As the first snowflakes fall from the sky the ski season ahead begins in the minds of all skiers and snowboarders. Powder seekers probe the same, "Where and how will I find the best snow experience?" Big dumps don't always mean better skiing and they can fall far and few between. Factors such as consistent snowfall, elevation, location, and aspect play a big role in a quality ski experience year after year. Tony Crocker, Princeton educated statistician and avid skier, wants to know and he takes the time to pencil the numbers.
Tony Crocker has been crunching data for 30 years and reports it all on his website bestsnow.net. Tony started first with statistics then found skiing in 1976 after college; from 1978 onward skiing has become his favorite avocation. Skier at heart and statistician by trade, snowfall accumulation naturally became his fascination and quality ski experiences his passion. He found sites that gathered snowfall data, which prompted him to start his own analysis. Not only does he keep track of snowfall he also factors in aspect, elevation and puts his own mathematical touch in determining snow quality as a very important factor when choosing a ski destination. Tony also keeps track of every place he has skied, how many days, vertical feet and the snow and weather conditions. As of July 2013 Tony has logged 1,169 skier days, 12% were powder days, 22,301,000 vertical ft. across four continents and 182 ski resorts. Big Sky Resort, home of America's Biggest Skiing, boasts 5,750 acres, 4,350 vertical drop, more than 250+ named trails, and something for everyone to enjoy. Including, according to Tony's number sleuthing, consistent and reliable snow. But why is the snow so reliable?
It's more than those stellar flakes stacking up on the windowsill. Factor in the elevation, Big Sky starts at 6,850 ft. and tops out at 11,166 ft.; the location, northern US at the 45th parallel; and the temperatures, an average daily temp of 25 degrees. All of these variables aid in snow preservation. Meaning: The cold smoke snow falls and stays cold maintaining a very pleasurable surface to edge or float on.
Tony's calculations also indicate that in a La Niña year Big Sky will see 112% of average snowfall, and 97% in an El Niño year. Big Sky Resort has eight automated weather sites on Lone Mountain. Three of the eight sites collect snowfall numbers: Lobo located at an elevation of 8,900 ft., Bavaria at 9,600 ft., and Look Out Ridge at 9,000 ft. These sites are complex in that they require a remote connection, constant attention, and an actual person to swipe the boards clean every day. Each site costs ~$7,000 initially and needs consistent maintenance. The sites are used daily to assess wind speed, wind direction, snowfall, snow water equivalent, and temperature. The automated weather site's information is available to anyone on bigskyresort.com/snow and also mtavalanche.com.
In the ski industry snow is our greatest asset. The snow brings with it morale and the hero ski trip stories that will be told and retold for years. At Big Sky Resort, the business is commonly referred to as snow farming. When the crop is good, people come to harvest it with sticks and smiles and whoops under the chairlift. According to Tony Crocker's calculation Big Sky Resort is the destination for a consistent and reliable harvest.
For the full story and more stats on Big Sky Resort's consistent and reliable snowfall pick up the Winter issue of Live Big Magazine at Big Sky Resort.
When I graduated college a year ago, I never thought I would move back to Montana much less still be living in Montana, but I wouldn't have it any other way. All through college I was determined to end up in a big city with a fast-pace and a high-profile job, but that wasn't the calling for me.
I grew up outside of Bozeman where I was always hiking, skiing or camping with my parents. I enjoyed that lifestyle, but I also enjoyed traveling to those fast-paced cities I wanted to live in some day. When I graduated, like most people my age, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my degree. I came home and got a job at the closest faraway place I could think of: The Huntley Front Desk. Now that I am wrapping up my third season in Big Sky I couldn't ask for a better place to be than in this beautiful mountain community.
There is something great about living in a resort town like Big Sky. You get the hustle and bustle of a city from time to time with peak seasons of guests, but you can also get away from it all within 10 minutes and find yourself in the middle of nowhere with no one in sight. Having that balance in life is something that not many people can say they have. The locals here all say that "we live where others vacation" but it is so much more than that. The people here all have things in common, but the best and most important thing we have in common is that we all really want to be here.
When socializing with these great people, I love to enjoy the activities and things that motivated me to move here in the first place. Such as walking to Ousel Falls, hiking up Yellow Mule or just sitting on my back deck enjoying an evening, there's always something to enjoy or discover outside. I also love trying out new restaurants and revisiting old favorites, and going to Music in the Mountains on Thursdays in the summer. For such a small town, we sure do have some great food and music to share.
In my new position as the Owner Communication Manager, I work with the owners of our hotel rooms and condos. Basically, I get to work with people who love this place as much as I do. I can go on a new hike in the area and tell someone about it and they are just as excited to discover it as I am. But overall, it is the people who live here and vacation here, people who legitimately love what they do and where they get to do it, that are the reason this place is so great. While I had other big city plans for my life, I would not change where I am at right now for anything.
Ellie (left) on the Ousel Falls hike in Big Sky.
The Rut 2014 kicked off on a brisk Friday morning at the Mountain Village Base Area at Big Sky Resort. The Vertical Kilometer promised to be challenging but a quick race to the top of Lone Peak. Salomon team runner Kilian Jornet impressed spectators and fellow racers with a Vertical K time of 46 minutes 12 seconds and a 50K time of 5 hours 09 minutes, taking first in both events. The Rut doubled in size since its inaugural year in 2013. Not only did the race bring out regional and local running fanatics, but brought the best of the best in the Ultramarathon world as the SkyRunning World Series Ultra Final. Congrats to all runners. Check out a few photos and highlight video from The Rut and see you next year.
Filmed and edited by Michael Jezak.
Captain America nearly at the Vertical K finish line at the top of Lone Peak. Photo: Anna Husted
Madison Base Area check point of The Rut 50K. Photo: Anna Husted
Kilian Jornet arriving at the 50K finish line at the base area of Big Sky Resort. Photo: Anna Husted
Emelie Forsberg crosses the 50K finish line, winning the women's overall division. Photo: Anna Husted
Men's overall second place finisher Sage Canaday shakes hands with first place finisher Kilian Jornet. Photo: Anna Husted
Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe of Missoula, Montana, started The Rut 12K & 50K in 2013 at Big Sky Resort. For 2014 they added the Vertical K on Friday, Sept. 13. More than 1,000 racers will be at Big Sky Resort this weekend to participate in The Rut and 50K Skyrunner World Series Ultra Final. Here's what Foote had to say about The Rut and ultramarathons:
How was The Rut conceived? Give us a bit of the back story.
Mike and I both have travelled and raced extensively in other parts of the world, especially in Europe, and we were inspired but the challenging and technical mountain terrain where these events took place. We were also impressed by the amount of celebration around these events by the local towns and the culture in general. We are excited to bring that energy back to our home turf in Montana and the US. There are few races in the states which have the severe terrain The Rut 50K and VK showcase. We also just wanted to have fun with this and have a reason for folks to come run in some of the best mountain terrain Montana has to offer.
So Big Sky Resort was always in the top running for an ultramarathon for you and Mike Wolfe?
Lone Mountain and Peak had the terrain we were looking for, mixed with the infrastructure of trails to use and the amenities of a world-class resort to host thousands of runners with their friends and family. It was an easy decision.
The Rut was such a hit last year, what can you tell me about the 2014 course? Any updates?
We had so much fun with the race in 2013 that we didn't want to change the atmosphere too much. With that said, the race has more than doubled in size and we made the course harder. Yes, that has been the goal all along. We have added some stunning ridge line terrain on the Headwaters Ridge and a brutal climb up a steep 45 degree scree slope to gain the ridge. It's going to be awesome.
Also, we are now the final of the prestigious Skyrunner World Series Ultra category. This has attracted many of the best mountain runners in the world.
About how many hours have you worked on The Rut trails?
*Laughs Good questions. We have worked a couple days on the Headwaters section. It is the most technical sections of the course so we wanted to make it flow better through certain sections to provide more safety in the exposed terrain.
We know there's a lot of physical preparation for any ultramarathon, but how does a runner mentally prepare for The Rut?
Every runner is different. I think I would recommend accepting the suffering that will occur on the course as opposed to fighting it. I would also recommend working to be relaxed the week of the race. It's easy to get overworked and overstressed. Lastly, focus on the positive. It will help you perform to your potential.
You both are also well-known for competing in Ultramarathons (not just directing one), what was your favorite race of 2014 besides The Rut?
For me, I really enjoyed the Lavaredo Ultra Trail 120K mountain race in the Italian Dolomites I participated in this June. It had all the elements we want to have at The Rut. It was well organized, went through incredible mountain scenery, and was a celebratory atmosphere with thousands of runners and spectators.
Any other comments?
We have Elk Hides branded with the Rut logo for finisher awards this year. Finishing this race is quite the accomplishment and we are excited to honor that with some Montana flare.
I haven't been fishing since I was twelve years old and let's just say I'm close to quadrupling that age now. Living in the mecca for fly fishing, I jumped at the chance when I was invited to go. I really didn't have any gear, only the tackle box my Dad bought me for my twelfth birthday (yes, the same trip that made it my last until now), of course it's now full of art supplies so I decided not to take it. My boyfriend set me up with all the gear I needed and the terminology: indicator (aka bobber), nymph (I remember these being worms), split shot (aka weight), and dry fly (mimic the bugs on top of the water - hate those bugs when swimming). After being quizzed on my new fly fishing vocabulary we arrived at the river, put in the boat, and started some fishing... um, I mean, fly fishing.
Once we were on the water I learned time: 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock, don't break the wrist, and drop the fly in the right spot. Easy enough until you're trying to get the weight, I mean split shot, to float through the air. After some tangles and a lot of "I got it, I got it" toward my boyfriend, I truly did get. I had the fishing line and tippit (yes, another new term I learned, but I like to say, "the clear line tied to the yellow line") moving like a pendulum through the air before I cast to the perfect spot. Now, the perfect spot would actually be where my boyfriend told me to place the fly, but I came to soon realize that maybe the perfect spot was where the fly actually landed. Hitting the perfect spot is not easy, believe me, when I got remotely close to where he told me to place the fly he was rather shocked and congratulatory.
Hooking my first fish was, let's say, a miscommunication as I wasn't equipped with the new terminology my boyfriend was excitedly expressing to me. Down. He excitedly said "down", I took my rod (never call it a pole) and pointed it down and lost the fish. I now know in the fly fishing world, "down" actually means "up." Yes, I was supposed to pull up on the rod when the indicator goes down. As the day went on I received some good bites, but I wasn't able to hook the fish. Tired of standing I asked if I could try rowing for a bit. Happily my boyfriend relinquished the oars and took to the front of the boat. Five minutes later he was pulling in a beautiful Rainbow Trout out of the water. Man, I'm a good rower. Put him right where he needed to be.
After a short bit, he gave the fly rod back to me, determined I would catch my first fish in (cough, cough) number of years. I cast out with good 10 and 2 pendulum form trying my best to place the fly in the right spot and mending perfectly (another term for making sure the yellow line is ahead of the clear line. I got pretty good at this). I hear "down" and pull up fast. Fish on! I start pulling line in and reeling in excess fly line. I'm completely out of my head excited. It's not just a fish, but a good-sized fish. I'm all of the sudden a professional fisherwoman calling for the net.
As it gets closer to the boat I ask what kind of fish it is and he says with a sigh, "a Whitefish". How cool is that, my first Whitefish and I moved to Big Sky from Whitefish. I'm just beaming until I look over at the disgust on my boyfriend's face. Each person I've told this story to give the same disgusted look, like Whitefish are rats in the water. No good. I insist he takes a picture.
"But it's a Whitefish, you don't want a picture with a Whitefish," he says.
"Oh, no, brother, I don't care. I caught this fish and I want a picture," I retort back.
He took the picture. A beautiful picture of me and my first fish I've caught since I was twelve and fly fishing to boot. I held it proudly for the camera with the biggest smile on my face and a death grip on this poor Whitefish. As he releases my fish into the water it starts to go belly up. I'm in a panic. I've killed it. This is supposed to be catch and release and I killed the first fish I've caught. I'm devastated. My boyfriend kept chuckling and saying "don't worry, it's just stunned from your death grip." Within a couple of more minutes it begins to wiggle and finally swims away. All smiles again, I crack a beer.
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