Big Sky partiers dance at the famous SnoBar, to be held Jan. 14th and 21st this year. Proceeds from the Jan 21 SnoBar will benefit the family of Jamie Pierre.
MUSIC. SNOW. ICE LUGES. Glowsticks. Flashyblinkylights.
SnoBar, held the next two Saturdays at Big Sky, is the ultimate winter party. Some might even say it's the coolest bar they've ever been to - literally: Big Sky's SnoBar is held in an outdoor venue made completely of snow and ice. Dancing, puffy coats, and jager luges keep partiers warm - a must when the bar you're bellying up to is well below freezing.
Other bars have tried to simulate the effect. Most famously, IceBar in London is an indoor bar kept at -5 degrees year round, and guests are given thermal capes for their 40-minute time allotment in the all-ice venue.
But in Big Sky, we don't fake this stuff. Our ice the real deal, sent to us by Old Man Winter and crafted into a dance club by the Big Sky Terrain Park Crew each January. We don't hand out stylish capes, but we do hand out glowsticks, and we've braved party temperatures colder than a balmy -5 degrees. Come on, Londoners - Big Sky knows what a real winter party looks like.
Last Sunday, Big Sky ripper Dave Stergar banged out 26 Tram laps in a row, clocking 24.9 miles and 39.6k vertical feet at 51.7mph, and torching 829 calories - all off the top of Lone Peak.
Yesterday the sun, snow, and wind all aligned for one of those legendary ski days you talk about for years to come. Yesterday I skied 26 perfect tram laps in a row.
Before you get too excited, 26 isn't the record. The record, I hear, is closer to 30, and it wasn't me. Still, even on a good day skiers don't usually get in more than a handful - uncontrollable factors like weather, fatigue, waiting time, and conditions can all get in the way of double digit numbers, even if you set out with a goal. Before this weekend, my personal best was 20 - it was over 10 years ago, and even then my legs started aching around lap 17 and it took me took me 3 full days to recover.
This time, I didn't set out with an agenda - I even slept in. But luck, timing, and wind were on my side. I met my ski pal Ben at the base of the triple chair, really not knowing what we were getting ourselves into. We knew we were going to ski the peak because conditions had been incredible, so we skied down to the Tram just as it opened at about 10am. As we skied off the top I suggested we spin a quick one as there wasn't a line yet, and there still wasn't when we cruised back down to the Tram Dock. As we were loading the next cabin up to the top we overheard that the Triple chair, the only lift access to the tram, was going to be closing due to wind.
This, folks, is how 26 Tram laps happen.
Knowing that we weren't going to have to wait in line for as long as the wind-hold lasted on the Triple, we signed out for the Big Couloir and hit the Gullies again, lapping them three times before our turn on The Big. Run after run, the Triple stayed closed and the line stayed empty - we walked on each tram car like it was our own personal helicopter to a deserted powder paradise.
But taking advantage of this opportunity did come with some sacrifice - to be able to make it back to the Tram each time, we had to ski shorter laps that didn't require skiing below the closed Triple chair. Every time we skied across the top of Liberty Bowl and Lenin, runs leading away from the base of the Tram, we looked down at the creamy goodness and were tempted to drop in. But we traded one 2,500 + vertical drop off the West and South sides for 20 1,400 vertical drops above the bowl. We had to put off that long incredible run until it was our last, hoping that our legs would hold up that long. It would be like the icing on the cake or the cherry on top of the sunday.
So we continued our quest, first hoping to make it to 15 runs. Our goal of 15 turned to 20, then 25 as we kept lapping the Gullies; third shoulder, first all the way through, back to third, over to Crons. As a day like this unfolds, a skier starts by trying to be first out of the tram cabin. By the end, we wanted to be first into the tram cabin for one of the few precious tram seats in an attempt to save our legs.
After we reached our goal of 25 laps, we had to do one more just to make sure. The cherry on top - that last, long, 26th run - was the most delicious end to a Sunday I've ever had.
- Dave Stergar, Big Sky skier and TWISI guest writer
Even expert skiers like Big Sky's Katie Grice can be taken down by the terrifying Snow Snake.
HALLOWEEN HAPPENS once a year, but you don't have to wait to visit a haunted house each October to get your adrenaline pumping. Get your fear-fix all winter long on Big Sky's scariest runs:
10) Wounded Knee: Dodging in and out of trees and over bumps, legend has it even Big Sky General Manager Taylor Middleton has stayed away from this run ever since the knee injury that prompted him to name the trail.
9) Bear's Lair and Snake Pit: Did you hear that rustling in the conifers? It may just be Big Sky's resident black bear waking up from his hibernation. Take one wrong turn and you might just end up in the middle of a hungry bear's den. As for Snake Pit: Beware! The snow snakes on this one are truly killer.
8) Mad Wolf: Staring down at this never-ending field of moguls can get anyone's heart racing, and it won't stop as you pound bump after bump, getting one of the biggest ski workouts of your life. Proceed with caution, as these moguls run top to bottom without a break.
7) The Shack of Dirtbags Past: On frosty winter days it's said that a small cabin or shack may appear before you on the trail - it's the haunted shack of dirtbags past, often hidden from view in a cloud of mysterious vapors.
6) Huntley Hollow: The ghost of newscaster and Big Sky founder Chet Huntley is rumored to dwell on this spooky trail. On gusty days you may just hear the faint voice of Chet reciting old newscasts as the wind whips through the trees.
5) Lenin and Marx: These steep runs off the tram aren't named after brutal dictators for nothing. By the end of Lenin and Marx you'll be swearing your American patriotism and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
4) A-Z Chutes: No matter which of these scary cutes you choose, it's the hike that makes these runs some of the more terrifying at Big Sky. Skis over your shoulder, a sheer wall to your left, and cliff to your right, you'll be relieved to click back in and start making turns.
3) Little Couloir: Don't let the "Little" part fool you - this run is one of the biggest fright-factors for local skiers. Open only a few times a year when the conditions are right, there are still serious consequences for one wrong move on this terrifying run.
2) Big Couloir: The classic hardcore run at Big Sky, you'll need to bring your avalanche gear and sign out with ski patrol to hit this slope, which reaches over 50 degrees at its steepest point. The secret is to make it past the no-fall zone to the Dog's Leg, where you wait for your ski partner to drop in. But the most bloodcurdling part of our number two scariest run isn't even the terrain - it's the eyes that are watching you from the tram as it passes above, and the pressure to perform can be more frightening than anything.
1) Natural Half-Pipe: Green circle it may be, but this run might just also be a secret deathly ski-trap. Exhibit A: the neck brace I had to wear after coming in contact with a tree there in the winter of 09/10, one of the worst ski accidents on the mountain that year. Don't let the grooming and easy grade deceive you - the trees on this run will jump out of nowhere, and I'm convinced this is the scariest run at Big Sky.
Skiing on these scary runs can make Frankenstein's monster out of anyone - this one is a result of the secretly scary Natural Half Pipe.
Jamie Pierre skiing Big Sky on a visit last winter. In the summer of 2011, Pierre and his family moved to Big Sky as permanent residents.
When I first met Jamie Pierre a year ago, I was struck by his sincere lack of ego - Pierre was all about skiing, and left all airs at the door despite his chops as professional skier. I wrote about the meeting in a blog entry, and was further impressed when upon meeting Pierre again, he recognized me and thanked me for the article - he said my compliment on his personality meant more to him than any compliment on his skiing, further proof that this guy's down-to-earth demeanor was the real deal.
From then on, Pierre and I became friends as he visited Big Sky, exchanging hugs instead of handshakes each time he stopped by. Last spring, he let me in on a secret when I caught him looking at the real estate section in Big Sky's local paper - he and his family liked Big Sky so much, they were looking to become residents.
It was the friendly vibe, he said - besides offering amazing ski terrain, he always felt welcome in Big Sky, and wanted a tighter-knit community for his family to grow in. It was that vibe that fit Jamie's personality best, because that's the kind of guy he was himself. It wasn't long before I was running into Pierre off the mountain in the local bars and at community gatherings.
Then the surreal news came that Pierre was killed in a snowboarding accident in Utah yesterday. It was just a few days before that he had been up at the resort, printing out his season pass with his family - he was one of Big Sky's ski ambassadors for the season. He hoisted his son in his arms so the two of them could be in his pass picture together, and chatted with Big Sky videographer Chris Kamman about the great shots they would get this winter.
Now, it is with tremendous sorrow that we say goodbye to our new friend, wishing that we had been able to get to know him better as a local skier and community member. But the best tribute to him we could offer was written well before today - the blog entry chronicling my good first impressions of Pierre. I'm comforted by the fact that Pierre got to read that entry, and know that we appreciated him for not only his skiing, but for who he was as a person. For what I wrote last winter stands true: "despite his hardcore credentials and bad ass abilities, it's clear that come après, Pierre is just like any Big Sky local, whether housekeeper, bar tender, or resort General Manager: a skier trying to live his passion, finding inspiration in others doing the same. Ego not included."
Jamie Pierre last December at Big Sky's season kick-off party with Scot Schmidt, me, and Chad Jones.
Jamie Pierre, Scot Schmidt, me, and Chad at our Season Kick-Off Party
Big Sky boasts its status as home to its fair share of ski legends: when Warren Miller and Scot Schmidt make a mountain their home, you know the skiing is good. But glitz isn't our thing, and you're more likely to unwittingly sit beside a movie star hidden behind his neck-warmer on the lift than rub elbows with a strutting celebrity sporting the latest in designer wear around the Mountain Village. This is Montana, after all, where the sky is big, the skiing is sick, and the locals and famous alike stay focused on their turns.
So when ski pro Jamie Pierre showed up this weekend, I expected nothing less. After all, his fame is by way of skiing. But this guy had to have an ego, right? You can't huck and ski away from the world's largest cliff jump (255 feet - think 2 1/2 Summit Hotels high!) without some sizeable cojones and a heaping dose of overconfidence. Pierre had agreed to sign autographs at our Season Kick-Off Party, and I braced myself to meet who would surely be a laid back, if slightly cocky, extreme ski bum celebrity.
But as I was meeting Pierre for the first time, he was meeting fellow ski legend Scot Schmidt, also there to sign autographs for the Kick-Off Party. Pierre walked in, the epitome of cool with green ski pants, a red skull cap, and a soul patch, and spent the next few hours talking and signing skis, helmets, and posters for gushing fans. But when Scot Schmidt extended his hand to Pierre that morning, Pierre couldn't help himself. "Dude," he said, "I gotta tell you. You are, like, my hero."
Later that evening, after Pierre and Schmidt had gone their separate ways, I walked past Pierre and his family in the Huntley Lodge, snapping a photo of what looked like a blank wall in a quiet corner of the hotel. When I asked what he was doing, Pierre stepped away, revealing the true subject of his photo: a large sign advertising a Jamie Pierre and Scot Schmidt autograph session, now leaning against a wall waiting to be put away for the night.
"You have no idea how cool this is to me," Pierre said. "To have my name up there next to Scot Schmidt's. To even be put in the same category with him. This is a big moment for me."
The next morning Pierre had plans to ski the Big with Chris Kamman, but called in to say he couldn't make it - he'd decided to ski elsewhere for the day. Kamman suspected he'd accepted an invite from Schmidt, and who could blame him? When your idol calls you to join him, you go - no questions asked.
So Pierre ended his weekend in Big Sky, a stream of cold smoke and awed amateur skiers in his wake. He'd ripped up the mountain in true Big Sky celebrity form, skiing with locals, talking gear and sweet lines with fans, and taking advantage of world-class terrain and powder. But despite his hardcore credentials and bad ass abilities, it's clear that come après, Pierre is just like any Big Sky local, whether housekeeper, bar tender, or resort General Manager: a skier trying to live his passion, finding inspiration in others doing the same. Ego not included.
Pierre and Schmidt go together like skis and powder - the sign Pierre was so excited to see
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