My Montana childlike wonder makes it easy to write about all the fantastic places and activities I explored in Big Sky as a kid, but it also makes it easy to write about all the new and wonderful activities offered in Big Sky for kids today.
First of all: Basecamp to Yellowstone. Yellowstone Park was the neatest, most odd thing to 9-year-old me: Geysers, hot beds, bison, and low-lying mountains that seemed to move with every breath of the molten underbelly. But I'm getting ahead of myself, before venturing south of Big Sky, the activities right at the resort were something I would have devoured as a kid. I still love ziplining, a high ropes challenge, archery, paddleboarding, jumping on a bungee trampoline, or scaling a climbing wall. These things came after my childhood for the most part, but I was enthralled as a sixth grader of my friend's tall tale of ziplining through a forest. Now kids can zipline all the time and in so many cool places, not least of which is Big Sky Resort.
Second: Hiking. I remember taking a guided hike as a kid in Montana and being shocked that the guide could remember all the flora and fauna of the area. How did he know what flower that was? How could he tell an elk had been here? Take a hike around Big Sky for free or go on a guided hike right at Big Sky Resort.
Third: Whitewater rafting and horseback riding. One of my biggest regrets, that I may not have had full control over, was that I didn't go whitewater rafting until high school. Although it is not for the smallest children, rafting the Gallatin River is such a great kid-friendly family past time, I don't know how anyone can even pass by the rafting outfitters without booking. The same can be said for horseback riding. Not only is horseback riding classically Montana, it is also one of the most challenging and then relaxing things a kid could do. I was afraid of horses as a young girl, but once I got on horseback it was like I was meant to be there.
Big Sky, Montana, invites kids and adults into childhood. The adventures to be had are endless and unforgettable.
Photo: Glenniss Indreland
Photo: Glenniss Indreland
Longer days brings on the nostalgia for simpler times as a kid growing up in Montana. Longer days mean more time to play, more time to plan summer adventures, and more time to anticipate our annual family summer trip.
On multiple occasions we packed up the car and headed to Big Sky Resort. Big Sky offered everything we loved as a family: outdoors for us kids, fly-fishing for my dad, and beautiful views from inside a cozy lodge for my mom. Often we would ride the gondola up, playing rock, paper, scissors to decide who got to pick the color of the gondola, and we would hike down. We'd spend the first 15 minutes of the hike searching for the perfect walking stick, my older sister delegating which size was appropriate for each of us.
No amount of cheeseburgers, ice cream, or Shirley Temples could keep us away from hiking Lone Mountain. We loved the cool mountain air and rock collecting. Although we picked on each other plenty, we mostly loved being together.
I continue to enjoy these longer days in Big Sky, running through my neighborhood in the Meadow Village, sitting on the deck at The Bunker, playing golf at Big Sky Resort, and hiking Lone Mountain with my siblings from time to time.
Jordan, Erin, and me in the bowl at Big Sky Resort.
The live music scene in Big Sky, Montana, is unexpected and fantastic. Not only does Big Sky Resort offer live après music nearly every day during the winter across three outlets, but Scissorbill's Saloon, Ousel & Spur Pizza, The Gallatin Riverhouse, and By Word of Mouth also offer a variety of live music weekly. For a town of 2,000 people the live music can't be beat.
Live music suggestions during a winter visit:
1. Whiskey Jack's. Easily the best après food (Nachos!), but also Whiskey Jack's has the best vibe for music having featured Big Sky locals the Driftwood Grinners to post-Pond Skim with Milton Menasco. Throughout the winter and summer seasons Whiskey Jack's also offers fantastic late night music with Pinky and the Floyd, Cure for the Common, or Jerry Joseph and the Jack Mormons.
2. Ousel & Spur Pizza Co. Located next to the movie theater in the meadow, Ousel & Spur has great late night live music with a lot of the same musicians Whiskey Jack's entertains, but in a more intimate setting.
3. Gallatin Riverhouse. The Riverhouse, as it's known locally, is a must-do for a more country music feel. Go get some fried chicken and check out Bottom of the Barrel.
4. Open Mic Night at By Word of Mouth. By Word of Mouth (BYWOM) has open mic night once a week all winter long. It's great for finding out just how talented ones friends are.
5. Carabiner Lounge. Carabiner's cozy fireplace, chairs, and excellent service makes for a great setting to listen to après or late night music every day during winter season. I love it for a late burger dinner with solo acts Mike Haring or Kevin Fabozzi.
Bill Payne and the Hooligans at Whiskey Jacks.
Big Sky Resort is the first place I went downhill in a sort of wagon being pulled by my dad, but is also the first place I skied as I quickly followed in my older sister's footsteps and got two planks of my own. Although a lot of my formative years were spent at Showdown in the Little Belt Mountains, my big mountain memories are all of Big Sky Resort.
In the winters and summers my dad would have business conferences for long weekends in Big Sky. My siblings and I would take turns picking which color gondola to ride up in, taking our precious time hiking or skiing down to the base, testing my mom's patience. Buffet style dinner would be had in the Huntley Dining Room, and after dinner all the kids would head to the Huntley Pool to kick-off a raucous game of Marco Polo. Marco Polo was a 13th century explorer. History is uncertain as to how his name became connected with a child's game, but legend has it Marco Polo fell asleep on horseback and his horse became lost. He found his way back to his crew in the dark by listening for their voices calling his name.
Today I hear kids playing Marco Polo in the Huntley Pool and it brings me back. Perhaps it's absurd of me to think it's a ski kid's rite of passage as the game is played in pools and hot tubs across three or more continents, creating lasting memories and friendships for kids of all ages.
For me, I will always associate it with trips to Big Sky and the legendary Huntley Pool.
The Huntley Lodge Pool. Photo: Michel Tallichet
Huntley Pool circa 1990.
I didn't set out to write a blog about female ski patrollers, but it came out of a place of wanting to write about one of the most niche departments at Big Sky Resort. I caught up with Carolyn Wilson, Julie Hanen, and Amy Kollmann to chat about Big Sky Resort, favorite aspects to patrolling, and what it's like being a woman on ski patrol.
How old are you and how long have you been patrolling? Patrolling at Big Sky Resort?
Carolyn Wilson: I am 26 years old and this is my third year patrolling. I patrolled at Moonlight for one season before the integration, and this is my second year as a part of Big Sky Ski Patrol.
Julie Hanen: I have been patrolling for six seasons, all of them on Lone Peak. I started patrolling at Moonlight Basin and became a Big Sky Patroller in 2013 when we combined forces.
Amy Kollmann: Well, I have the mind of a four year old, my heart is as good as a fifteen year old, the skin below my goggles looks about thirty, I'm starting to think about using sun screen, and my knees feel like they are about 47. *laughs
If you average all of that you come to my actual age which is 24. This is my second year on the pro patrol here at Big Sky and I was also a volunteer for a year while I was finishing up college.
How did you get into ski patrolling? And how'd you get into patrolling at Big Sky?
AK: I became a volunteer patroller when I was in college. I had a bunch of friends that enjoyed it and the season pass didn't sound bad either. I got hired onto the professional patrol after one of the ladies on the pro patrol told me I would be a great fit and that more ladies were needed.
CW: I was a lift operator at Moonlight for two seasons before becoming a patroller. I got to know the patrollers there by talking to them at the lifts and skiing the Headwaters a lot. The first winter I was a lift op I took an Avalanche Level 1 class from Merik Morgan and a couple of other Moonlight patrollers, which also piqued my interest in working with them. My second season as a lift op, I took an EMT class, shadowed patrollers one day a week for the last six weeks of the season, and got a job the next year.
JH: I was basically coerced into it by a friend. I was born and raised in Bozeman and grew up skiing Bridger Bowl and Big Sky. When I was in college, I had a backcountry ski partner that patrolled and kept telling me to consider it as a career. At the time I was restless and wanted to travel so, after graduating, I took a job as an adventure guide in Central and South America. After living out of a backpack for six years, I decided it was time to come back to Montana and base myself out of the Rockies again. The friend I mentioned earlier was working at Moonlight at the time and kept coaxing me to come try it out. The next season, I did one year on the volunteer patrol and the next year accepted a position as a pro. Six years later, it feels like I could be here a long time.
All of you basically got into patrolling because of friends and female influences. That said, patrol seems to be one of the departments where everyone is great friends and everyone has a nickname, any you'd like to share?
JH: Jules or spelled J-e-w-e-l-s. I've also been called Julio quite a bit. This is actually the masculine-latino version of my name and comes from spending a lot of time in Latin America.
CW: Usually just my first or last name, but sometimes by my radio number if they're trying to be funny.
AK: More often than not we call each other by last names so I go by Kollmann most of the time. Since I share a name with the camping gear a few jokes come from that. We all joke around with silly nicknames as we are just a fun and dysfunctional family. We love each other all the same.
JH: My favorite run definitely changes depending upon which way the wind blows. I would say Jack/Rock Creek, Second Fork through the Elbow Room, and the North Summit Snowfield.
AK: My favorite by far is whatever is skiing the best that day. With the winds up here the good snow can be anywhere, but I do find that I have had some of my best turns of the year in Marx.
What traits make you stand out as a patroller? AKA: What specifically do you bring to the team that others might not?
CW: As a third year patroller I am still in the process of getting good at everything, including medical, avalanche mitigation, technical rescue, and understanding the flow of operating such a huge mountain. At this point my strongest contribution is coming to work stoked every day and trying to learn as much as I can.\
JH: I smile a lot and am generally a happy person. I like to work hard and try to inspire others to stay positive and work hard as well. I'm also a very compassionate person and this comes out when I am training new staff or caring for injured guests. I work hard to help my patients feel as comfortable as possible and I hope that trait helps put their mind at ease when we show up to rescue them off the mountain as this can be a very scary moment for people.
AK: I believe that I have a knack for patient care and helping patients feel comfortable when they are in an unfortunate situation. As a lady I find that we can be a little more calming then some of our burly dudes and some patriots need that not all but some.
Women make up 20% of ski patrol staffs nationwide, how do you feel this statistic could be combated by Big Sky patrollers OR do you think it should be?
AK: On our patrol we are a little low for the national average with about 15% females on the patrol and I don't think that it has to be combated necessarily. I think that this is a tough job that requires a tough skin and certain personality to put up with the stresses of the job. From complicated wrecks to avalanche control you have to be able to do it all to be a successful patroller and not as many women seem to be interested in those things. I know we joke about how patrol is a lot of drinking coffee and skiing powder, but it is also physically demanding and being a girl can make that a little harder. We always welcome more ladies to come hang with our awesome group of gals.
JH: It would be great to have more women on patrol, but I believe there are less women who apply for such a position as it is a very physically demanding job. That being said, the women I work with on patrol are some of the strongest, most adaptable and resilient women I've ever met and we all share an uncanny ability to understand and tolerate the male sense of humor. We are very active in our roles on the mountain and maintain a respected disposition. As is true the world over we have to work hard to earn and maintain this respect but we are lucky to work with a team that supports us and allows us to grow and succeed.
Photo: Erik Morrison
Dave Benes and Julie Hanen with Big Sky Ski Patrol.
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