Where Buffalo Roam

Michael “Bird” Shaffer, accompanied by a group of wild crows, ventured deep into sacred territories, a land of pristine beauty and power zones, protected from the spoils of the common man.

When the door opens, and the heart says yes, dive through and what was unknown can become a dream come true.

I was on a special assignment in Wyoming to meet the Jackson Hole Squadron, when out of the blue came a Kaw from Tristan to go to Cooke City after his plans with his partners fell through. We picked up Brian who was also keen to go, and headed out, my previous plans rapidly disintegrating.

Cooke City, where the hell was that? I had no idea even where it was on the map, but alarm bells rang as I remembered that one of our tribe had gone down skiing there earlier that season.

Situated on the border of the mighty Yellowstone National Park, Cooke City, population of 120, sits high in the mountains of cowboy Montana, and was first settled as a mining village.

Coming from Coastal Washington State, where everything sticks and the snowpack is stable, I was unnerved dropping blindly into foreign mountains, where this continental snowpack was known to have dragons laying in wait. I was reassured that we were to meet fellow Crow, Beau Fredlund, and his partner KT Miller, who were invested in these mountains, and had been skiing around this zone for seasons.

We drove through the north entrance of the park, not failing to stop for a reinvigorating hot spring soak. Damp and satisfied, we pushed into the night, ending up at a dead end road, the lights from this one horse town reflecting off walls of snow high above the car.

We met Beau at the bar. He sauntered in with a disarming grin, eyes shining as he explained how good the conditions had been. “The snow is good, and I have a plan. Make sure you bring lots of water and enough food, because we will have a full day right here in the backyard. “

  In the morning blue sky revealed peaks that dwarfed this tiny place, that appeared to be dedicated mostly to the snowmobile crowd.

We were happy to put on our boots and skin up before stepping out to brave the biting montana cold.  With just enough time to wipe the sleep from my eyes and slash down the last sip of coffee, we were on skis and walking up hill. I did a double take when i realized there were buffalo down by the creek. “Hello Buffalo,” I said casually, laughing to myself, as if this was a normal daily occurrence.

Quiet. The space to dream. Statuesque trees, charcoaled, spoke of fires past. The only sound was our skins swishing through snow, taking us UP, up, up, into a power zone where time stood still. Adding to this magical feeling, we saw a goat’s track in one of the man couloirs that split the ancient rock walls.

It was easy to let go in this netherworld and plug into the natural energy. A bird wheeled above signaling freedom. We were in a sacred place.

After skiing one line, I could have easily been done, gone back to the cabin, and stared blankly, having flashbacks of the powder turns that we just had. But no, Beau had much more to share. Without needing to explain, our leader led the way and for 2 days we ascended and skied places, that were straight out of a Viking fantasy novel. There were huge rock walls plastered white, and towers where there were caves of ice. We looked at each other shaking our heads, words were inadequate. What was left was utter fulfillment.

Beau knew just how much we could take.  Our last ski descent was the icing on the cake. We crossed the valley and walked along an airy ridge to drop into our last descent just before dusk. This time the narrow corridors had pillows and drops, where nonsensical shapes of snow rose straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.

Though it was just 2 days of skiing, the effects of this journey was transforming.

The timing was perfect, we skied powder in a powerful place, but it was the caring motivated spirit of our guides that resonated with me.

I will take this forward and find other wild places to share, open to ski with like-minded mountain warriors.

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