After Bannack State Park we made our way toward Philipsburg with a brief stop in Anaconda to have a beer at Smelter City Brewing. It was cozy and spacious, with a gorgeous mahogany bar, cast-iron columns, and exposed brick. Our pints weren’t bad either. We’ll definitely add this to our mental list of Montana breweries…
We’ve stopped in Philipsburg twice before, always briefly, never with enough time to properly explore the town. Each time we’ve camped near Georgetown Lake instead of hanging in town, so this was our chance to enjoy P-burg fully.
Once in town we unloaded the Subie, settled into our beautiful Airbnb above the coffee shop, and made ourselves dinner. We brought some scant groceries so we wouldn’t be tied to the town for our meals. We weren’t sure what the holidays would bring in the way of reduced hours.
Then, as is our habit, we walked over to Philipsburg Brewing to have a couple pints before they closed at 8pm. The brewery was packed; the warmth fogged up the windows and each new visitor brought a bitter blast of cold air. We were fortunate to find a seat near the bar where we could people watch and chat if the chance arose. Somehow we ended up chatting with a P-burg resident who was also a native Texan. He, too, had attended Baylor, and we quickly fell into talk of Texas. When the brewery closed, he urged us to join him across the street at White Front, the town’s dive bar. It was an unexpected encounter, but as always, great to meet other Texpats.
The next day we planned to take it easy – sip coffee, check out the shops, lounge around, enjoy our isolation, maybe go snowshoeing. The sun made a surprise appearance in the morning, but soon disappeared as clouds hung over the valley.
In the afternoon, we went to Georgetown Lake to snowshoe, choosing a trail which began from a campground we’ve used. Since we needed to avoid the tracks of nordic skis, we often had to break trail which was fun but exhausting. At a certain point, we weren’t fully certain we were even on the correct route. Luckily we ended up making a large loop and began our descent as snow-bearing clouds blew across the lake.
On New Year’s Eve we went skiing at nearby Discovery Ski Area, or Disco as the locals call it. We hadn’t gone skiing in over a year, so we were excited to hit the slopes. It was frigid – 0 degrees – when we arrived, and it didn’t warm up much over the day. Surprisingly there weren’t many people out. The runs were wide and empty which was glorious. At the very end of the day, the clouds dissipated and the sun shone through. It was nice to end with the snowy trees and slopes shining in the sun’s glow.
We didn’t have much planned for the evening. We wanted to shower, eat dinner, and spend a couple hours at the brewery before closing. We decided to play the midnight stuff by ear.
The brewery was even more packed than the previous night. A band serenaded the revelers perched aloft next to the brew tanks and kept the atmosphere lively and festive. We eventually managed to find seats near the bar and chatted up our table neighbors. We each ordered beers at last call to prolong our stay, but ultimately we were done before 9. I’d read a newspaper clipping at the bar which described a ball drop in downtown P-burg; I kept it in the back of my mind. Instead of hopping to the next bar, we decided to retire to our Airbnb. We didn’t want to drink for three more hours until midnight.
Near midnight, we decided it wasn’t worth the effort to remain awake. We put on our pjs and prepared to go to bed. But then we heard a fire truck pass by. We peeked from our window and saw a fire truck parked below with a small ball strung with lights at the end of its ladder. THE BALL DROP WAS REAL! Since it was -10 degrees outside, we decided to wait as close to midnight as possible to go outside. There was a small crowd of maybe 75-100, all of us freezing our butts off. At midnight the ball began to slowly descend. Then a grown man emerged from the crowd clad in only tighty whities, boots, a sash, and a wand (?) and spun under the ball, welcomed the ball with his outstretched arms, and then clasped it. IT WAS SO STRANGE.
Sadly, the next morning we left. It was snowing, all the stores were closed, and I didn’t get to ask anyone about what we saw at midnight. I can’t find any explanation online either – I looked! I suppose it’s a mystery we’ll have to solve the next time we’re in P-burg.