The Case Of The Haunted Ski Slope – Snow Ghosts Of Big Mountain

Hello from sunny snowy Montana. I know what many of you are thinking. Hanna, WTH are you doing in a snowy spot that is currently sporting 10 feet of snow and 12 weeks till it melts?  Have you completely lost your gardening mind?!?  These, ladies and gentlemen, are the things we do for love.

My husband of (give or take) 10 years is from a skiing family.   I am not from a skiing family.   It is kind of like the snow version of Romeo & Juliet, without the yelling, fighting and suicide at the end. But, because my husband is from a skiing family, his dream vacation was to be able to ski “Out West” where they have REAL mountains. Here in Ohio, we have mole hills that they try to pass off as mountains and in New York, they have mountains that forgot to take their Rockies steroids. So, here we are, crossing one off the bucket list, in Whitefish, MT so my husband can ski Big Mountain. Apparently people in Montana are as good at naming things as gardeners are.

But, while I do not ski (never will ski, not gonna ski, yes, I know it’s fun but still not gonna ski), we choose this place because there were still lots of things that I could do, being a non-skier.   So one of those things I did the other day was to buy a walking lift ticket all the way to the top of Big Mountain.

It is a breathtaking view. On a clear day, you can see for miles – though good luck getting a clear day around here for as often as it snows, but even without full visibility it is still a stunning view.

But, it seems these mountains  are haunted by spirits with tenacious determination and solemn beauty. Snow Ghosts, as the locals call them, come to haunt the slopes every year as the winter progresses.

Snow ghosts are alpine tundra trees that have built up a coating of snow over the course of months of wind, snow and freezing weather. When you think about how often the plants near us die when it reaches just below freezing, it is pretty amazing how these trees survive.   Not only are these trees covered in snow and ice for months at a time, but in that picture they are standing in TEN FEET, yes TEN FEET of snow. Yes, that means in the summer, the trees in those pictures look 10 feet taller.   This is the kind of snow I shiver and hide from but these trees deal and move on.   Talk about fortitude…

So how come these alpine trees can survive this kind of weather — buried under 10 of snow and temperatures of up to -40 below zero? Because Mother Nature is the WOMAN, that’s why.   First, evergreen trees are a tenacious lot thanks to their leaves. Area space allows for evaporation.   Evaporation is the enemy of plants in the freezing temperatures  as they have a hard time taking up water that is frozen in the ground. If you need a self comparison, think about how well your skin deals with the winter weather.   Yeah, it’s like that but without the Burt’s Bees lotion to help us to get through it.

This is actually the reason why most plants lose their leaves.   Those broad pretty leaves make for lovely shade in the summer and a sure case of tree eczema and dehydration in the winter if those leaves were to stick around.  So many just drop them.   Pine  trees though are the beauty queens of winter. They have thin, slender leaves (needles) that have less surface area, so less evaporation in the dry winter air.

They also have a waxy covering on their leaves that further helps prevent drying from evaporation.

Second, the cone shape of the tree and the dense nature of their leaves and branches helps it better withstand the weight of that fabulously stylish and cuddly cold snow coat.    The sturdy center trunk stands tall when branching trees would snap and crack under the weight.

Third, pine trees have less water in their leaves, which means that there is less ice crystals.  Ice crystals are what often kills a plant as they pop the cell walls and all the water leaks out.

So, while these ghosts don’t go “woo-woo”, drag chains and really scare anybody (except for occasional skiers who lose control of their skis), they are spirits we have to admire for their clever adaptations in the face of seemingly impossible environment.   And for the record, still not gonna ski — mainly because I am fairly certain I will run into one of these trees. And while they may be called ghosts, they are in fact very, very solid.

3 thoughts on “The Case Of The Haunted Ski Slope – Snow Ghosts Of Big Mountain
  1. Hi Hanna,

    Sounds like a neat vacation. Too bad that cameras can only catch a bit of that fantastic view.

    Now coming from the non skiing side of the family and still resisting the occasional skivitations I also opt for the garden preference. Or out into the woods where it is all garden.


    Peggy Miller Reply:

    Hi Hanna,
    Looks like a very beautiful place to visit. It’s 40 degrees here at home in Cleveland, and, despite The Weather Channel’s dire predictions of clouds and snow, it is, indeed, mostly sunny. Dare I hope that it’s time to start planting things? Last spring, the father of a dear friend told me that it’s good to plant things under the waxing moon in April because the lunar pull helps seedlings grow. He’s a farmer, so he knows about these things. On a day like today, I can’t help hoping that it’s almost time to start putting plants in the ground.
    All the best,


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