With less that epic ski conditions in Colorado, and Colorado's Epic Pass being honored at Big Sky for the month of January, skiers and riders are making their way to Montana. And even though there are 35 direct flights between Denver and Bozeman each week, chasing snow calls for the time honored ski bum tradition of hitting the open road. It calls for an Epic Road Trip.
I've taken my fair share four-wheeled adventures, and between cross-country jaunts and half-baked long-weekend college getaways, I've driven the stretch between Denver and Big Sky more than once. Most would stick to I-25 and I-90, making for the fastest route at 11-and-a- half hours (a leisurely cruise for any seasoned snow-chaser or road tripper). But a truly epic road trip calls for scenery, adventure, and quirky rest stops in podunk towns, and we're calling for an alternate route via Western Wyoming. The extra hour is worth its weight in scenic and small-town gold.
7am: Denver, CO
Lock your skis in the rack, hit I-25, and don't stop until Colorado is behind you. At Cheyenne, take I-80, and head towards Breakfast in Laramie.
9:30am: Laramie, WY
While Big Sky local, food connoisseur, and West Virginia expat Chad Jones recommends the "great food and pies" at Perkins, skip the sit-down chain and pull in for a quick coffee and made-from-scratch baked goods at Coal Creek Coffee in downtown Laramie's historic district.
2pm: Boulder, WY
Gas station snacks and stunning mountain views can tide you over until a late lunch near Boulder, WY, population 75. Keep your eyes peeled for Wyoming's own Brigadoon: a tiny diner oasis filled with Carhart-clad ranchers that only reveals itself to hungry road trippers on their way to Montana. Without proof of existence from any phonebook or webpage, you'll just have to take my word that this no-name place exists; I stumbled across the roadside gem on a trip through Wyoming in 2010. You'll know you've made it when you spot the stand-alone log cabin eatery - it's the only building around. Sit at the swiveling stools at the low countertop and order a burger - in meat country like this, sampling the beef is a must.
5pm: Jackson, WY
Two hours later, you're in Jackson. Stretch your legs with a lap around the town center with its iconic antler archways, but don't get sidetracked when you spot fellow skiers - the free skiing, a fraction of the crowds, and three times the terrain await you in Big Sky.
7pm: Island Park, ID
In the summer months we'd lead you through Yellowstone National Park, but roads close to vehicles there come winter, and instead you'll head northwest to Island Park for dinner. A little fancier than your average ski bum haunt, Last Chance Bar and Grill at the TroutHunter is true fine western dining. Relax in the high-ceilinged dining room and enjoy gourmet game before hitting the road for the final stretch.
10pm: BIG SKY, MT!
Pull into the Huntley Lodge for check-in and hit the heated pool with a Lone Peak IPA from Chet's Bar and Grill to unwind. Then head to Whiskey Jack's to dance the night away to live music. Skiing the best conditions in the Rockies and over 3,300 acres of terrain is on the agenda for tomorrow, but you don't have to worry about waking up early to catch first chair. This is Montana, where "lift line" isn't in the vocabulary, and good snow sticks around long after the lifts open. After a whirlwind Epic Road Trip, you'll have all the time you need for truly epic skiing.
If you've fed your inner steez monster lately, you've likely been out in the totally rad conditions shredding the gnar at Big Sky - there's no question that with all this La Nina snow, Big Sky has some sicky gnar pow right now. But after watching a recent documentary on Shane McConkey, Scott Gaffney, and the infamous Squallywood scene at Squaw Valley, I had to wonder not how gnarly Big Sky is, but how G.N.A.R.ly it is.
Gaffney's Numerical Assessment of Radness, that is. It's a point system attached to sweet moves on the slopes - each line, drop, and stunt has its own numerical value assigned to it. G.N.A.R. gained momentum at Squaw Valley in the 90's when Rob Gaffney published the official rules in his book, Squallywood, and skiers started competing for the gnarliest lines. The look-at-me ski-bum culture was highlighted and celebrated, tongue-in-cheek, as skiers earned extra credit points for skiing naked, passing gas and claiming it in a crowded tram, having the best goggle tan, proclaiming that they were the best skier on the mountain, and calling out pro skiers (Hey, McConkey! I can't believe you are a pro. I am so much better than you!).
With McConkey's death in March of 2009 while doing a ski stunt in Italy, and the premier of G.N.A.R. the movie in December 2009, there's been somewhat of a G.N.A.R. revival as the documentary about an official G.N.A.R. competition (skiers competed for a $25,000 jackpot!) began sweeping the nation. In Snowmass a few weeks ago, my friends mock-pole-whacked and invisible cornice (extra G.N.A.R. points for three or more ridiculously unnecessary whacks) and proudly announced before dropping a line: "Hey, look at me! I'm going to RIP this s#*t up!" As Squaw native Greg Lindsey says, "you can't just get rad by yourself, you know, you gotta tell people about it."
This attitude is common among ski-area locals, and Big Sky has its fair share of serious G.N.A.R.- types. But has the official G.N.A.R. attitude made it to Montana?
I decided to find out.
On a scenic with some green-skier friends up the tram, I didn't even bother bringing my skis up to lone Peak. But the rest of the skiers in my car were planning their runs - what they would dare drop, what they wouldn't. "Well whatever you guys are skiing," I pronounced, skis nowhere in sight, "I hope you know I'm the best skier on the mountain."
"That makes two of us," a skier holding Volkl's new Mantras replied.
In the Mountain Village that day, 20 pro skiers and riders were signing autographs as a part of their work with Big Sky Resort and Big Sky Youth Empowerment, a non-profit that mentors at-risk youth and introduces them to skiing.
"Hey dude," I said to a pro as he signed a poster for me. "I can't believe you're a pro. I am so much better than you are."
"Gnarly!" he replied. Or, then again, was it "G.N.A.R.ly?"
On Facebook a Big Sky local recently posted a helmet cam video of himself pole-whacking a cornice before dropping in. "Hey guys, what's goin' on," he yells to some nearby skiers. "You might wanna watch this, I'm the sickest skier on the mountain."
So it seems as though the G.N.A.R. is spreading, or at least the G.N.A.R. knowledge. Either way, it's good to keep in mind that the G.N.A.R. mentality inherently pokes fun at itself, and true bro or no, ski culture is all about enjoying yourself. So don't be taken aback the next time you're on the tram and someone breaks out and Ego Claim and tells you he's the best skier on the mountain. Just calmly rip one, claim it as your own, then tell him that while that's all well and good, you've got to go call your mom while you take some turns on the Big Couloir. You'll be way ahead on G.N.A.R. points already.
While the rest of the west suffers bleak ski conditions, Big Sky Resort has gotten plenty of pow. Now, we're sharing the love by inviting Epic Pass holders to ski free at Big Sky through January.
Colorado ski conditions have been less-than-epic this season. In Montana, that's not the case - with several large snowstorms and 3,381 acres open so far this season, Big Sky Resort has the best ski conditions and most open acres in the Rocky Mountains. With such good Montana conditions contrasting with Colorado's distinct lack of snow, Big Sky Resort is spreading the love by inviting Epic Pass holders to ski for free throughout the month of January.
"Big Sky has about twice the open acreage that Vail and Breckenridge do right now, plus we've had some great powder," said Chad Jones, Big Sky Resort Public Relations Manager. "And with other Epic Pass resorts like Heavenly at under 200 acres, we decided to share the wealth. We're a skier's and rider's mountain, and no one should miss out on good snow just because they live in Colorado or California."
The home of the Biggest Skiing in America, Big Sky Resort is currently open with 3,381 skiable acres, 4,350 vertical feet, and 100% of lifts running. From rolling groomers to chutes off of the Lone Peak Tram and Big Sky's 5 new gladed runs, 131 out of Big Sky's 155 named runs are currently open.
Epic Pass holders are now able to take advantage of these great conditions and join in the fun throughout January: Big Sky Resort will honor Epic Passes by allowing holders to ski free for the duration of their stay when they book lodging with Big Sky Central Reservations and ask for the Epic Package. Big Sky Resort will extend the Bring a Buddy Coupon to holders as well, allowing friends in their reservation without Epic Passes to ski for $74/day.
So stop praying for snow, and just come find it. See you soon, Coloradans!
Laper: a cross between a ski town local and a gaper. Here, I sport a classic Gaper Gap between my goggles and helmet.
Confession: I am a Laper.
A local gaper, that is. It might sound like an oxymoron, and until recently, I thought it was. Besides costumes on Dirtbag Day, there usually isn't much crossover between a year-round, geared-out ski town local who knows the ins-and-outs of snowsports and a gaper who goes around tripping over his skis and sporting a gaping gap between his helmet and goggles.
But while skiing with my local friend Eric, he pointed out that despite the fact that I live in Big Sky, I don't quite exude the "local" vibe. In fact, he said, I was leaning more towards "gaper."
I did not take this as a compliment.
"But I've skied since I was three!" I argued. "I started skiing out West as a teen! I spent a whole semester of high school backcountry skiing through the Sawatch Range! I skied every weekend in college and have skied most of the West's major resorts! I moved to a ski town and I live in the home of the Biggest Skiing in America!"
"Yeah," Eric said, "but look at your skis..."
He was right. My once new Solomon Siam n°8's wreaked of 2005, which in ski years put them at about 150 years old. My boots, too, were a relic of 2002, barely better than rear entry (my feet haven't grown since 10th grade... If a shoe fits, you wear it, right?). While I at least rock a Patagonia coat, my frumpy snow pants were a $20 T.J. Maxx find, and underneath were a pair of tiger-striped spandex.
But I've never touted myself as a gear head, and there's more to being a gaper than having outdated or ridiculous gear. It's not even about being a novice - everyone has to start somewhere, and newbie skiers with the right attitude qualify as beginners, not gapers. It's more about being clueless - hitting the slopes while remaining oblivious to all ski etiquette, culture, and other skiers.
And gapers are a big part of the ski culture too. Big Sky ski culture even boasts less of a - dare I call it a "gaper gap?" - between locals and out-of-towners than many resorts. On a lift ride with a jeans-and-open-neon-jacket-skier and a local arc'teryx-and-fatty-pow-skis-skier, the local doled out insider tips on his favorite runs. In the plaza, a steezed out rider showed a struggling skier the easiest way to carry her gear. In Chet's bar and Grille, a local traded his recommendation on the best Montana microbrew for tips on where to eat and stay on an off-season trip to Austin.
So I decided to embrace my hybrid status and fancy myself a true Laper - a crossover and bridge between two important aspects of ski culture. Sure I live in Big Sky and am a ski veteran, but I'm no Scot Schmidt, and I obviously have no problem with outdated gear. So while I recently sprang for the Rossi S90 W's and a pair of new boots (to all my gaper counterparts I will say this: the better the gear, the easier the turns), I'm sticking with my frumpy snow pants and neon flare. And my orange Bogner onesie circa 1985? It won't just be my Pond Skim costume anymore.
Most ski town locals are transplants, and we all have a little gaper in our past. So I invite you to join me. Locals, break out your old snowsuit and hit the slopes with someone less experienced in the ways of powder and PBR. Gapers, own your style while honing your skills on the mountain and spending après meeting locals at a dive bar. Join the Lapers, bridging the Gaper Gap one snowsuit at a time.
The sweetest outfit on the mountain in 1986, wearing this today would gain Big Sky skier Dave Granger full Gaper status.
How not to carry your skis.
Big Sky partiers dance at the famous SnoBar, to be held Jan. 14th and 21st this year. Proceeds from the Jan 21 SnoBar will benefit the family of Jamie Pierre.
MUSIC. SNOW. ICE LUGES. Glowsticks. Flashyblinkylights.
SnoBar, held the next two Saturdays at Big Sky, is the ultimate winter party. Some might even say it's the coolest bar they've ever been to - literally: Big Sky's SnoBar is held in an outdoor venue made completely of snow and ice. Dancing, puffy coats, and jager luges keep partiers warm - a must when the bar you're bellying up to is well below freezing.
Other bars have tried to simulate the effect. Most famously, IceBar in London is an indoor bar kept at -5 degrees year round, and guests are given thermal capes for their 40-minute time allotment in the all-ice venue.
But in Big Sky, we don't fake this stuff. Our ice the real deal, sent to us by Old Man Winter and crafted into a dance club by the Big Sky Terrain Park Crew each January. We don't hand out stylish capes, but we do hand out glowsticks, and we've braved party temperatures colder than a balmy -5 degrees. Come on, Londoners - Big Sky knows what a real winter party looks like.
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