"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.
I've been skiing Big Sky Resort since I was three years old. However, the 2013-2014 winter is my first thorough exploration of all Lone Mountain has to offer, and what a winter it has been. We've had snow 15 out of the last 15 days, and each day I go out I take a Tram lap or two, but always find myself seeking new trails in the trees. I hope this list of my favorite runs at Big Sky encourages a bit of adventure-seeking through the boughs of old Evergreens as well as discovery of new terrain from the top of Lone Peak to the bottom.
Buffalo Jump and Buffalo Trees. Although Swift Current Lift glides directly past Buffalo Jump, it is a run often untracked, especially skier's left in the trees. The spacing of these trees allows for a perfect three-or-four-turn line before taking the fall line into a gully that eventually falls into Crazy Horse. I love tree runs, and this is one of the best. Named after the American Indian ritual of herding buffalo to their deaths by running them off of cliffs, Buffalo Jump (or Pishkun) is not filled with cliff bands although there are a few jumps to be found.
Challenger Trees. Powder stashes galore. I skied Challenger Trees just a few days ago and found line after untracked line. BRT (Big Rock Tongue) Road, which takes skiers over to Moonlight Lodge or Iron Horse Lift, breaks up this series of tree stashes skier's left of Challenger Lift: Like separating the wheat from the chaff.
Mr. K. Mr. K is everyone's favorite. OK, maybe not everyone, but it's a fantastic run with perfect pitches and fun to be had for skiers at all levels.
Elk Park Ridge. Elk, also known as "Wapiti," which means light-colored deer in Shawnee, could be found grazing in open meadows much like this one. I love Elk Park Ridge because I can ski it multiple times in many ways: a warm-up cruiser or go a little off-piste and find some freshies to skier's left.
Crazy Raven. Just a few runs skier's right from Elk Park Ridge lies Crazy Raven, a fantastic tree run with something new to explore every time. Named by John Kircher, Crazy Raven gets its name from the flock of lunch-stealing ravens residing in the area when the run was being cut. Even though the ravens stick closer to the top of Andesite these days, I don't recommend sitting down for a picnic lunch on this run anytime soon. Just point ‘em downhill and find fresh powder on this beautiful Andesite tree run.
Dirtbag Wall. To skier's left of Marx the Dirtbag Wall holds wonderful snow from top to bottom. The Dirtbag Wall fills in nicely this time of year and with a variety of chutes to choose from (specifically called Ace, King, Queen, Jack, and Wild Card) skiing Dirtbag Wall over-and-over again is quite satisfying.
Single Jack. Montana was founded on the backs of miners, and Single Jack is no exception to this history. A single jack is a hammer, essentially, with a four-pound head and 10-inch handle used for striking steel for drilling. This is not at all what it feels like jumping into Single Jack from Lookout Ridge off of Lone Tree Lift. Single Jack is a pleasant and wonderful tree run.
Pixie Trees. Pixie Trees is untouched. Between Far South and Eldorado on the Southern Comfort Lift side of Andesite lies wide open tree skiing among beautiful Lodgepole Pines. Since Far South and Eldorado are both Green Circles few beginners ski into the trees and few moderate to expert skiers find it beneficial to explore the fantastic terrain off SoCo.
*Historical facts courtesy of Dr. Jeff Strickler's The Skier's Guide to the Biggest Skiing in America.
Photo © Ryan Day Thompson, 2014 | www.ryandaythompson.com
Photo © Ryan Day Thompson, 2014 | www.ryandaythompson.com
Planning a destination wedding? Look no further than Big Sky, Montana. With world-class lodging, dining, and skiing, Big Sky Resort is the perfect place for your big day. Here are the top reasons to marry that special someone in the mountains of Big Sky.
1. Montana's big sky. Whether indoors or out, the Montana sky opens up and embraces you like the arms of the one you love.
2. Nature's Romance. See the wild flowers in full bloom, spot a moose, mountain goat, or elk, and get married in front of iconic Lone Peak. Not only does nature create for amazing wedding photos, but it will take your breath away.
3. The Wild West. The bell of the ball meets the Wild West without giving up elegance, luxury, or ease of access. Some couples marry in a hot air balloon; others take the bungee plunge after saying "I do." If these feats of strength and adrenaline are up your alley, Big Sky Resort is the place for your extreme wedding. Ski to the ceremony location, take the tram to 11,166 feet, whitewater raft the Gallatin River, or zipline through the trees post-nuptial.
4. Anniversary Destination Trips. One of the best parts of having a destination wedding is the return anniversary trip.
5. Guest Experience. Big Sky Resort offers one-of-a-kind experiences for your guests from multiple ziplines to a plethora of restaurants to choose from. All within walking distance of the Mountain Village.
6. Food. From the ultimate fondue experience to the Huckleberry Bison Short Ribs, prepare your palate for delicious delicacies right here at Big Sky Resort.
7. Moonlight Lodge Penthouse. Big Sky Resort offers hundreds of room types, but the Moonlight Lodge Penthouse is as unique and beautiful as the mountains surrounding it. With slopeside access for the winter wedding or private balconies perfect for dining in the summer, the Moonlight Lodge offers a private entrance and hot tub, yet easy access to the Spa, Mercantile, Jack Creek Grille, and much more.
Moonlight Lodge Penthouse.
Happy Valentine's Day from Big Sky Resort to all of you. Get some faceshots today and enjoy this powder video from February footage.
Beginning in the 1970s, Chet's Bar had a traditional fondue stube with Austrian singers, servers, and cheesy hot goodness in every pot. After a hiatus, the stube reopened a few years back and is better than ever. Cheese, oil, chocolate, and interactive eating, what a grand idea.
Originating in the confluence of Switzerland, Italy and France, this communal pot (called a caquelon) over a portable stove (a rechaud) was made fashionable by the Swiss as a way to increase cheese consumption, and therefore, cheese sales in the early 1900s. Fondue was then popularized in America at the 1964 World's Fair. Then, not long after, at Big Sky Resort.
Fondue means "to melt," and the first written fondue recipe called for the melting of cheese and wine as a dip for bread. At Big Sky Resort's Fondue Stube I had the chance to drink a glass of wine, while dipping bread in a melted pot of cheese (Gruyere and Emmentaler). This palatable experience was as delicious as it sounds, and it only gets better. I sat around the table with friends, none of whom had experienced fondue before, and we became curious about fondue's origin story as we ordered our second course of hot oil for elk, shrimp and chicken. What we found most surprising was that fondue, as silly and entertaining as it can be, has its own formal etiquette. For instance, if a man loses his piece of food in the communal pot he must buy a round of drinks for the table, and if a woman loses her piece of food in the pot, she much kiss those she is sitting next to. It is not proper etiquette to double dip any food, and the dipping fork is only used for dipping and not to be used for eating. Finally, beverage choice is important when eating fondue, but it varies from country to country. In the United States anything goes, but in Switzerland white wine or black tea is the way to go to avoid any cultural embarrassment.
The Fondue Stube at Chet's, where flavors mingle and stories will be told.
The Cheese Fondue Experience with apples and bread
The Cheese Fondue Experience with a glass of red
Aged Elk Tenderloin Entree dipped in oil fondue
Tempura Tiger Shrimp Entree with batter
All four forks in the Fondue Oil
Chocolate Fondue with bananas, cherries, strawberries, mint marshmellows, chocolate cookie dough, and pound cake.
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