As I hike into an open meadow the flitter of colors catch my eyes. Wildflowers, stunning and magical. Immediately my inner Von Trapp family singer emerges and I have an overwhelming desire to belt out an Americana classic that will echo across the slopes and bring the hills alive with the sound of music.
While I was in college at MSU Bozeman, I spent my summers in Big Sky bagging peaks and logging miles throughout the Lee Metcalf Wilderness that cradles the west end of Big Sky Resort's Lone Peak. I was studying hard on my other degree: becoming a "self-proclaimed naturalist". This prestigious acclaim does not come with a transcript or gown, but the accomplishment is rewarded by friends trusting my knowledge of local flora and fauna. I am regularly quizzed by them with a finger point and the question, "what is this?"
A visit to Big Sky country in July will be filled with colorful dancing meadows and alpine vistas. I will use my "degree" and recommend a few good wildflower hikes near Big Sky Resort.
Windy Pass: This trail rolls up with some short steep inclines through forest and meadows for 2.5 miles to the Windy Pass Cabin. Continue past the cabin another .5 miles to the Gallatin Crest Trail.
From Big Sky, Montana, proceed northbound for 6 miles on Highway 191 until you reach the Portal Creek Road 984 (RIGHT TURN). Follow this rough gravel road (note: may not be suitable for low clearance vehicles) up approximately 6 miles to the end at the Windy Pass and Golden Trout Lakes Trailheads. Windy Pass Trail 82 is left of the bulletin board. The cabin is 2.5 miles up (1300 foot elevation gain) the Windy Pass Trail 82.
Cinnamon Mountain: The climb to Cinnamon Mountain lookout lopes upward through forest and open meadows for 4 miles one way. The views of the Taylor Hilgard and Spanish Peaks of the Madison Range are stunning on a clear day. The lookout at the top is no longer manned, but the structure still remains.
From Big Sky, Montana, head southbound for about 11 miles U.S. Highway 191 south to Cinnamon Creek Road. The road is 100 yards south of The Cinnamon Lodge (great spot for after hike refreshments) on highway 191. Turn right on the dirt road and follow for 0.3 mile to the Cinnamon Station and the parking area.
You can spot these pretty little things in and around Big Sky Resort.
Below in order Lupine, Sticky Geranium, Spring Beauties & Glacier Lily.
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.
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.
Ballerina, banana, giant ape, beach babe - skimmers don't skimp on wild attire. And neither does the crowd.
Rules are, there are no rules - Big Sky encourages the unexpected. Daffys, 360s, ski and water ballet moves are all fair game.
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.
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.
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.
Katie Grice and Pete Owens pause during a traverse on the North Summit Snowfield
Chad Jones and Lyndsey Owens make turns down a narrow chute on the North Summit
Greer descends smooth, wind-buffed powder.
North-facing snow stays soft for Lyndsey Owens
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.
< Older Posts Newer Posts >