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.
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.
I lived in Big Sky for so long that when I returned this week, locals still said, "Welcome home." It's a comforting greeting, but it's bigger than that. The mountains themselves, the lift towers, my personal powder stashes-they all seem to greet me with that same familiar voice. But now that I live in New York City, after one lap from the Tram, my legs hurt so bad that I felt like I'd been rejected. It became abundantly clear that I was a visitor.
On my first day skiing Lone Peak, my thighs hated me, my lower back reminded me that I was old, and the rest of my body cursed me for not embracing yoga. So this is what it was like to not be a local.
But the mountain is still my home no matter how much it hurts. And the way it had been snowing, the heavans seem to welcome me back too. Or maybe they were teasing me and all the other visitors who suffered the same aches. C'mon, the snow nagged, just one more run.
On my last Tram lap of the day, I must have wiped out a hundred times. Granted, my crashes were soft, but I was so tired, I was sure I'd never walk again. The snow kept coming, and somehow, something bigger than myself, lifted me up for one more.
That's the magic of a ski resort like Big Sky. No matter how much its enormous mountains challenges us, we still abide to its snowy call. And when we run out of steam, plooms of powder will welcome us back, just like home.
There is much elation being able to share powder stories with our friends. Better yet, being a character in one of these stories. This past week at Big Sky Resort has been one of the week's where being a star in the powder play was pure joy.
Sunday morning, I met up with my pal at the Mountain Village. We headed up Swift Current into a stormy looking sky with 13" reported at the summit of Lone Peak with winds out of the west. There wasn't much talk about where to ski, "To the tram?" said someone, "mmmhmm" was the response, and off we went.
When we arrived at the top of Lone Peak, the clouds began to break. We chose Liberty Bowl to Dakota Territory. It was perfect snow. The kind of snow that creates great skiers, heroes and yes even superheroes. The skies were now bluebird and we headed into the Bavarian Forest. Here we picked untracked lines through the spindly white bark pines in hero snow that was about 6" deep. Before heading to Shedhorn Grill for lunch we dropped into Rockville Bowl for classic big mountain steeps with a side of fresh pow.
The snow continued all week long and I was not in the story. Until today, Friday. I grabbed a friend and we headed up the Headwaters lift. The snow on the north side in Cold Spring was chalky and smooth wind cream. Looking back up Firehole and Hellroaring chutes also looked tempting. If only I had more time.
See you on the slopes.
Ever since I started skiing in the early '90s, I've thought that Big Sky Resort has always been one of the most incredible places on earth. I have vivid memories of skiing with my family on Mr. K, Lower Morning Star, Elk Park Ridge, Silver Knife, Big Horn, and one of my favorites, the Natural Halfpipe, now named Harbor's Natural Halfpipe.
On January 14, I revisited Big Horn with friends. It was incredible. One of the reasons I love this run is that you can branch out into Crazy Raven, Bears Lair, and Snake Pit, along with the amount of space to make big arching turns.
The snow quality was great with a fresh blanket of 2-4 inches of powder. Each of us were able to comfortably choose our own path and take in the beauty that was surrounding each of us, and of course, make some powder-throwing turns in the process.
What awaited us near the middle of the run was even better: the lower part of Big Horn had the perfect combination of powder, open space, and elevation change for one to race to the bottom. This was an amazing way to remember all the times that my dad, sister, and myself would race down the mountain.
We have continued the tradition of visiting the resort almost every year. We get together, make some turns, chat about life, and enjoy each other's company. Someday, after I start my own family, I look forward to continuing the tradition that I have been so fortunate to enjoy over the years.
Photo: Copyright Crystal Images, 1995. Used with permission.
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