As the days grow longer and the snow storms grow a bit smaller and less frequent I am nostalgic for winter. Someone recently asked me what my favorite season was, and I had no direct answer. With winter comes skiing, magical movements of the mountain, and engaging personalities of a ski town set out to make this the best winter yet. On the other hand, summer brings wild flowers, sunshine, long days that turn into longer nights of fun, carefree camping, whitewater rafting, and a unique sort of happiness that only Montana summers bring. Fall and spring are also a wonder with changing tides, colors, and local produce that changes my recipe choice (squash soup, Mmmm). Even though I still do not have an answer for my favorite season I know I will miss winter. Here are two of my favorite Robert Frost winter poems, in honor of one of my favorite seasons at Big Sky Resort:
I had for my winter evening walk-
No one at all with whom to talk,
But I had the cottages in a row
Up to their shining eyes in snow.
And I thought I had the folk within:
I had the sound of a violin;
I had a glimpse through curtain laces
Of youthful forms and youthful faces.
I had such company outward bound.
I went till there were no cottages found.
I turned and repented, but coming back
I saw no window but that was black.
Over the snow my creaking feet
Disturbed the slumbering village street
Like profanation, by your leave,
At ten o'clock of a winter eve.
Dust of Snow
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
A Big Sky Moment by Kyle Nicholson
I awoke and looked outside
What the doctor ordered,
My eyes did abide.
Snow banks and fields abound
As yet more fluffy white flakes
At the site of this true winter wonderland,
Holds no bounds!
At the lift I could, and did,
At the top,
The whole world greeted with open arms!
Ski for days
And not the same run.
Ski for miles
All the same run.
I'm gonna be a little bit late!
Behold this paradise!
Behold this Big Sky!
I saw down with first-year snowreporter Joe Schufman to discuss weather stations, how Big Sky Resort's snow report is gathered each day, and what it feels like to provide the world with great powder news from Big Sky Resort.
What time do you usually wake up in the morning?
I wake up at 3:45 a.m., but usually don't get out of bed until about 4:00 a.m. Once you are used to waking up this early it's no different than waking up at 8:00 a.m.
What's the very first thing you do when you get into the office?
I head straight to the computer to figure out how much snow we received overnight and what is going to happen with snow and weather today. To figure out snow totals we use automated weather stations and an on-mountain camera. These stations provide accurate totals for most of the mountain below treeline, for upper mountain totals we need to wait until about 8:00 a.m. for Ski Patrol to get on Lone Peak, and then they radio us with what the upper mountain snow totals are.
We use the best information we have available to determine snow totals, but it's not an exact science when 5,800 acres of terrain is combined with wind, aspect, and elevation. To counter the variable snowfall totals we report a range of snow - the lower number of that range represents the amount of snow the entire mountain received, and the upper number represents the areas that received more snow due to wind loading or elevation.
Can you give me a step-by-step of who you talk to in the mornings to get the snow report out to the public? Where do they get the snow report from?
Once I have the weather information I record a message on the Snow Phone with the pertinent information for the day: Current temperature, expected high temperature, low temperature, winds, skies, snowfall and snow totals: since lifts closed, 24-hour, 48-hour, and 7-day. If there are major events happening at the resort I include those too.
Next, I send out the information via a fax and an email and then I update five websites: Beta Scout, OnTheSnow, SnoCountry, Ski Montana, and a European site, Ski Resort Service International. Then I re-update the Snow Phone and the call two local radio stations. Depending on how hard it's snowing in the morning we can update our channels as frequently as every 30 minutes.
After this we start building the grooming report, which also reports similar weather, snow, events, and, obviously, groomed trails. Paper and electronic copies are distributed around 7:00 a.m. resort-wide.
Where are the weather stations located?
Our automated weather stations are located all around Big Sky Resort, and we even use some of the Yellowstone Club's automated weather stations. I use the instruments at Bavaria, Andesite, Lobo and Lookout Ridge. If you check out http://www.mtavalanche.com/weather there is a map with the locations of all the weather stations in the area pinned.
Where do we pull temperatures from?
Sten, our web guru, programmed the temperature feed from our Lobo Weather Station. Lobo is a mid-mountain weather station that is more or less an average temperature for the entire resort. The difference of the peak and base area temperature is about 10 degrees, so the peak and base area are + or - 5 degrees of what is reported by this feed. Typically Lone Peak is slightly cooler than Lobo, and Mountain Village Base Area is slightly warmer than Lobo, but sometimes Big Sky Resort experiences temperature inversions. When an inversion occurs it means that higher elevations are warmer than lower elevations. Make sure to check out Big Sky Resort's online Snow Report or call the Snow Phone as we report inverted temperatures.
What's your favorite thing about doing the snowreport?
It's really cool to be the first person awake on a powder day and getting to report the great news to the world. Other perks of the job are I get to work in an office with an outstanding team, I get time to ski almost every day because I have half of my work day done by 9:00 am, and finally we get to work on projects that we find interesting. It's great to work in many areas of the resort and learn how many departments operate.
Least favorite thing?
No secret here, waking up early and getting to ski every day means you go to bed early and are almost exclusively dedicated to the job and skiing.
People often ask the snowreporters or other team members at Big Sky Resort why we have one report for the entire mountain. Why do we do this? Or why do you think we do this?
We have one report because it adequately describes the conditions. The nature of any mountain means different snow conditions exist in different areas depending on winds, aspects, and elevations. Big Sky Resort is bigger than most mountains, but this doesn't mean we need to have four separate snow reports for the different areas of the mountain. What we do, that most mountains don't, is use a range of snowfall to accurately represent the minimum amount of snow the entire resort received and the maximum amount that skiers and riders can expect to find.
What is the trickiest part about reporting on snowfall over 5,800 acres?
Figuring out the right numbers. Conservative or liberal snow numbers mean that people won't get what they expected, which may lead to very dissatisfied guests. The reports that we create need to accurately describe what is happening at Big Sky Resort, so that people know what to expect.
Any other comments?
The office that I work in is great. Everyone is dedicated to their job, and watching the Sales and Marketing Team work together is like a v12 engine running on all cylinders. Ana, a second year Big Sky Snow Reporter, is an amazing coworker. She is an exceptionally fun person with tons of character. She applies her personality and passion for skiing and riding to her job, and the results are great.
Snowreporter Joe Schufman
Snowreporter Ana Dostert
The skiing and snowboarding at Big Sky Resort has been fantastic this year (I can attest to the skiing, the snowboarding is hearsay). With nearly a 100" base on the upper mountain, conditions are solid and powder can be found off of every lift. Mother Nature and Father Sky continually look kindly on Big Sky Resort as we have received snow 24 of the last 27 days, yet the sun has also shined through providing plenty of goggle tans.
Last Saturday, I skied off of Moonlight area lifts all day. As someone who grew up going to Big Sky Resort from the early 90s until today, I have been fortunate to explore the Moonlight side of Lone Peak this year. The first few runs of the day I stuck close to Moonlight Lodge (ensuring to get some of those Parmesan Garlic Fries on my ride break), mostly skiing in the trees through Upper Bearcat Gully, Hollywood or Snake Bite to Lower Bearcat Gully, Iron Maiden, and Dogwood. One word describes these runs, especially on a powder day: Contagious. Skiing in the gully near Iron Horse Lift is a unique experience few mountains provide. Sweet snowy turns through the trees give me an infectious delight. Although these runs are not as long as so many others up here off Lone Peak, they're worth exploring.
After my fries at Moonlight Lodge I ventured over to Lone Tree Lift to huck some cliffs. Kidding! But I did take a few hops off of small rocks on Lone Tree and enjoyed the subtle black diamond Grizzly Meadows.
The days I spend skiing pass by in a blur. How very lucky we all are to be able to welcome and enjoy all the fresh snow we received at Big Sky Resort, about 90" this past February. March is just getting started and I'm looking forward to yet another month of making the best of a great snowy situation.
Photo by Ryan Turner Photography
Inside Moonlight Lodge
I've been skiing Big Sky Resort since I was three years old. However, the 2013-2014 winter is my first thorough exploration of all Lone Mountain has to offer, and what a winter it has been. We've had snow 15 out of the last 15 days, and each day I go out I take a Tram lap or two, but always find myself seeking new trails in the trees. I hope this list of my favorite runs at Big Sky encourages a bit of adventure-seeking through the boughs of old Evergreens as well as discovery of new terrain from the top of Lone Peak to the bottom.
Buffalo Jump and Buffalo Trees. Although Swift Current Lift glides directly past Buffalo Jump, it is a run often untracked, especially skier's left in the trees. The spacing of these trees allows for a perfect three-or-four-turn line before taking the fall line into a gully that eventually falls into Crazy Horse. I love tree runs, and this is one of the best. Named after the American Indian ritual of herding buffalo to their deaths by running them off of cliffs, Buffalo Jump (or Pishkun) is not filled with cliff bands although there are a few jumps to be found.
Challenger Trees. Powder stashes galore. I skied Challenger Trees just a few days ago and found line after untracked line. BRT (Big Rock Tongue) Road, which takes skiers over to Moonlight Lodge or Iron Horse Lift, breaks up this series of tree stashes skier's left of Challenger Lift: Like separating the wheat from the chaff.
Mr. K. Mr. K is everyone's favorite. OK, maybe not everyone, but it's a fantastic run with perfect pitches and fun to be had for skiers at all levels.
Elk Park Ridge. Elk, also known as "Wapiti," which means light-colored deer in Shawnee, could be found grazing in open meadows much like this one. I love Elk Park Ridge because I can ski it multiple times in many ways: a warm-up cruiser or go a little off-piste and find some freshies to skier's left.
Crazy Raven. Just a few runs skier's right from Elk Park Ridge lies Crazy Raven, a fantastic tree run with something new to explore every time. Named by John Kircher, Crazy Raven gets its name from the flock of lunch-stealing ravens residing in the area when the run was being cut. Even though the ravens stick closer to the top of Andesite these days, I don't recommend sitting down for a picnic lunch on this run anytime soon. Just point ‘em downhill and find fresh powder on this beautiful Andesite tree run.
Dirtbag Wall. To skier's left of Marx the Dirtbag Wall holds wonderful snow from top to bottom. The Dirtbag Wall fills in nicely this time of year and with a variety of chutes to choose from (specifically called Ace, King, Queen, Jack, and Wild Card) skiing Dirtbag Wall over-and-over again is quite satisfying.
Single Jack. Montana was founded on the backs of miners, and Single Jack is no exception to this history. A single jack is a hammer, essentially, with a four-pound head and 10-inch handle used for striking steel for drilling. This is not at all what it feels like jumping into Single Jack from Lookout Ridge off of Lone Tree Lift. Single Jack is a pleasant and wonderful tree run.
Pixie Trees. Pixie Trees is untouched. Between Far South and Eldorado on the Southern Comfort Lift side of Andesite lies wide open tree skiing among beautiful Lodgepole Pines. Since Far South and Eldorado are both Green Circles few beginners ski into the trees and few moderate to expert skiers find it beneficial to explore the fantastic terrain off SoCo.
*Historical facts courtesy of Dr. Jeff Strickler's The Skier's Guide to the Biggest Skiing in America.
Photo © Ryan Day Thompson, 2014 | www.ryandaythompson.com
Photo © Ryan Day Thompson, 2014 | www.ryandaythompson.com
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