Two Missoula skiers in their first year of operating a backcountry yurt said they’ve been blessed with an epic winter – one well above average.
Missoula residents Landon Gardner and Aaron Deskins, both lifelong skiers, are now alpine business partners. The two opened the Jewel Basin Yurt – an off-grid yurt that sits at an elevation of 5,000 feet in the northern range Swan Range just above Bigfork.
“This winter has been particularly impressive in terms of the snow for our first year in business – historic, in fact,” said Gardner. “We recorded 164 percent of normal snowpack. The skiing is going to be incredible, even into May.”
Measuring 24-feet in diameter with 452 square feet of living area, the yurt sleeps up to eight people. Designed by Missoula’s Shelter Designs, the yurt provides direct access to Noisy Basin and the Jewel Basin recreation area, which claims 35 miles of summer trails, 27 lakes and 16 alpine peaks.
Gardner, a former member of the U.S. ski team and the current coach of the Missoula Freestyle Ski Team, said operating a recreation-based business in Montana was always a dream.
“The idea was always there, mostly because I know how great the snow and the skiing around the Jewel Basin is, and I always wanted to start a business that revolved around Montana’s seasons,” Gardner said. “After years of thought and deliberation, it was time to look for a partner and put a plan in motion.”
Gardner said he tracked the snowfall for years on the Noisy Basin Snotel site, which sits near the yurt and records the area’s snowpack and other climate information. According to the Snotel data, the Jewel Basin commonly receives a settled snow depth of over 100 inches annually.
After cataloging the snowpack data and making several site visits for possible yurt construction, Gardner turned to his friend Aaron Deskins and pitched his business plan.
“After growing up in a log cabin in the Mission Mountains, climbing, mountaineering, skiing and being a NOLS graduate, the idea of having a nice mountain retreat with an abundance of snow was a no-brainer,” said Deskins. “I just needed to make sure all the ingredients were there to make it sustainable.”
The lower section of the property previously operated as a community ski area serviced by a homemade rope tow fashioned from an old pickup truck in the 1940s by the family that originally homesteaded the property, Gardner said.
“We feel really lucky we pulled it off for such a historic winter and that we get to share it with our families, friends and guests who appreciate the backcountry as much as we do – hopefully for years into the future,” Gardner said.