Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Big Sky Recap

So I am having a very hard time getting back into the swing of things here at home. We got back from Big Sky late Friday night, which I guess was good because that gave us, Saturday, Sunday and Monday to recover and mentally prepare for returning to work... Looks like I needed another couple weeks because I am back at work but my mind is still in the mountains.

Let me just say that this ski trip was the best ever. Big Sky is an amazing place and I love it there. I feel that I come alive in the mountains and that is the place that I need to be. I wish, I wish, I wish. We made it out there in one piece, the drive was long but it was easy and it seemed to go by quickly. We made it to Billings MT, the first night which was our goal, which meant we had 2 days to make it the final 170 miles to Big Sky. We got a good night sleep in Billings and headed out fairly early on Saturday morning and headed to Bozeman. We made it to Bozeman and had the day to bum around and look around the town. We browsed in the shops and had lunch downtown. Then we headed up to Bridger Bowl and looked around there. The night before they had gotten 6 inches of powder so it was cool to see all of the skiers enjoying the fresh powder. Saturday night we enjoyed dinner from the Pita Pit, which is a place that Melissa and I had the last time we were out there. Awesome food, big filling Pita sandwiches. It was great way to end the evening in Bozeman.

My goals for this trip were as follows. 1. To ski an expert run out west, I have never officially skied a double black diamond out west so that was a goal. 2. To ski Liberty Bowl, which is a run from the summit of Lone Mountain, and also the route to ski the longest run at Big Sky, which from the summit back to the base area is 6.3 miles. 3. To ski the run Wardance, which is a single black diamond mind game that has trees and avalanche fences on the run. It is a run that you can see from the road up the mountain and it is ugly looking, I told myself the last time I was out there that I would ski it the next time I was in Big Sky, so 2 years later this would hopefully be the year.

Sunday started pretty early, it was going to be our first ski day. We had breakfast and made the 39 mile drive from Bozeman to Big Sky. We decided to start the trip out with a warm up day at Moonlight Basin. Moonlight is on the north face of Lone Mountain while Big Sky the big brother is on the south face. I love Moonlight, it is just beautiful and while it wasn't snowing like I had hoped for my first day it was an amazing blue bird day. We arrived at Moonlight and once again like 2 years before found a basically empty parking lot. Unbelievable considering the weather and fact that it was a Sunday. We got ready and headed for the lifts. We jumped on Six Shooter and headed up. The views were beautiful of the mountain. Crystal clear day, not a cloud in the sky. The trees had snow on them and everything was perfect. We chose an easy cruiser for our first run. The snow was perfect, nice and soft. God I love skiing on real snow like that, it makes everything so much easier. We did some nice runs and then decided to step it up a bit. We decided to try to head into Stillwater bowl. You have to take a traverse into the bowl off of Lone Tree triple, which turned out to be interesting… We took the low traverse instead of the high traverse like we should have and end up short of the bowl but instead on the run Obsidian. A very steep run that runs into a choke that is about 30-40’ wide and is in the 35-40 degree range. It turned out to be excellent. And it was a double black! I made it down in one piece, not the prettiest skiing in the world, but I was able to ski 90% of the run. The only part I had trouble with was the choke, I had to go sideways through that, the rock walls on the sides through me off a bit and I had a hard time making turns. Again it was all a mind game, it was wide enough to turn, but the high rock walls were throwing me off. But once through that I was fine and back to making good powder turns, the whole time with a big smile on my face. Melissa had a bad fall on that run, she wasn’t hurt but I think it scared her pretty badly. She fell and slid head first down about 60-75’ of the run. But she was tough and made it out the bottom in one piece, but I don’t think I could have talked her into skiing Obsidian again… The rest of the day at Moonlight was excellent, we did a great tree run called Old Faithful which I really enjoyed, we found some good snow in there, it was tight and twisty and made you think about your line before making the turns. The day ended and it was amazing. First ski day in the books.

Monday we woke to snow falling. It was great. The sky was cloudy and the flakes were large and fluffy. I knew it was going to be a good day. We arrived at Big Sky, got ready, got our tickets and headed up the mountain. I had made the decision that I was going to go straight to the tram and head up to Liberty Bowl right away or I thought I would chicken out. After 2 lifts, I saw that there was no line for the tram so I had no excuse. I headed down toward the tram took off my skis and got right on the first available tram. The peak was covered in clouds which I think helped me a bit. I am not a big lover of heights and I thought that might make the tram ride a bit easier for me. But I don’t think it mattered, the tram turned out to be awesome. Such a relaxing and beautiful ride to the top. I was a little bummed that it was cloudy because the view was incredible even for what I could see through the clouds. Once to the top I followed the other passengers to make it look like I knew what I was doing, I put on my skis and looked for the signs and saw the way to Liberty Bowl. It was amazing, by the time I was on my way into the bowl the clouds had set in and the visibility was really bad. The clouds made for some challenging skiing for sure. I found the entrance to the bowl and started down, a couple turns into my run, I saw some posts with bright green dots on them, I laughed because I thought of Whitefish and how they have the same thing to mark the center of the run in foggy or cloudy conditions, so I felt more at home and knew that as long as I stayed close to the posts and looked for the next one I would not fall of the mountain. The snow was awesome up there, nice and fluffy and deep! There were areas in Liberty bowl where the snow was a good 12 – 14 inches deep. My Mantras were getting their first real work out. Nice deep powder and lots of it. I continued down Liberty Bowl and about halfway down the clouds cleared a bit or maybe I just got under them a little more and the whole bowl opened up for my viewing pleasure. I couldn’t see much in the way of views around the mountain but I had a great view of the lower portion of the bowl and could now see more of where I had just been. At that point I had the biggest damn smile on my face. Even though it is not the same I am sure, I started to understand a little more what the big mountain riders must feel. I felt like a pro, cruising down this huge run on the side of the mountain, working perfect powder turns, stopping every once and a while just to check on my progress and enjoy the views. I made it down Liberty Bowl and entered the bottom portion of the run called Screaming Left which would take me to Middle Road and back to the mall. Well I didn’t cut Screaming Left high enough and was to low to make it back without riding another lift. But it turned out fine; I took the run Sunlight back to the Shedhorn lift. I rode that back to the top the whole while happy with myself for crossing off another goal, well at least part of it, I skied from the top of the mountain. I knew I would do it at least once more before the end of the day and I knew where to go, so I knew that I could officially cross off my other goal, skiing the longest run at Big Sky. Anyway I made it back to the base area and met back up with Melissa. She asked how it was and the only thing I could say was, “Amazing” I told her that she had to come up with me and that we would do it together, it was incredible. It was a beautiful ski run and it was so fun to ski from the top. She agreed and off we went to the tram. Once again there was no line and we got pretty much right on and headed up. The clouds were a little thicker and it was snowing when we got off and clicked in. I showed Melissa where to go and she was gone, she skied Liberty Bowl like a champ, she powered down it in what seemed like no time at all. We made it into Screaming Left and this time did it right. We made it to Middle Road and skied the 6 miles back to the base area. WOW what a run. My legs were tired but it was great. Melissa called it a mountain tour, and she is right, you completely wrap around the entire mountain. It was just awesome. We stopped and had lunch. Then I realized that I had skied almost 9,000 vertical feet in just 2 runs! Nice! After lunch we took it easy on some nice groomers on Andesite mountain. Deep South turned out once again to be just an awesome run. There was lots of fresh untracked powder over there, it had snow pretty hard the whole day up until early afternoon when the clouds started to break, but the little snow storm left us lots of freshies to play in. We also found great snow on Elk Park Meadows. What a day… Ski day 2 down.

Tuesday we awoke to more snow falling, it was snowing pretty hard and stayed that way all day. Today was the day that I was going to ski Wardance. We headed up the mountain and did a couple of warm up runs before I headed over to the entrance to Wardance. I looked in and decided to go for it. The entrance is a great glade filled with lots of powder and some small pine trees. It was great skiing and a lot of fun. Then I got to where Wardance takes hold. The fences were cool to see from up close, but the run was a lot wider then it looked from the road a thousand feet down. So I smiled to myself thinking, another skiing mind game. Although Wardance was not as bad as it looked from the road, it was a not gimme for me either, there were lots of little pine trees that always seemed to be in my way. But I was able to navigate my way around them and get some good turns in on the steeper tight terrain that was Wardance. I stopped every once and a while and took some pictures of the run. It was snowing, the view was great and it was a fun run, what more could you ask for. I got to the bottom of Wardance and thought to myself, I did it, I double checked quick to make sure that I was still alive and had all of my parts… Which I did, so I did indeed do it.


Let’s see, in 3 days, I skied my first out west double black diamond, I skied from the top of Lone Mountain, I skied Wardance, and it was snowing like hell outside, what more could you ask for. I headed back to the lift and went back to meet Melissa who decided to sit Wardance out, we met back at the Chalet and had some lunch. After lunch we headed back out and up to The Bowl. The Bowl was awesome, good snow and lots of it. I managed to find (which isn’t too hard at Big Sky) some untracked powder and pretty much had a full line of untracked powder to myself, it was heavenly. The snow was so soft and was nice and deep in a few spots. It ruled. We lapped the bowl a couple times and then headed down; we decided to try the run Crazy Horse which is an intermediate run that would take us back to the base lifts. Holy crap was that the right choice. The whole run was powder and nice powder too! The edges were deep and I was getting knee and thigh shots the whole way down. It was the best powder skiing I have ever done and the best part was it was a blue run on the lower part of the mountain. It was so awesome. Being a Midwestern kid, I don’t get to ski very much powder so this was like heaven for me. Feeling the snow hit me in the upper part of the legs was incredible and I kept thinking what it would be like to ski in deeper snow and get chest and face shots. I can’t even imagine how awesome that would be, but I was in heaven with feeling the snow hit me in the knees and thighs. I was happy with that! I can see how people get addicted to skiing powder; there is nothing else like it on earth. We lapped Crazy Horse a couple times and each time we found deep snow and untracked lines. Again my Mantra’s were earning there keep, man I love my skis I just floated through the powder and made nice turns with ease. After a couple runs on Crazy Horse it was time to call it a day. Wow another awesome day at Big Sky.

Wednesday was my birthday and it was snowing when we left to head to Moonlight Basin. We decide to take a break from Big Sky and ski Moonlight one more time before the end of the week. It was snowing hard once again at Moonlight and as usual the place was empty. There were like 20 cars in the parking lot when we got there a little before 10am. We headed right up Six Shooter and went looking for powder. We found some good snow on Powder River, the edges were really good and there were some deep lines. I love the cruisers on the left side of the mountain. And this year was no different, Cinnabar and Wagon Trail while green runs are so much fun! You can just relax and carve some nice turns the whole way down the mountain. And the scenery is just awesome, the houses along the runs and the trees covered in snow just make for a magically experience. We lapped those cruisers a few times before heading in to warm up and have some lunch. While eating lunch I was looking at the trail map trying to figure out some new runs to try and a Moonlight Ski Patroller asked me if I had any questions about the map. I thought that was awesome and asked where should we go? Where is the best snow? He didn’t even hesitate and said ski the trees! He said the runs Single Jack and Double Jack were holding some excellent snow and that they were really fun runs. So we finished our lunch and headed out, he was right. Those were some excellent runs, lots of good snow in there. The trees were spread out enough that you could get some speed in there and not worry too much about killing yourself by hitting a tree. We made lots of good powder turns in there and stopped every once and a while to enjoy being in the trees and just how quiet everything is in the mountains. I thought that if you listened carefully you could actually hear the snowflakes landing. It was amazing! We skied the trees for the rest of the day. Single and Double Jack turned out to be the best just like the patroller had said, but we also skied Ulery’s Trace to Trapline which I really liked it was a little steeper and a little tighter. The snow was good on those runs as well. Skiing in the trees at Moonlight reminded me a lot of our trip to Whitefish last year. We skied in the trees a ton there and had a blast. Moonlight was the same way. The trees were really fun. What an excellent birthday. It snowed all day; we made some excellent turns and had a blast doing it. Ski day four was in the books.

That night Melissa and I went out for my birthday, we had a nice dinner and reflected on our trip up to that point it was great. It turned out to be an excellent day.

Thursday which would be our last day, we awoke to sunny skies. We skied Big Sky on our last day and thought that with the light cloud cover that it might be fun to check out Liberty Bowl and the views from the summit of Lone Mountain. We headed right for the tram. And needless to say it was breath taking up there. The views are incredible. It was just beautiful in every direction. I took about 20 pictures on the summit and then we dropped into the bowl and started our run. I stopped about every 3 or 4 turns just because the views were amazing. I took more pictures and then would continue on. During my run I had the weirdest revelation. I sat down in the snow and snapped some photos and thought to myself, holy crap, I am sitting on the side of a mountain in this beautiful place. I felt so small all of a sudden. But at the same time I have never felt anything like that before in my life. It was such a weird feeling. I sat there for a few minutes and drank the whole experience in. I looked all around and then got up and continued down the bowl. There was lots of great snow; I found lots of untracked powder to ski in so once again I had a smile the entire way down Liberty Bowl. Once at the bottom I stopped for some more photos and thought to myself, Liberty Bowl has got to be the most beautiful ski run in the US. I would be interested to see if the ski magazines had a poll as to the most beautiful run in the US what would win. Granted I haven’t skied a lot of different runs out west but out of the ones that I have skied Liberty was just breath taking in every way and would have my vote for the most beautiful ski run. It was an experience that I will never forget. I can’t wait to get back there and ski it again. After Liberty Bowl we mostly took it easy for the rest of the day, we skied our favorite groomers and just enjoyed the last few hours of our ski vacation.

The 15 hour drive home was filled with quiet memories of the runs that I did and Melissa and I did together. I love to share my time with her on the slopes. Skiing is something that we learned how to do together and it is something that I share with her and it is always special whether up at Lutsen or out west in the big mountains. My friends keep telling me that I have to try some other resorts out west which of course is true, but it is hard to leave Montana. The skiing is awesome, the vibe is unbelievably cool and there is no such thing as a lift line and it is such a beautiful place. Even though it is great for me I just don’t understand why more people have not discovered Big Sky… But like I said that is fine with me. The crowds can stay other places.

Once again this trip reaffirmed my love for the mountains. I am a mountain man in a flatlander’s body. I come alive out there and I love every minute that I am out in the mountains. But most of all I love to ski and I mean I love it. I would ski everyday if I could. I watch the storms move in and out of the west and track snow falls and smile when I think about the lucky skiers at the resort that just got dumped on that are having fun skiing in all of that powder. Someday that will be me. And because of that love, I ski here in Minnesota on the ice, the whole while dreaming of that nice soft powder, hoping that these icy lines here are making me a stronger skier for when I get there. I can’t be a fair weather skier. I can’t ski 5 days a year at some resort in the west where conditions are almost always good and call myself a skier. I have to take my lumps here in and ski on the 300 vertical foot hills of Minnesota. But all in all it doesn’t matter, skiing is skiing to me, it is always fun no matter what. I love it here as much I love it there. They are just different kinds of skiing. Now I have to get back to weather watching, Snowbird got 22” last night and Mammoth got 27” lucky people!



1 comment:

Bill Hipps said...

Two words...super jealous.