The Snow Reporters
Story & Photos by Emily Stifler Wolfe
What it Takes: on any given day, it takes approximately 935 people with a wide array of skills and knowledge to make Big Sky Resort run. Together, these individuals form a complex, agile human machine that is constantly adjusting to changing conditions. This series chronicles “what it takes” to operate the resort through the eyes of some of these people.
Snow reporters Mario Carr and Joe Turner are sure they have the best job in Big Sky. And that tele skiing is the only way.
Blue light from two desktop computer screens reflects off of Mario Carr’s face. The right screen shows webcam videos of the snow stakes at Headwaters and Andesite, which are loaded with new snow. On the left screen, Carr is drafting the morning snow report.
It’s 5:45 a.m. and he’s been up for an hour already. The written report is due in 15 minutes. He writes:
Good Morning, Skiers and Snowboarders, this is Mario with your Big Sky Snow Report.
Carr is trying to determine how much snow actually fell last night, which is tricky, because the storm came in with wind, as it often does here in Big Sky. The storm board at the Headwaters snow stake—literally a flat board that ski patrol clears every afternoon—is showing anywhere from one to five inches.
Next, he cross-references the on-mountain weather stations to get data on overnight temperatures, snow accumulation, and wind speed and direction.
“I could look at this and say it piles up to 5 inches,” he says, pointing at the back of the board, in the webcam, “but the front [of the board] is reading much less. If not for the fact that [the Lookout Weather Station] is reading 5 inches, I would have definitely made that 3 inches.”
The clack of keys is steady as Carr types with comfortable ease. His rhythm is the kind won only through regular practice, whether skiing or writing, both of which he does daily.
Overnight we have been blessed with 5" of new snow near our Challenger Terrain.
Once he’s reported the quantitative data, Carr predicts where the skiing will be good today. Then he pulls up snow-forecast.com, which specifically covers ski areas.
It's gonna be chilly with an expected high of 14°F and a low of -6°F under mostly sunny skies. And winds are expected out of the West at 10-20mph.
Out the window, a plow truck is stacking snow atop the already six-foot banks.
Carr has worked winters in Big Sky since 2017, when he started as a part-time ski instructor while at Montana State University. He’s also worked as a lift operator and a valet at the Moonlight Lodge, and this is his fourth year as a snow reporter.
From the groomers on Andesite, to the trees on Challenger, we can expect some amazing skiing across the resort today. Wind-holds kept the upper mountain closed yesterday, so we could potentially find some nice wind-loaded stashes up there today. Grab your friends and start your weekend right with some Friday freshies.
Carr learned how to write the report from Joe Turner, the other half of the resort’s snow reporting team. Turner has been on the job since 2017 and in the ski industry for over 20 years, including 14 years at Big Sky Resort.
“I learned from Joe early on, just try to make it your own,” Carr said. “Personalize it. Keep it lighthearted.”
After sending his 6 a.m. test email, he records the report for the resort snow phone, and radio stations KBZN and The Moose.
Snowmobile headlights zip past the window as the lift maintenance team heads up to turn on the lifts. An email comes in from ski patrol snow safety director, Mike Buotte, confirming 5 inches.
Because the resort ranges across vastly different terrain, elevation, and compass aspects, new snow amounts vary depending where you are on the mountain. Electronic data doesn’t show that level of nuance, which means the human mind is key to the equation.
“It snows so much more or less in different places all the time. That’s why you gotta be skiing every day to figure out what’s what, and be checking all of our snow stakes.”
Carr credits Turner with teaching him to take accuracy seriously.
“I never put a number out there that I haven’t been able to grab from any data point, whether it’s a weather station or it’s obviously stacked on the snow stake,” Carr says, explaining the intricacies of reporting on the mountain given wind and other factors, particularly the challenge of measuring new snow. "That’s why it seems like we’re underreporting. Just because we have one spot where it says it's 5”, there’s probably [another] spot where there's no snow.”
Carr, 24, grew up near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His cabin, a five-minute walk from the ski trails, has been in his family since 2003, a few years after his dad first visited Big Sky in 1999. Now, he shares it with his mother, two older siblings and wife, as well as a traveling cast of visitors.
He’s especially close with his mother, Margaret, an OB-GYN who specializes in high risk pregnancies and newborns. She recently switched to telehealth, a move that’s allowed her to ski 100 days a winter, also mainly on tele skis. Carr’s wife, Sydney, is a supervisor in the Mountain Sports School, and is, of course, also a telemarker.
At 8:45 a.m., Carr is waiting for me at the base of Ramcharger. Under his navy resort-logoed jacket, he wears a tie-dyed fleece hoodie, especially designed to fit over a ski helmet and handmade in Bozeman.
We load Ramcharger, and he pulls a GoPro out of his pocket, affixing it to his helmet. In addition to the report, Carr explains, he and Turner gather photos and videos for social media, and they regularly upload clips from the chairlift.
At the top, he unzips a hidden pocket on the back of his jacket and pulls out a pair of flat plastic ovals the size of his outstretched hand. He straps them to his hands and flashes a grin.
This invention of Carr’s, which he calls “Deeks,” allows him to lay into telemark turns on the groomers so deeply he can drag his entire body on the snow. The idea came from longboard sliding gloves, which skateboarders use to drag their hands around corners.
As I follow him down Tippy’s, it’s like watching a different sport. With the raw power Carr harnesses in a carve, it’d be easy to mistake him for someone on a racing snowboard.
Carr’s counterpart, Turner, 46, is also a telemarker. Somewhat of an underground legend, Turner was born in Maine and grew up in Yosemite. He’s worked in ski towns from Colorado to Wyoming, California to Montana, including as a snow reporter for television and radio stations in Teton Valley and Driggs, Idaho. POWDER magazine featured him, and he’s had spots in numerous ski films, including a segment in TGR’s Flow State, which was filmed at Big Sky.
A few flourishes from Turner on President’s Day of 2022:
Call in sick! You have Powder Fever and the only cure is getting faceshots on Lone Mountain. We have received 4”-8” of snow since the lifts closed last night and today constitutes an emergency powder day. … The best day of the year is here, and we would love for you to come out and enjoy this President’s Day in the mountains of Montana doing the best winter sport ever. It’s good for the body, mind and soul so what are you waiting for?
In addition to snow reporting, Turner is a head judge and technical director for the International Freeskier and Snowboard Association and the Freeride World Tour Qualifiers. He spends summers teaching natural horsemanship around the U.S. and Europe, works two shifts a week at the airport in Butte, and still rips hard enough to maintain sponsorships with Icelantic and several other companies.
Turner occasionally will strap on a snowboard or alpine skis, but mainly, he telemarks.
“Telemarking is the ultimate expression of sliding on snow, in my opinion. The movement is fluid, sexy and surflike, and the ability to adjust your body with greater flexibility to adapt to terrain is far superior. It’s the most comfortable, it’s the most free.”
Lest we forget, Turner also breeds Rocky Mountain Horses at his home in Three Forks, just west of Bozeman, and oh by the way, is father to three kids, ages 6, 12, and 16. His wife, Klaudia, who’s originally from Poland, is in Turner’s words, the “backbone.”
Currently recovering from an ACL surgery, Turner already skiing four days a week, because, of course: the snow report.
“We have the best job in Big Sky,” Turner said. “They just want us out gathering info on the snow conditions and footage to show the incredible experience of being on snow.”
Carr and Turner tag team the report and work opposite days, so they don’t actually see each other very often, but Turner is a huge influence in Carr’s life.
The two first met at the top of Challenger, when Carr saw Turner in his resort jacket and approached him asking what his job was. When he heard the response—professional telemark skier and snow reporter—Carr was awestruck.
“I want to be you,” Carr told Turner. Four years later, he’s on his way.
“I’ve had my time in the spotlight, and I love watching Mario come up and fulfill my dream,” Turner said, his outlook as positive as always—yet another thing he shares with Carr.
Back on the hill, Carr and I head for Powder Seeker, where he shows me his mom’s favorite run in the Bowl. We hit it twice, and make our way to the tram. The line moves fast, and soon I’m following Carr’s meandering path through the summit snow fences, making our way toward Liberty.
We alternate pitches down a smooth, windblown alley on the left side, and Carr milks faceshots.
Back in the tram line, I ask more about his family and whether he grew up skiing. While his mom was working as a doctor, Carr said, his dad, Mark, stayed home to raise their three kids. Carr started skiing at age 2, and the family frequented several local hills near Milwaukee including Ausblick and Sunburst. After they bought the cabin in Big Sky when Carr was 5 years old, they took at least two trips a year to Montana.
Carr’s mom recently found one of his first-grade projects, an illustrated book about skiing. It’s basically Carr’s first snow and mountain report. In pencil, in the handwriting of a 7-year old, it reads:
Have you ever [been] skiing on a 11,000-foot mountain before? Well, if you have you should know the rules of safety, like being ABSOLUTELY sure that you have warm enough clothes …
In the back, his “readers” (a.k.a. classmates and parents) wrote their thoughts on the book.
In a moment of premonition, or perhaps just parental understanding, his mother wrote, “I can tell he really likes to write about skiing!”
In 2015, the family experienced tragedy, when Carr’s dad Mark contracted ALS, which took his life later that year.
“What he was really looking forward to, and I know I was looking forward to, was becoming a Big Sky local,” Carr said later. “Sometimes I feel like I’m living his dream. We were hoping to do it together—get out here and be those guys skiing every day. It definitely motivates me then to ski every day, to ski more, to wait in the cold tram lines and do the hikes, because I feel like I’m skiing for two sometimes. I’m trying to make the most of what I’ve been given the opportunity to do.”
On our last lap together, Lenin and Marx are open, so we make our way off the summit, then across the Yeti. Carr edges across chalk over to 2B, which is the furthest-right of the Dictator Chutes, right of Lenin. Perched on the 40-degree ridge, he turns on his GoPro and waits for the sun to return. Clouds move across the mountain, and the air is frigid on my bare hands as I snap a photo of him on the skyline.
When the light returns, he launches, and I watch as he tears into a narrow strip of pow on what looks like the edge of the world.
I ski carefully through the first Dictator, and we meet up near the bottom of Lenin.
We chat as I catch my breath, saying goodbye. I ask Carr if he’ll travel to ski at all this winter.
“No, I’m going to be here trying to ski every day again,” he says. “I’ve only missed two days total in the last two years, and if I went anywhere else, I wouldn’t be able to ski here.”