Difficulties mastered are opportunities won. -Winston Churchill
This was my first winter in Montana. Since I arrived, I have been challenged with bigger terrain, which has made me a stronger rider. This week was especially monumental for my growth. I crossed a lot of experiences off my bucket list: I hiked Headwaters, rode the gullies, and the North Summit Snowfield for the first time.
Prior to this week, I have only spoken to friends about what it is like to hike the Headwaters Ridge. They told me about the narrow path ways, safety ropes, steep terrain, and insanely awesome snow. We made the plan to hike to Firehole. Once we got above the run, he laid out our line. I strapped on by board, and felt the confidence come back to me. My friend went first, and I followed. I dug in deep, danced around, and one by one we made it down. When I looked up at where I had just ridden, I was hungry for more.
Two days later, I made the plan to ride the North Summit Snowfield with a few other friends. We decided to take a few tram laps in the meantime. On our first lap, we slid into Otter Slide to the Gullies Traverse. Once we got onto the Gullies Traverse, I could feel the wind really pick-up. Little pieces of snow were slapping into my face, and I could feel the steepness of the slope I was working my way down. We finally dropped into fourth gully and I was shielded from the breeze, but the terrain was filling in with snow. The powder was knee deep, soft, and 100% percent worth the exposure I felt riding into it. We got fresh tracks into the bowl, and just about every turn was a face shot. I met my group at the Triple, and we rode back up to the tram to wait for our 1:00PM North Summit Snowfield time slot.
I was feeling confident after a few laughs with the group. Our turn; the ski patroller on duty told us it was time to go. We strapped on our boards, and headed down to the snowfield. Being my first time in the North Summit Snowfield, I didn't really know where I was going but I knew down was in the right direction. I was cautious on my way over to Great Falls, the couloir exit from the snowfield. The snow was filling in, and when it was my turn to go, I leaned back on my board and surfed. Loud cheers of joy were shared, and high fives were passed around. When we got by the tree line the snow was mellow deep powder, and I wanted to keep riding it forever. It's an amazing feeling looking up at the NSS from Six Shooter. I was thinking "Wow, I just rode down an entire mountain side from peak to base, 4,150 vertical feet and over 4 miles!", I can't think of any other resorts in the US that offer that experience.
In 16 years of riding, this week has been my favorite to date. I got to share my experiences with some incredibly talented people, and really push myself out of my comfort zone. However, the most important thing I learned is that the best things in life, and the best runs, do not come easy. Everything worth experiencing takes a bit of work.
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.
The other morning, I was one of the first people to make it to the base area. The air was crisp and the only sounds were from the hum of the lifts warming up. I loaded the Swift Current chair lift at 9 AM with only a few others around. The sun was still rising, painting hues of pink, orange and blue across the eastern skyline. I laid the first tracks down the fresh groomed Calamity Jane, with no other skiers in sight. Next, I headed to Ram Charger and dropped down one in the sun on Elk Park Ridge. It was just me and the mountain. This experience continued for the next 30 minutes or so until the skiers and riders found their way to the base area.
The mid-week "first tracks" was a larger than life experience. I will be back for more, and next time I will bring a friend or two.
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.
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.
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