Big Sky Journal: Montana Ice Sailing

The winter tradition of sail-powered ice boating finds the right combination of ice, wind, and speed-seeking participants in Montana

in Winter 2022 | Feature Stories | Written by Andrew McKean | Photography by Sean R. Heavey
Just as surfers will spend the balance of their year waiting for just the right wave, and skiers will rearrange their lives in pursuit of fluffy mountain powder, so do ice boaters watch for fresh ice and stiff winds. They’re monitoring long- and short-term weather forecasts for their version of powder days, says Flathead Lake ice-boat builder John Eisenlohr, one of the dozens of Montana winter sailors who travel the West in search of perfect ice. “For us, that’s the first black ice thick enough to play on, plus a certain amount of wind,” Eisenlohr says. “Not too much wind, and no packed snow on the ice. And, if I’m really lucky, the ice will have just a little stippling on it to hold the runners.” Continue reading.


As far as I can tell, John Eisenlohr threw the opening ball today, close to his home, for the 2022-2023 ice sailing season. John and a friend rigged up their Mini-Skeeters on Smith Lake near Kalispell, Montana.

Via the Mini-Skeeter Facebook Page:
So begins the season. Pretty good ice in some spots with some 2” drifts in others. I got a few one way runs right on the edge of sailing. At any rate it was a nice 20 degree sunny day to be outside.
John Eisenlohr

Sydney Royal Yacht Squadron’s First Iceboat

Previous: Sail Australia in Montana
“I’d Like to Get Into Ice Sailing”
In November 2021, Australian sailor Michael Dunston emailed me about continuing his ice sailing journey, which had begun in the Netherlands.

I’m from Sydney, Australia. I have grown up sailing all my life. I tried ice sailing on a DN for the first and only time last winter opportunistically in the Netherlands, and I loved it. This year I moved with my family to Bozeman, MT, which is where my wife grew up. I would like to find a way to do more ice sailing!

If there was an inexpensive, entry-level ice boat (a DN, or similar), then I would be interested to buy. Naturally, it would also be great to connect with some like-minded folks. Is there a club or a group that sail on Canyon Ferry MT that I could connect with?
Michael Dunstan

Michael is one lucky sailor, having been in the Netherlands 2021, the birthplace of our sport, for their few days of ice sailing, then landing at Canyon Ferry, a place of legendary North American ice.

I forwarded Michael’s email to Canyon Ferry iceboaters Dale Livesey and Dave Gluek, who welcomed him into the community and pushed him off the line.

I wanted to update you on Michael Dunstan, the Australian sailor. He’s an awesome guy and a good addition to our fleet. He purchased Dale Livezey’s DN and is a quick learner. He has been fun to sail with. Mike’s Dad is visiting Mike this week, and we sailed a Nite in big wind the other day. Both of them are accomplished sailors! Thank you for introducing us.
Dave Gluek

Michael’s mother, Judy, wrote an article about their visit to Big Sky & Ice country for their yacht club’s newsletter, the historic Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. In addition to receiving a British empire Royal charter in 1862 and challenging for the America’s Cup in 1962, the RSYS has added Michael’s DN to their Squadron Yacht register in 2022.

Hard Water Sailing by Judy Dunston

HWS Update: Try Again in 2023

Photo: Pat Heppert

Ice Sailors:

With regret, we must announce that the Hard Water Summit will not be happening this year. Mother Nature decided she wanted an extended period of warm days, lots of sunshine and nights barely below freezing. The snow is, indeed, gone, but this weather pattern is leaving us with lots of slush that will likely only get deeper.

We appreciate your enthusiasm for this adventure and we may decide to give it a go again next year. We’ll have to consider whether doing the event in the same season as a DN Gold Cup in the US makes sense. If you have any input on this question, we’d love to hear it. From a timing standpoint, we may also move up our target week to the first week of March. This would steer us clear of any conflict with land sailing events and possibly increase the likelihood that we’d have the ice and weather we need. Again, feel free to let us know what you think.

Of course we are a bit disappointed, but then again, we are blessed to not be hiding from Russian artillery as we go about our daily lives. Keep the Faith!

Your HWS Team,

Daniel, Sean and Deb

HWS: On Hold…Still Hopeful

On Hold…Still Hopeful

As of this morning, the Hard Water Summit remains on hold. The weather on the Fort Peck Reservoir has remained cold, so the drifts are still too large and stiff. Warm weather is coming the week of March 13. We’ll monitor the weather that week to see if we get the melt we need to clean up the snow, and the below freezing temps at night to keep the ice firm. Please stand by. We intend to make a final call one way or the other on Thursday, March 17.

Think Ice!

Your HWS Team,
Daniel, Sean and Deb