Favorites ... Everyone has one. Mine just so happens to be a steep and twisted cirque on the north side of Big Sky Resort known as The Headwaters. After many years of hiking and riding the beautiful and sunny A-Z Chutes one day I found myself being strangely drawn to their darker and mysterious big sister The Headwaters. What I found was a whole new inbounds ski experience unlike anything I had ever seen. One that offered the relative ease of access provided by lifts, signage, a passionate and capable ski patrol and maintained hiking trails but... ended in obscurity. Standing atop the hike laid out before me was nothing short of a labyrinth. Interconnecting chutes, spines, rocky buttresses, hanging snowfields and massive amounts of exposure as far as my eyes could see were all open wall to wall. My partner and I sat a long time studying the cirque, watching other skiers and riders make their way, and getting comfortable with our new surroundings. The vibe of this place was intoxicating yet it's philosophy quite sobering: If you can see it you can ski it. In the world of resort skiing this was where the sidewalk ends. In The Headwaters the only limitations were my own.
It's been several years since that day and my passion and respect of The Headwaters has only grown. Each season I patiently watch and wait as the snow and winds shape and reshape the terrain. This season long study comes to a head each spring with the Headwaters Spring Runoff and the Subaru Freeride Series World Qualifier. These freeride competitions are held each year in the Headwaters venue and allow local and regional skiers and riders the chance to compete for fun, prizes, points and even a chance to compete on the Freeride World Tour. These conditions blogs below are my weekly observations of the venue and will hopefully serve as a resource for other competitors to stay safe, get creative and prepare for these events. Tune in here as well as Big Sky Resort's Facebook Page, Twitter, and Event Calendar for the latest news and info on conditions and competitions.
March 15: Adult Headwaters Spring Runoff (Click HERE to register)
March 22: Junior Headwaters Spring Runoff (This event is FULL. Click here to be put on the Wait List)
April 2-6: Subaru Freeride Series FWQ
Last Update March 12, 2014:
It's a powder day! Big Sky Resort just received 22-29"/24 hours. Mid-mountain base depth is 76" and the upper mountain base is 109". Winds are out of the NW at 5 mph. Skies are mostly sunny with temps around 25 degrees. Snow is a little heavier than normal and control work left a lot of debris in the run outs, but overall the skiing/riding is good. Forecast is calling for sunny skies and highs in the low 30's the next few days.
The 9th Annual Headwaters Spring Runoff Adult Venue
Shots of The Headwaters from March 12, 2014:
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
Love the Big Sky Terrain Parks? I do too, even if I can't hit many features. Here are a few facts and tidbits from our own terrain park expert, Nate Bell, Big Sky Resort's Terrain Park Manager:
How long have you worked at Big Sky Resort?
How many parks do we have now?
Eight terrain parks total. Three large, three medium, and two small parks.
What new features are you most excited to a) build and b) hit?
We just finished a new feature called a lollipop that has become a huge hit in Zero Gravity Terrain Park. I'm most excited to hit The Ambush Jump Line on the far left of Ambush below Ramcharger Lift. They are decent sized and really fun.
The Lollipop now in Zero Gravity Terrain Park.
What can last year's terrain park fans expect differently out of this year's parks?
A new look to all of our features and a massive feature count of more than 100.
Can we expect to see any pro or semi-pro athletes in the parks this year?
They are always around you just have to keep an eye out for them. Two days ago our park crew spotted Nicolas Müller a Swiss pro snowboarder lapping Zero Gravity.
If any athlete could come, who should come and why?
The Traveling Circus crew, because they travel the entire country but rarely to Montana.
What's your favorite feature and your favorite park?
The 42' up-down rail in Zero Gravity Terrain Park.
Check out the Smokin' Aces: Ace of Hearts Slopestyle competition on Saturday, March 8, starting around noon at the Zero Gravity Terrain Park.
The crew here at Big Sky Resort finds gliding down a mountain to be exhilarating, fun, scary, and a great workout. To keep safe and make the most fun of this exhilarating activity, here are some tips I find helpful in staying out on the slopes all season long.
Ski with a Buddy
When I'm surrounded by nature in the middle of the trees on one of my favorite runs, I find silence and solitude comforting. However, 9 times out of 10 I prefer to ski with a friend. Not only is it more fun, but it's also safer when I get into those little bumps in the trees. This holds true for beginners or experienced skiers. It's also good to have a buddy along to help capture all the fun with photos. Selfies!
When in doubt, point it out
When I get into a narrow shoot or some tight tree runs, instead of potentially blowing out an edge on a log (and ruining the run by side-sliding down it) I just point ‘em downhill. This saves the snow for even more skiers, and saves time, which results in getting more runs in one day.
Know when to turn ‘em
Beginning skiers learn quickly that if their skis are pointed straight downhill, the skis are going to carry them downhill, often in a big hurry. That's why turning is one of the most important skills a skier should harness. I learned how to ski through lessons, but also by watching my dad ski. The pros to this: I learned to turn by skiing behind my dad right in his tracks. The cons: I learned to ride in the backseat too much because that's how my dad skied. And that leads me to the next tip:
Keep command of your skis
I used to think I used my poles more than most skiers because they were my greatest asset for keeping out on top of my boards. I tell my skis when to turn, not the other way around. This is a tough tip to learn, but will help immensely in the long run (and makes skiing more fun).
Bring a snack
Not only do I not want my friends to get cranky for lack of sustenance, but I do not ski as well when I'm hungry. Food is energy and skiing exerts a lot of energy. Also, keep hydrating, especially at 11,166 feet. Just remember to throw away any garbage so it doesn't end up in the Gallatin River come spring.
Know when to call it a day
The fun and excitement of a day on the slopes can mask the fatigue my muscles may be experiencing after several runs. Most ski injuries happen late in the day and because of that, I try to avoid particularly challenging ski runs in the late afternoon or evening. It's true, my muscles and energy level may not always match my enthusiasm so I end the day with an easy run and rest up for the next.
-Anna and Erik
"I had to laugh when you asked how long I have lived in Big Sky," Lonnie Ball said as we loaded Swifty two weeks ago on a sunny powder day. "Mary and I live in Bridger."
Ball and his wife Mary ski at Big Sky Resort nearly every day. As a retired owner of Montana Powder Guide and nearly full-time photographer, Ball drives the 80 miles from Bridger to Big Sky for the terrain and access to that terrain.
"We could hike the ridge (at Bridger Bowl) all day, but we'd be up there with nearly 1,000 other people," Ball said, also noting that even on the busiest days at Big Sky Resort there is still only a maximum of around 600 skiers off the peak. The peak offers fresh line after fresh line, according to Ball, and he skis it all.
I met the Balls at the bottom of Swift Current around 11a.m. (they had already done a couple runs). Riding the Lone Peak Triple over to the Tram I commented on Ball's sweet skis.
"They're the best snowboard on two feet," Ball joked. His Pow NAS were given to him by Snowboarding Manufacturer Lib Tech to demo, and aside from getting a little bumpy on traverses, he loves them (and they look cool too).
We did two tram laps, and then took Erika's Glades down to Dakota Chair, where we found ourselves in the peaceful arms of Dakota Territory.
If you ski at Big Sky often enough, you'll eventually find yourself sharing a chair or a tram car with the Balls. Rare was a run where someone didn't wave or holler at Ball. He is a Big Sky legend, and for good reason. Ball has been skiing Big Sky for years, and, aside from a stint in Utah (where he met Mary) and Jackson Hole (where he has a run named after him, and where he was the first person to ever jump into Corbet's Couloir in 1967), he's lived in Montana for most of his life-guiding, patrolling, and skiing.
Ball and I both grew up in Great Falls and learned to ski at Showdown (although for him it was still called King's Hill). Great Falls is that blue collar part of Montana where every dad takes off work to watch his son wrestle, and every cowboy finds a friend at the Steinhaus or the Halftime. It's a city where one learns to tell stories in that slow and patient way cowboys do. Although he's not a cowboy in the traditional sense, Ball is a fine storyteller with no shortage of tales and experiences to share. I asked him about his most memorable times skiing at Showdown and at Big Sky. He told me the story behind a poem written by Eric Gustafson (a member of a legendary ski family in Montana) about a time when Duke and Rib Gustafson saw 15-year-old Lonnie packing snow before a ski race at Showdown. The poem is as follows:
He worked that slope, He packed the powder
Softened snowflakes, wafting ‘round.
Between the poles the slalom twisted
For hours more he'd tamp it down.
This task was his and all the racers
Preparing the course for that days event
The price they paid, for every gate rut
Had to be packed before they went.
His mind was soft just like the powder.
With numbing cold, high mountain breeze
When he looked were two dark figures
Bouncing down between the trees.
The gray mist powder sailed about them
Effortless they floated by
Like angels sent from skiers heaven
Their message brought on snowflaked sky
They paused near him and smiled through goggles
The Gustafson brothers, Duke and Rib.
"Howdy son," they articulated
As he loosened up his bib.
Just a kid, the brothers noted,
Working the pack like they had done.
Years before they both competed
Races long past and many won.
They watched him pack as he sweated.
They rarely stopped when powder fell.
One more question, they posited,
Before they drifted down that hill.
"Ya gonna pack it ... or you gonna ski it?"
They left him with the question said,
Then disappeared in clouds of powder
The phantom floaters in his head.
He raced that day one last measure
Before he shifted his soul that day
A powder hound just like the brothers
He found his passion his life's highway.
Ball is "the kid" in that poem. Putting pen to paper about a man who knows Big Sky Resort better than almost anyone is a challenge. How can I capture the surety and strength of his voice when he tells stories or of his skiing as he smoothly descends Marx and Lenin? He is a man who has snapped a photo or two of each member of the Kircher family at some point, has photos all around the resort and the community, competes (and wins) Powder Eight competitions around the country, and is working on a story about the best food to try at each dining outlet around the entire mountain. Not to mention his generosity of spirit and genuine nature are contagious, creating connections wherever he goes. Look for Ball on the hill, in the Headwaters Grille during lunch, or at Moonlight Lodge before the lifts start turning in the morning; he'll gladly ski with you or share a story or two about Big Sky and his love for snow. It's people like Ball who make this community a wonderful place to live and ski, even if he does live in Bridger.
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