Radventure Part 10: The Big Sky Vortex

You may be thinking: another week in Big Sky?! But before you judge me, just keep in mind that Big Sky can be like a vortex of awesome, especially with the right group of people. Sure, there are a bunch of tourists running around acting like tools, the bellmen at the hotels are required to wear cowboy hats, and you may accidently ride into the backyard of some rich well-to-do’s unoccupied mansion if you take a lower mountain fresh line at Moonlight Basin. However, there are plenty of great people living the dirtbag lifestyle in Big Sky, who are just my kind of awesome. Even with it being my fifth week I still shredded new lines (new to me), visited new shacks, and even made a few new friends.

Early week was characterized by hardpack, and midweek by dust on crust. I was ready to leave, and I had a ride lined up to get me about halfway home. That ride was Thursday, and as I sat in the Mtn Lodge (dorm style employee housing, somewhat like The Scummits in Govy) twiddling my thumbs with all my things packed, it started snowing. At the point when I had 5 minutes before I had to walk out the door, I decided to stay, and lots of dude hugging ensued.

Mountain Lodge

The Scummits of Big Sky, just a bit “dormier” (shot with the Lensbaby Sweet 50).

 

The accumulation wasn’t much, but certain places on and around the Big Sky Resort were favored. As the week turned to the weekend, a friend and I decided to search for some rippable snow, even if it meant braving variable conditions and icy traverses through no fall zones to get it. We made our way to the peak and over to the ski patrol shack to check in for entry into the North Summit Snowfield. The snow was pretty decent, and definitely the best and deepest on the mountain (aside from backcountry). The most rippable was probably in the bottom of Great Falls (there’s much less snow there than shown in the linked trail map), which we used to exit. Later on we hit the Gullies and Cron’s. The lines we took that day were the kind you just don’t find everywhere else.

Great Falls Panoramic

As the weekend progressed, more stormy weather came in and mother nature decided to give Big Sky a little more winter flavor. The resort reported an inch or less, but that was not the case. If you knew where to go, there was 6-12 inches. It was plenty rippable, and I spent the day with a pleasantly cold face and a shit eating grin. Headwaters hotlaps were the jam, with loaded lines and complimentary face shots if you could stomach a rocky traverse. There was also plenty of goodness off Challenger.

Snow On Trees - Challenger

Free refills, yes please!

 

Saturday marked my 4th “last night in town,” and at this point no one believed me anymore. But, it was true. I had a ride lined up for Sunday that I had to take in order to be back in Portland in time to fly out the following week to LA for grown up stuff. Mother nature must’ve heard I was leaving again, because she started dumping snow on Big Sky. Leaving Sunday was the hardest thing I’ve had to do all season, but it had to be done (life’s hard, sometimes).

US Outdoor Beer Coozie

Looking back, my time in Big Sky was awesome. There were plenty of impromptu bluegrassy jam sessions, questionable sleeping arrangements, and on mountain high fives. It may be the dry air, or it may be the abundance of pro wrestler impressions that became a common greeting amongst friends, but I have no voice as I type this. Big Sky is a big place, but it reminded me that the world isn’t so big, with the most blatant reminder being a random encounter with someone who lived in my room in a janky cabin (by janky, I mean you had to crawl through a window to get into the room, and some of the walls looked like an old fence) in Welches after I had moved out. I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t miss doing lobby tours (rolling around to all the resort lobbies drinking, with a posse of 10+), or a plethora of other things, but it’s time to move on. Next stop: Mt Hood!

 

Radventure Part 9: Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

When I embarked on this trip, I didn’t have much of a plan. Where I’ve gone next has been dictated by snowfall and the availability of rides. My very loose original plan has already changed multiple times, which is just another part of the adventure. In that same vein, I’ve been “stuck” in Montana for a few weeks. I’ve spent enough time in Big Sky that anyone who doesn’t know my story just assumes that I’m an employee (it probably doesn’t hurt that most of my crashing arrangements would suggest just that). Being stuck somewhere isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when that somewhere is a half mile walk from the base of Big Sky Resort. A walk that has now been decorated with clever drawings left behind by a departing employee, drawings making bold statements about shredding pow, disregarding females, and making financial gains (I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the idea).

Tuesday Snow Puking

Early last week, I would call it the BEST place to be stuck. While Mt. Hood was getting a tasty 11 inch dump, Big Sky was getting 2 feet of powdery goodness. It was dry and fluffy champagne powder (insert mimosa reference here). Tuesday was storm riding with free refills. Duke nuking, puking, dumping, pooping, or whatever you wanna call it, it was epic. I finally made it over the The Headwaters that day. You can guess what adjective would best describe it, but I will give you a hint: it starts with “ep” and ends with “ic.” To top it all off, I got introduced to yet another shack in the woods. It was one of those days you wish would never end, but I welcomed that 4:00 last lift ride up, because I knew it would be even better the next day.

That night, while en route back up the mountain from the food bank in the Big Sky meadow (stay broke, my friends) with droves of free groceries in tow (many left behind by affluent tourists frequenting various area lodging), our shuttle bus got stuck and subsequently sideways on the highway. At the moment when we came to a halt blocking most of the road, I turned to look at my friend. He remained seated with an enormous grin on his face. He said to me “I don’t even care that we are stuck, because it’s dumping and that’s why we’re stuck.” There was a large group of tourists on the bus being obnoxious on the ride up, which continued as we got into this sticky situation, but with a varied tone. “Open the bus door! Those cars are going to hit us!” they yelled as lights of cars coming down the highway reflected off the bus windows. I looked back, and my friend was still sitting there, grin as big as ever (probably bigger). As a bellman rolled past and offered to take a few people up if he could get around, said tourists flooded past us like a gaper torrent, with utter disregard for anyone else on the bus.

Bus Stuck On Snowy Highway

Like my friend, I was content, because I knew it was puking. Eventually the shreiff and some other assistance showed up. As the sheriff was using a winch to try and straighten the bus out to let traffic pass, we looked on from the side of the road and took full advantage of Big Sky’s laws, and by that I mean the lack of an open container law. One of the people stuck in line uphill from us came over when recognizing my friend, and this is what he had to say: “I was stuck in the line of cars and then I saw her running around with a bottle of wine, so I decided it looked more fun down here and I walked down.”

Our grins were justified, and we awoke to more fresh pow Wednesday morning. The storm had deposited another healthy foot or two in wind loaded areas, and those were the first areas we went. We headed straight to the Shedhorn/Dakota area, a bit eagerly, having to take a cat track out. But as we got off of Swifty lift our second time up we took the same high traverse, with some inside info that Shedhorn was opening. After one of the most epic steep and deep tree lines of my season, I came up on the gate just as Ski Patrol was opening it. It was knee deep, with mandatory face shots.

It was all time, but it wasn’t always bottomless. These mountains are called the Rockies for a reason. A few fresh gouges later, several of which being core shots, I’ve gotta remind myself that snowboards are tools for fun. If you had fun, it’s best to get over the fact that you dinged, or more than dinged in my case, an almost new board.

Disc Golf Rolling Deep

With temps getting into the 50’s by Friday afternoon, all that cold smokey goodness turned to sloppy mashed potatoes. I’m talking served by a lunch lady with a scruffy goatee sloppy. Temps upward of 70 degrees down in the meadow were a recipe for more disc golf (I’ve played this game more in the last few weeks than I have in my entire life) and skateboarding, as the new snow rapidly melted.

Montana skatepark

I’m glad I waited it out for the characteristically Big Sky late dump, and I may be “stuck” in this area for the rest of this week. With temps dropping midweek, I will be doing my most ridiculous of snow dances and thinking dirty thoughts about my snowboard.

Radventure Part 8: Spring Gets Sprung

Spring officially begun last week, but I feel like I’ve been spring riding since February (to the detriment of liver). I found my way into Bozeman early in the week with plans of skating and raging St Patty’s with droves of people drinking green beer and pretending to be Irish (once again, to the detriment of my liver).

My attempt to skate was like searching for a great white buffalo, walking miles to try and find a ramp that we had seen from the car in passing a week prior. I felt like I was searching for the Animal Chin ramp. When we got there, of course, it started raining just enough to make it unskateable (and enough to replenish the standing puddles in the flat bottom). Just like other adverse conditions I’ve encountered on this trip, I made the best of it. A friend and I took an old busted kids BMX bike (it came stock with handle bars ready to fall off and two flat tires) and attempted to ride around the adjacent BMX flow track. After toweling the flat bottom of the ramp and being continually teased by the on and off nature of the rain, we gave up and continued our journey, this time toward the night’s festivities.

Luckily, it was cold enough in higher elevations to snow overnight, leaving a nice little deposit of pow to shred at Bridger Bowl Wednesday. They only got about 4-6 inches, but it wasn’t hard to find fresh lines with the lack of crowds. It was a very “cascadian” as far as conditions went, with wet snow and a mix of flurries and sunshine. With limited operations on the mountain, I didn’t get to explore as much as I would have liked, but I can imagine how fun Bridger could be on a more bountiful powder day during a better season. One thing that I find really cool about Bridger, is that the resort is a non-profit run by the city of Bozeman. As you can imagine, it’s an affordable option for shredding in the area. I do think, however, that they could do without the weird conveyor belts at the bottom of their lifts. Maybe it’s just me, but I like to be moving of my own accord when I’m about to get on a chairlift.

The next day it was back to Big Sky Resort with some Oregon homies for bluebird conditions and some pow stashes. I may have skipped my highschool reunion (hearing about my classmates’ weight problems, meth addictions, kids, and/or divorces at a Southern Idahoan country club just didn’t seem appealing) , but there’s no way I was going to skip a Big Sky reunion with my two favorite shred buddies from Mt Hood. After watching one such buddy successfully jump (a “thread-the-needle-to-gaper-ski-tap,” if you will) between some gapers that had no business being on the turkey traverse, my stoke level was higher than most people in Oregon after our last election results. We took a slightly less common route off the traverse and found some cool little cliff lines with fresh landings, even with the surrounding area being fairly tracked out. From there we made our way to the Challenger lift (a gaper proof double chair with a steep ascent and “no easy way down”) and found even more freshness, complete with more fun size cliff drops and softish landings.

CHALLENGER-PANO

We made our way to the Moonlight Basin side of the resort after that, finding more stashes. I don’t necessarily condone ducking ropes, after all, that’s against the rules … but sometimes it pays off and you have some epic lines that may or may not land you in someone’s backyard, just saying. We rounded out the day in what I would consider one of the best ways possible, by playing polish horseshoes (which, if you don’t know, involves putting beer cans on ski poles and throwing frisbees at them, and each other).

Friday: Hot pow, come get your hot pow! The day was soft and slushy, just like my board and attitude. It was another day in paradise for me, as we started our day with an 18 pack and laps through the mini park off Pony Express. I would say it was a good way to start the day, and a good line to lap when you’re dirtbagging it up with a barley soda in hand for every run down and every lift ride up. I guess you’re doing something right when someone slows the lift down for you to make an emergency lift to lift beer toss a success.

One-Suit-Wonder

One piece wonders

 

I like to think of Friday as the PSAT, and Saturday as the SAT, with the Big Sky Dirtbag Day in full effect, followed by the Dirtbag Ball that night. The “unevent” has been a Big Sky tradition since 1979 (invented and sanctioned by Ski Patrol, yet another testament to the good vibes out here), and I’m glad to see that the corporate absorption of the resort by Boyne hasn’t sullied its integrity or abolished it altogether. For more “official” info, check out this article. My crew and I joined hundreds of dirtbags in costume with adult beverages in hand, and achieved our goal of looking stupid, silly, and ridiculous. I’ll take any excuse to dress up like a gaper and get weird on the hill, so naturally I donned a pretty greasy outfit and acted like a fool all day. My onesie was originally owned by my buddy’s grandpa, the late and great Jimmer Gillispie, who moved to Big Sky back in the early 70’s and helped make it what it is today. During an impromptu dance party in the base area with a small handful of the others, some snow flurries begun. I started yelling “we did it” over and over, and some cheering ensued. Even though the flurries turned out to be a tease, I gained just enough gumption to get another run in to one of the many shacks (I’ve seen about 7 so far, but there’s still plenty more to be seen) around the hill before getting mentally prepared for the Dirtbag Ball that night.

powder-eights-comp

Some dirtbags getting greasy during the powder eights competition. Photo courtesy of Colton Stiffler

Sunday was nothing to brag about, just another day shredding and no complaints on my end. I woke up this morning (Monday) a bit perturbed by the fact that I could see the peak when I looked out the window (life’s hard, I know). But since I’ve been typing this, some flurries have sneakily rolled in and it has been snowing. Considering that a half inch has accumulated at the base area in the last 45 minutes, I do believe I made the right decision when I decided not to catch a ride westward this morning.

Radventure part 6: Big Sky Country

In general, I’ve been bringing the snow with me to places. Technically, the same was true for my arrival in Big Sky, MT last week. That is, if you count a paltry amount of trace snow. If I had my own car, I would have likely made my way to Colorado (top catch the tail end of that big storm) or Utah (to catch the incoming mid-sized storm) for a quick visit. But, Big Sky Resort was always the most prevalent in my trip “plans,” so I took a ride when I had the chance. I wasn’t swimming in tits deep powder all week, but I wasn’t disappointed. Luckily it had been staying cold in the area, leaving some nice snow left in the backcountry surrounding the resort. With the right attitude, motivation, and crew, there were plenty of snow related fun times to be had. If you’re reading this, you probably like the outdoors, and if you like the outdoors, there’s always fun times to be had with the aforementioned items working in your favor.

Big Sky Beehive

After a successful introduction to the mountain with a karaoke shit show, it was nice to have a place to sleep within stumbling distance. Nothing cures a hangover like stiff bloodies and a hike into the backcountry on a bluebird day, and we (one of my best shred buddies of all time, who recently relocated back to the area) decided that was the best course of action that following morning. Armed with the Jammy Pack blasting death metal and our Tubbs Shoes, we made our way into the Beehive Basin area in search of a booter my buddy had spotted from another ridge a day or two prior. We found it, and it definitely was in need of some love. It had probably been built a month prior, and had seen more sun than any of the shaded bowl surrounding it. With a two man crew wielding snowshoes and snowboards for shoveling, we kept the work to a minimum and hit it a few times in all its sketchy glory before hiking up top for a soft and deep line on the way out. It must have been fun, because it wasn’t until the goat trail run out that I thought about the fact that pretty much all I had eaten that day were the pickled veggies in my bloody mary and a pack of peanut butter crackers made by some popular tree dwelling elves.

The rest of the week was devoted to shredding the resort, which is, in fact, quite big. I’m 3 or 4 days deep at the resort and I feel like I haven’t even put a dent in it. It’s the type of place that can get crowded, but it doesn’t feel like outside of the base area with an average of multiple acres per skier/rider. I’m saying all this, and I haven’t even made it over to the Moonlight Basin side yet. Big sky does it big. I mean, even their Mardi Gras tree (I wouldn’t dream of going somewhere without one) was literally overflowing with decorations. I was able to find some sweet skate/surf style gully lines in Harbor’s Halfpipe (rocks and trees abound, all asking to be tapped and gapped), as well as hit one of the parks and get some tram laps in. As the week turned to the weekend, the shred turned to a more spring like affair. My friends (most new, one old) embraced the south facing slope life, and got some buttery tater turns on wind lips that fed into abundance of tree taps.

Sunday afternoon even provided an opportunity for some “fresh” turns if you were willing to work for it on the way in and out.

Big-Sky-Pano

While enjoying some barley sodas at one of many chill shacks in the woods late Sunday afternoon, some new friends and I pondered the meaning of life (no, not really) and the idea of sending it towards Red Lodge (really). After being some of the last people people off the hill that weren’t clocked in, we decided that heading east was the best thing for us to do that Sunday night. Check in next Monday for the story on that and more!