in the snow, so if someone has plans they make it to their destination.
I know I’ve said this before, but Kalispell and the Flathead Valley area is simply the most beautiful place one could live. There are mountain ranges on three sides, and I don’t even know how many mountains can be seen on a clear day. It’s impossible to count them. Unlike my last home, in MT there is green all year round. Pine trees dot all the slopes, and there are plants that turn red in the winter. So the landscape is not brown, grey and depressing. Instead the mountain tops are snow covered and the days with clear blue sky are amazing. If you want a winter scene where you say “ohhhhh, how beautiful” about a million times a day, this is definitely the place to be.
Because many people who live in the Flathead Valley are outdoor enthusiasts, there is always something to do here – year round. Some events were canceled this year, though, due to lack of snow (and more recently, due to the Coronavirus), but there are typically a lot of things to choose from. Besides having two ski slopes within a 45 minute drive, there are events at the local Fairgrounds and rodeo arena, outdoor sports such as skijoring, winter hiking, cross country skiing, or even just walking outside after a snowfall and looking for animal tracks. Being bored is practically impossible!
So that’s my summary of my first Montana winter. I loved it. And I’m so excited to see what Spring will bring. Perhaps snow?
For more information about Kalispell, click here.