Secrets of the Skim: Big Sky's 2012 Pond Skim Goes All Out

Written by Greer Schott on at

Pond Skims have become a spring staple at many winter resorts - skiers and riders try their luck gliding down a ski slope and then across an icy pond.

But at Big Sky Resort, the annual Pond Skim is a ritual in creativity and daring, pushing the boundaries of a ski culture classic. Last weekend, Big Sky pulled it off again, with these key ingredients for the perfect Pond Skim.

Power Ponds:
Big Sky's pond is never just a pond. Every year the shape and approach are a surprise - participants tackle double ponds, giant kicker entries, and s-curves. 2012 brought the most elaborate pond yet: a tetris-piece shaped pond with two separate entry points, a jump, and endless skimming path combinations.

Crazy Costumes:
Ballerina, banana, giant ape, beach babe - skimmers don't skimp on wild attire. And neither does the crowd.

Skim Strategy:
Rules are, there are no rules - Big Sky encourages the unexpected. Daffys, 360s, ski and water ballet moves are all fair game.

Sheer Volume:
Over 100 skiers and riders skimmed to the tune of thousands of cheering spectators this year. And every spring it gets bigger and crazier. There's just something about standing in a sea of neon onesies that makes you feel like you're part of something bigger.

- Greer


Jessica Biel is AVI Aware

Written by Greer Schott on at

We've known Jessica Biel rips since she descended the North Summit Snowfield last winter on a trip to Big Sky - how else do you think she keeps those shapely gams and derriere in perfect Hollywood condition? Now, she's taking her snowboarding to the next level and taking an avi course - not a bad idea with so many early season slides this winter.

We're not usually ones to flaunt our celebrity skiers, but with Jessica touting Big Sky as one of her go-to mountains to fellow skier David Letterman, we'll take this cue from Jessica: In or out of bounds, skiers need to be prepared. Jessica has the savvy to educate herself on the necessary precautions to take on the mountain, and it's not a bad idea to follow suit.

Big Sky Resort works hard to manage avalanches in-bounds, but it's always good to carry an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe, and know how to use them wherever you're skiing. And front, side, or backcountry, remember to never go alone. Again, not a bad idea - especially when your next ski partner for the Big Couloir could be none other than Jessica Biel.

- Greer


Conquering The North Summit Snowfield

Written by Greer Schott on at

The North Summit Snowfield

My first time on the North Summit Snowfield, the run that epitomizes the Biggest Skiing in America

With 5,750 skiable acres, Big Sky Resort and Moonlight Basin make up The Biggest Skiing in America. But a big claim like that is about more than just stats. It's about expanse and variety. It's about elbow room and attitude. It's about an entire experience.

Nothing exemplifies this more than the North Summit Snowfield - the expert run off of 11,166-foot Lone Peak that requires a joint Biggest Skiing in America lift ticket, signing out with Ski Patrol, and some sizeable cojones to descend. It's the kind of big, gnarly skiing you only find in the backcountry or cat skiing - but accessible by the Lone Peak Tram.

Just last week, my friend Katie and I were North Summit virgins. We both have hundreds of Big Sky ski days under our belts, but when you're exploring as much terrain as Big Sky offers, there's always something left to discover.

For us that was the North Summit, so we enlisted the help of Moonlight ski patroller Pete Owens and North Summit vets Lyndsey Owens and Chad Jones. Newbies are encouraged to bring a guide for their first trips down to reduce the possibility of taking a wrong turn off the side of a cliff, and we had recruited the best.

It was a bluebird day, the snow was smooth and wind-buffed, and we braced ourselves for a heart-pounding descent. As longtime local Meg O'Leary describes it, the North Summit Snowfield is like an extreme version of a run on Marx, then First Gully, then Lenin, all in succession. Meg famously guided now avy-certified Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake down the snowfield last winter. I yelled to Katie as we made the steep traverse to our entry point - If Jess and Justin could do it, so could we!

And we did - following Pete to make powdery turns down the sheer face before sidestepping and traversing to more of the wide-open steep and deep. And while maybe we didn't rip it like a hardcore ski pro, or even like Jessica Biel, this terrain was straight out of a Warren Miller movie: for our turns on the North Summit Snowfield, we all felt like ski celebrities.

This, I thought, is the Biggest Skiing in America.

Traverse on North Summit Snowfield

Katie Grice and Pete Owens pause during a traverse on the North Summit Snowfield

Chad Jones and Lyndsey Owens on a chute

Chad Jones and Lyndsey Owens make turns down a narrow chute on the North Summit

Greer descending powder

Greer descends smooth, wind-buffed powder.

Great powder.

North-facing snow stays soft for Lyndsey Owens


Inside the Snow Report

Written by Greer Schott on at

Snow reporters discuss snow.

2011-12 Snow reporters Elizabeth and Carrie Lee discuss new snow depth on a powder day.

It's a common misconception that Big Sky's Snow Reporter job is the plushest in town - picturing a hung over twenty-something rolling out of bed at 5 am, checking a yardstick in his backyard, calling the snow phone with the report, and then calling it a day would make anyone envious for that kind of easy, low-responsibility job. But getting out the conditions report for 4,050 skiable acres is a long and involved process - one that starts at 4pm the evening before and doesn't end until well into the next day. And the Snow Reporters? Late night at the Black Bear or no, they've got to be up at 4am and ready to put in a full 8 hour day.

4:00pm: The morning snow report begins the night before with Big Sky's Ski Patrol crew. As the mountain is closing, Ski Patrol calls the Snow Reporter desk and leaves a message with the day's high and low temps, the wind conditions, and the snowfall. This information is used in the weather section of Big Sky's following day report.

4:00pm - 8:00am: The grooming crew takes to the slopes to begin the long task of grooming and shaping the slopes. As they work throughout the night, groomers also the keep tabs on the weather and snowfall.

4:55am: Groomers measure overnight snowfall and base depth at the scientific Lobo station. This location has been used for 35 years and provides an accurate mid-mountain snowfall total. The upper mountain is too dangerous to measure this early considering avalanche control work yet to be done.

5:00am: Groomers call or radio the Snow Reporter with the overnight snowfall totals, base, and any relevant weather information. The Snow Reporter then faxes the overnight totals, terrain openings, weather, and other resort info across the country and updates bigskyresort.com for the early risers. Numerous other websites, from Snocountry to Travel Montana, are updated with this early information, and then thousands of other sites scrape the information while we all sleep. This is all done before 6 a.m. but usually closer to 5:30a.m.

5:15am: The Snow Reporter updates the snow phone with the collected information. This is the early phone update and it will be updated several more times throughout the morning and day.

5:45am: Groomers drop off a report of their groomed runs at the base area for the reporter to pick up and add to our report and grooming map.

8:00am: Patrol calls in with snow conditions from the top of lone peak and the snow reporter makes any necessary updates to the snow report and snow phone.

8:00am - 12:00pm: As the Snow Safety team and Patrol gather for their safety and control runs they will call or radio the reporter with any snowfall updates. Many times Big Sky will receive several inches of snow between the time of the original report and when the chairlifts start turning. When it's snowing hard, the patrol and reporter will remain in contact with updates throughout the morning, especially when reports come in like knee deep, thigh deep, or waist deep off the south face, when perhaps only 4-6 inches fell mid-mountain.

In between all of these steps, the Snow Reporters are calling radio stations and local businesses, faxing and emailing out reports, creating and distributing grooming maps, and updating the report on multiple different platforms and outlets. We'll spare you the gory details, but when it comes down to it, snow reporting is a complex position that involves many elements beyond the actual snow phone. It's a process that requires constant communication between the mountain operations teams and the crew inside spreading the messages.

We often joke that it truly is impossible to accurately measure snow when it comes to a mountain that is the biggest in America and faces every direction on the map, and the snow reporters always try to report a range of snowfall that gives a sense of snow all over the mounatin. But no matter what the report says, with 400 inches of snow a year and such a variety of terrain, you're sure to find great conditions - any day at Big Sky.

- Greer


GeoWeddings: Big Sky Brides go Distinctly Montana

Written by Margo Humphries on at

Weddings in Big Sky, MT

In the winter, Big Sky's Huntley Dining Room is known for one mean breakfast buffet. But come summer (read: wedding season), the Huntley Dining Room takes on a whole new role - chafing dishes full of scrambled eggs and bacon are replaced with ivory linens and breathtaking floral centerpieces. And the occasional hay bale.

Think elegant and civilized meets rugged wild west. Last week I met with a bride-to-be whose wedding will be just that. While her life and career may have taken her to the big city, her Montana roots remain as strong as the reins on the Quarter Horses at her parents nearby ranch. This bride's upcoming wedding will be a weekend-long event, kicking off with a western-themed bar-b-que for over 300 people in the Huntley Dining Room. There will be s'mores around the fire, a wagon filled with penny candy, red and white checkered tablecloths, BBQ pulled pork, and, a mechanical bull. After a few rounds on a bucking bronco and several trips to the dance floor, guests will kick off their boots in either the four-star Summit Hotel or the luxurious Village Center - both within a short walking distance of the reception .

Other brides lean towards the more traditional, focusing on the grandeur of the outdoor beauty at Big Sky. Just a week after one bride's western bar-b-que, another will celebrate outdoors in the Lone Peak Pavilion as the sun sets behind the towering mountain. Guests will sip on fine wine, munch on mini bison steaks served on Montana grain crostini, and sway their hips to a local Bluegrass band.

But no matter which end of the spectrum a wedding leans towards, there's no divorcing it from Big Sky's sense of place and culture. Like the GeoTraveler, making sure to experience the local culture wherever she roams, a wedding at Big Sky is for the GeoBride, finding elegance and beauty in what is distinctly Montana.

- Margo Humphries, Big Sky Resort Wedding Sales Manager


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