I always wanted to visit Montana or Wyoming after growing up watching “Hey Dude” and wanting to live on a ranch. I never had an interest to visit Big Sky, Montana for skiing until my friend moved there.
As you may know, I’ve only been skiing a few years and don’t have the vast knowledge of the many skiing destinations. I just want to ski at affordable options but as soon as you have a friend somewhere, it’s more appealing.
Kevin, a ski patroller at the Yellowstone Club, headed to the wide open skies to chase big mountains after patrolling at Pennsylvania’s Seven Springs. Not much colder or harsher winters than Pittsburgh has seen in a couple years (a thing called the Polar Vortex), it wasn’t hard to convince his wife, Jenny, to make the move with their 2-year-old.
Left to Right: Andy, Jenny, and Santi hanging out at Moonlight Basin.
A short 11 hour drive, we couldn’t resist a ski trip. We broke up the drive on the way out and stopped at Lookout Pass for a backcountry ski tour and stretched our legs.
I’ve been researching travel destinations less and less to keep the destination a mystery looking for some excitement and unknown. Without many expectations, I had a great time finding new places on the mountain.
We were staying with locals, so we didn’t explore the town much as we were there to mainly ski. The warm fire and cozy atmosphere made returning from a long day in the snow feel like we were going home every night. We were relaxed and slept well.
Our timing couldn’t have been worse–the busiest week of the year at Big Sky. Still few lift lines didn’t stop us from racking up the vertical feet of skiing. Andy and I skied most of the day learning the lay of the land when Kevin was working. The resort is BIG with varying terrain that leaves you left to explore for days, so we decided to wait to ride the tram until Kevin was skiing with us the next day.
Towards the end of the day, Andy mildly injured his calf. We returned to the lodge to assess the damage. Once he was nice and warm, I headed out for a few more runs on the closest lift before calling it a day.
Lone Peak towers over the resort and is easy to access via tram to the top at 11,166 ft. The tram protects passengers from alpine winds with views of the famous Big Couloir, also known as “The Big.” If you’re lucky, riders may even put on the a show for the tram riders. Kevin talked about it the night before and was trying to convince us it was a good idea to ski.
With Andy hurt, Kevin and I decided to ski the following day. As we walked out the door, Jenny and Andy advised me not to let Kevin talk me into anything crazy–like “The Big.” Packing up our avy beacons, shovels, and probes, it was time to get a local to show me around the mountain. He took me all over, gave me skiing tips, and tried to get me to crush over the rock sharks without a care for my bases.
“Hey, let’s ride the tram. We don’t have to ski ‘The Big‘ but it’s worth a look.” Kevin was eager to ski the famous run too. With few days off work as a patroller, he hadn’t seen many days on his Big Sky season pass.
He tested my nerves as we rode the tram as he pointed out the line. “We don’t have to do it, but let’s see what the list looks like.” Kevin knows the ropes, “We need to sign in at the patrol hut at the top and check that we have all the required gear.” I’m sure it’s a huge liability for the resort.
Only four time slots were signed into prior to 11:15–the same two guys were doing laps! The patrollers were gauging our confidence and told us the drop-in was a gnarly up top. If you continue down a bit to the lower drop-in, it’s a little easier.
The patrollers weren’t the only ones gauging ability. Kevin continued to make sure I was confident enough to follow him down. He didn’t need to go home and break the news to his buddy that there was another skier down. I was with a patroller and was maybe my only chance. Why not?
It’s weird. I used to get nervous stomach butterflies when I skied places or new lines. For some reason, everything was clicking–confidence, ability, timing. It’s all about the timing, and the fact I didn’t research how intense it actually was before I went. I was surprised.
Passing the more “gnarly” drop-in, it didn’t take long to step off the tram, sign-up and be on our way. I’m really going to ski my first couloir. It was New Year’s Day after all.
Kevin took his time as he jump turned a few times and worked his way down the steep slope. He communicated well on where he was going to stop and wait for me. It was then my turn. Without much hesitation, I slowly slipped my way into the couloir.
Photo by: Kevin Chartier
Heck yeah! My legs were a bit shaky, but I still jumped turned my way down the steep beginning and made my way down to Kevin. I was stoked. Once I made my way to Kevin, he let me go first and took pictures.
Kevin coming out of the Big Couloir.
I got down and took pictures of Kevin. Our legs were a bit dead, and we decided to head down to Moonlight Basin to meet up with Jenny, their son, and Kevin’s mom. Kevin went to the magic carpet to teach his toddler, and I had some girl time on the slopes with Jenny and Karen. I text Andy telling him the news, but he didn’t believe me.
Kevin and I after a great day of skiing. PC: a stranger.
With only an hour or two left, Kevin and I hit the slopes again and took a long traverse to explore a part of the mountain he hasn’t been to yet. At the end of the day, we made our way back to the parking lot, which included a small hike up a ski run to get back to the car. Ski patrol skied behind us sweeping us off the mountain.
Ski buds forever! Andy and Kevin on the Liberty Bowl.
The last day, Andy was well rested and ready to ski with Kevin. My mood wasn’t as high as they day before, but we had fun skiing together. Big Sky will always hold a special place in my heart.
Kevin skiing Liberty Bowl.
Travel Dates: December 30, 2015 – January 3, 2016