The snow falling from the sky has not slowed much in the past week. Big Sky Resort has seen over two feet of snow and it is still coming down.
The locals aren't surprised. In my 19 years of skiing Lone Peak it seems that late March early April always bring the stellar showers to town. But the big spring snowfall always lands on the Lone Peak a little differently each year. The variety and surprise of discovery are why people love Big Sky so much and keep coming back year after year; Lone Peak skis differently with each storm, blowing snow to fill the mountain in uniquely. Sure there are the classic lines- but boot deep powder or alpine grooming makes it feel like a new experience every time in Firehole, the North Summit, or the Dictators. The way the snow moves around the mountain can even open new terrain. Two years ago- I skied Mussolini, which doesn't always fill in, it takes the right wind direction and upsloping.
Yesterday I went out with some pals to test the goods. First stop triple chair. The storm was in its prime and we couldn't see a thing. The snow was so soft that it didn't really matter that we had vertigo, we just had to keep turning left then right. We all agreed that the trees were our next move. "Ahhhh" the relief of having a point of reference improved our confidence and let us lay the tracks down faster. With snow-covered grins we swooped through the soft bumps of lower Lone Peak back to the base area to start again.
As we made a few more glade laps, the snow kept falling. Time to get back out there.
See you on the slopes.
When it comes to snow sports, we often focus on the experience of flying down the mountain. It makes sense - we seek the thrill of speed, the wind on our faces, the feel of carving turns.
But there's an unsung hero of the ski experience - a core part of snow sports that never gets talked about, and has nothing to do with the actual act of whizzing down the mountain. I'm talking about that seemingly mundane necessity of getting up mountain. I'm talking about riding the chairlift.
Earlier this week while taking laps with Big Sky Marketing Director Lyndsey Owens, I had a revelation. We had just skied a challenging off-piste section of Moonlight that had our adrenaline pumping. But as we settled in for a ride up Iron Horse, our recap of the tough run turned into talk about other challenges in our lives. We talked about our careers, our relationships, our hopes for the future. The run was fun, but it was our connection on the chairlift that truly made the experience special. This connection, I thought, is part of the reason I love skiing. This is the real meat of snowsports.
Chairlifts are for connection and anticipation. They're for recapping a stellar run, for talking to a stranger, for singing at the top of your lungs. I've danced on a chairlift, had business conversations on a chairlift, contemplated my life on a chairlift. Last spring, I even got engaged on a chairlift.
The chairlift ride is seen as the pause between the action. But for me, the chairlift often IS the action. It's the social part of skiing, where you take a moment to connect with your friends about the activity you're performing together. It's the part where you look around in wonder at the view -- and re-load up on chapstick.
So next time you ride Swift Current, or load up on the Triple, take a moment to savor the feeling - wind in your face, soaring through the air, chatting with a friend or a stranger. This is the unsung hero of skiing. This right here is the meat.
It is 4 AM. The dreams cease, and my eyes open. I turn on the I-pad, and check the snow stake cam. "Ugh", zero inches of new snow. The smell of coffee brewing gives me motivation to get out of bed. I pour myself a cup of coffee, then wake up the dog and we head outside. With a full moon overhead there is no need for a headlamp as I walk down the "Treacherous Trail".
I find my way into the office, sit down kick off my boots, throw on my slippers, and write the daily snow report. When the work is finished, it's time to go play. With the ten inches of snow that fell the previous day and strong winds overnight I know the riding on the upper mountain is going to be nothing but fun.
Around noon I head up the mountain on the Swift Current lift. I head to Challenger and when I arrive nobody is around. While riding up the lift I look down to 17 Green, and think "that looks like fun". I lace a line down the far skier's left of 17 Green finding the perfect stash of powder, hop over some little trees, launch off a roller and fly back down to Challenger.
It is 12:30 P.M. I decide to take a walk up to Biffs. The views are incredible and worth the hike. As I scream down, making nice big S-turns, I look to the tram line and think to myself "don't tomahawk now people may be watching".
Next stop tram dock. The tram line is short, and minutes later I'm to the top of Lone Peak. I walk over to the Penalty Box hoping to join a group going down the North Summit Snowfield. Lucky me- the next tram car arrives and sure enough there is group heading to NSS and they welcome me to join- off we go. The group rips it up in the soft wind buffed snow through the snowfield and down to horseshoe bowl, finishing on sweet corduroy to the bottom of Six-Shooter lift.
It is 1:30 PM. There is an hour until the Headwaters Ridge hiking closes. I choose to take a couple of walks up the ridge. As I approach the top of Headwaters Lift hoping to get one last hike in, patrol is closing the gate. I wave to patrol and head to Little Tree. At the bottom of Little Tree my legs are feeling heavy. I decide to take two more runs and skip the last one.
It is 2:45 p.m. I drop into Headwaters bowl, schuss over the goat path and down Asteroid Rock and over to Peace Maker Park. I pause at the top, realizing no one is around I think to myself "wow, my own private terrain park". After thrashing some features, I veer right before the Maverick Park. In need of a refreshment I ride to Headwater's Grill at Madison Base Area.
It is 3:55 PM. I grab last chair on Six-Shooter Chair lift, and head back to the south side. While riding up the chair lift I ponder that I could be living in a metaphysical world. I couldn't be more blessed and fortunate. My dreams haven't ceased. I am living them.
Powder, steep runs, sick lines from the top of Lone Peak... On a recent trip to Big Sky, I couldn't wait for some stellar tram laps.
But as soon as I hit Andesite for my warm-up, I thought - why would I ever leave? Zooming down a perfectly smooth Elk Park Ridge had my body and heart flying.
The glory of the groomer is that it's all glide. You can go fast or slow, but your ride is smooth. you can take in the glowing peaks surrounding you, and cut turns wherever you please.
Big Sky is 40% beginner and intermediate terrain - that means on any given day you can find hundreds of acres of freshly groomed corduroy for the taking.
After my run down Elk Park Ridge I went back for more, lapping Ramcharger, Southern Comfort, and Thunderwolf all morning. Tram? What tram? I was revelling in the glory of the groomer.
Whenever anyone asks where I'm from, I say Big Sky, Montana. My license lists a Big Sky PO Box, and my cocktail party fodder includes stories of powder ski days and run-ins with moose and bears. Yes, I tell them: I am a Montana girl.
But I have a confession: It's a total lie. I was not born and bred in Big Sky -- I'm not even from Montana. I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, skiing on small hills and spotting squirrels instead of moose and bears. The truth is, I only lived in Big Sky for three years in my early 20s - barely making local status according to some die-hard residents. And I haven't lived there for years.
So when I booked my flight for a four day Big Sky visit last week, I was a little nervous. Being a "Montanan" has become part of my identity. I think of Montana as home - but I felt like a fraud. Would it really feel like home after all these years? Did I even remember how to ski? I had a terrible feeling that my friends wouldn't remember me, that I would be exposed as a the Pennsylvanian that I am.
Touching down in Bozeman and hopping in my rental car, I hit my first proverbial speed bump - How do I drive in the snow again?? "Oh no," I thought. "The city girl has already crept back in. I'll be found out!"
The next day was the moment of truth. Stepping into my skis, my legs felt wobbly. But as soon as I hit the slopes, everything came back to me. The familiar feeling of the snow beneath my skis. The reassuring, breathtaking presence of the Spanish Peaks on one side, Lone Peak on the other. Skiing to the base, I met up with old friends who welcomed me back and led me to their new favorite spots on the mountain. At lunch we laughed over a Cold Smoke. Running laps in the bowl later that afternoon, I felt like my true self again.
The Montana girl within me was feeling stronger by the minute. But I had forgotten something. I had forgotten just how beautiful Montana is, and just how welcoming it's people are. I'd forgotten that once you come to Montana - no matter for how long - it never really leaves you. And that when you come back, it always welcomes you. As it turns out, home is where the heart is. And my heart is in Big Sky, Montana.
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