Thursday, February 26th, 2004 - Moonlight Basin, Montana
If you'd like to use a map to orient yourself while reading the report, click on the image below to open a high resolution trail map of Moonlight Basin in a new window.
I'll try (probably unsuccessfully) to keep my account of our adventures at Moonlight Basin fairly short, since you can read about most of them in our article "Moonlight Basin: Montana's New Frontier" at First Tracks!! Online Ski Magazine. So, follow the link to the article to supplement what you read here, and don't forget to check out the additional photos and the online ski video that go with the article (more information on the video can be found at the bottom of this report).
Thursday the 26th had been scheduled as our day at Moonlight several weeks in advance of the trip. I'd sandwiched the day between our Big Sky days to give us some variety, and to let us compare the experiences between the two resorts that occupied different sides of Lone Mountain. Unfortunately, when we got up that morning, the skies were already gray with the clouds of an oncoming storm. This meant that it wasn't going to be the best day for videography or photography, but basically we were going to take whatever Mother Nature threw at us and make the best of it. I did my best to motivate everyone so we'd arrive at the Moonlight Lodge by 9:00 A.M., and everything went smoothly. The drive to the Moonlight base area was just a couple of miles from our condo, so that really helped. At the base lodge, we met up with Laura Cox, Moonlight's director of marketing, who gave us our tickets and introduced us to our guides Travis and Shawn.
We spent the morning zooming around on some of the groomers below their main lift, the Six-Shooter (a high speed six person lift). The conditions were nice on the groomed slopes, and even though Moonlight's trails were fun and full of variety, I really wanted to hit some powder to get video. I was really excited to hit Moonlight's signature expert terrain, the hike to region called the Headwaters at the top of the resort. But as the gray skies gave way to light snow, I wondered if we'd even be able to get any video up there above tree line.
Sometime before lunch, the question came up regarding when we wanted to hit the Headwaters, and based on the way the weather was going, I decided it should be sooner rather than later. To ensure that we got SOME video, Shawn and Travis first took us on a short hike above the top of the Six Shooter. This was an area with plenty of untracked powder (actually there weren't any tracks as far as I could tell) but most importantly there were nicely spaced trees to provide some contrast for our videography in the flat light. I'm really glad we hit this area because it provided us with some of the best video we got all day, and it was a lot of fun. I got to hit a line to the far skier's right of this area that was fantastic. I caught the run on head cam, and James and Greg caught it on video from two additional angles. Even though the powder had probably been sitting there for a week or so, it was still nice and light, and I got at least two big fat face shots while wearing the head cam. Check them out in the first half of the Moonlight Video along with the other footage; Greg got some especially nice shots from his angle.
After our shooting in the tree area, we had to get a move on up to the Headwaters. I pulled out the tripod to set up for a time lapse shot of the guys starting on the hike, and it turned out quite well. Unfortunately it meant that I had to pack things up and rush to catch everyone else for the hike. Since I was still recovering from a cold, the hike took more out of me than it should have, especially the steeper section leading up to the Headwaters ridge. Whoever had made the boot ladder for this section had set the steps quite far apart, which made it more difficult than it could have been for most of us. Even Greg (who's pretty tall) commented on how they should have been made closer together. Despite the extra work involved in the hike, the guys did a great job of stepping up and recording the event. Chris got some stills, and Greg got some awesome video of the group hiking past him. Kudos to those guys, because as anyone who's done this type of work knows, it really takes an extra effort to stop, lose your hiking momentum, pull your equipment out of your bag, and then focus on getting images. Their efforts were worth it though, because the material was used in the video and really added to the overall presentation.
Chris gets a nice shot of the group trudging past Greg toward the Headwaters.
Even when we hit the Headwaters ridge, Shawn and Travis still marched us along, only stopping when they felt we had to get down due to time. We were meeting some of the resort folks for lunch, and we didn't want to push it too late. Although they might have brought us further if timer permitted, they decided to take us down Firehole, one of the chutes in the 40-45 degree range. I described the major aspects of the run in the First Tracks!! Article, but I didn't get to describe the somewhat dramatic fall I had. Many things conspired together to make it a difficult run for me: recovering from my cold, spending extra energy to catch up with the guys after filming, widely placed steps on the boot ladder sapping more strength, low visibility in snow and wind on a ridge I'd never been seen before (and still couldn't see because of the weather), and even though I took off my goggles for the hike, I was still sweating enough that they quickly fogged up and were pretty useless at the top of the run. I wiped them down as much as I could in the moist conditions, but as everyone knows, once they start to get moisture in there, it is very difficult to get them back to pristine dryness. They lasted pretty well for the first half of the ski run, but by the second half they were a mess, and I was skiing down the steep couloir on somewhere in the range of 50% visibility. Basically I'm just bitching, since these things are often par for the course when you're hiking and skiing in the mountains, but it was sort of fun to assess all the factors that make the experience that much more difficult. In addition, my skis were acting up, and I'd had a pre release in the upper section of the terrain. Fortunately I was able to catch myself and there were no drastic consequences.
In the steep lower section of the couloir however, I had another pre-release, and this time I went down big time. I could feel that my legs were getting a bit tired after everything they'd been through, but I was at the apron at the bottom of the run, which was a pretty safe zone. I'm not sure if I could have recovered from the pre-release if my legs were fresher, but I certainly would have had a better chance. Anyway, it was still a bit of a disconcerting tumble when I fell. I knew that I was out of the danger of running into the rock walls of the couloir, but the terrain was still really steep and I had no idea how long I was going to keep falling. I was glad I was wearing my helmet at least, whatever happened. I lost my orientation as I tumbled at first, but eventually I was able to right myself. After what seemed like an eternity (it was actually only 5-10 seconds), I came to a stop sitting in the snow. I'd been wet before the fall, but now I was absolutely caked with snow. I'd lost my skis and poles, and one of my skis had taken off into the bowl below. At least they'd captured the spectacle on multiple video cameras. James was on the ball as usual, and had watched where all of my gear had gone. He quickly put away his camera and got my one ski and poles to me. I was actually really impressed that the rest of my gear (like my goggles) had stayed on. This is yet another great aspect of wearing a helmet. If I'd been alone (which wouldn't really be a possibility in the Headwaters) or if everyone had been below me, equipment recovery would have been a major ordeal. Assuming I could even find the equipment up there, it would have been a long arduous hike to get to it. While we waited for James to bring down my equipment, Dave conducted a video interview with me, which I'm sure will be part of the annual ski movie.
I attempted to ski down into the bowl to get to my errant ski, but I knew it would be a fairly futile effort. I was still on a steep pitch covered with the thick powder that had sloughed from the couloir, and I was on one very tired leg. I was asking a lot. Heck, even if I was fresh, one-legged skiing would have been extremely difficult there. I ended up simply traversing my way down into the bowl, doing my best to stay upright when I had to switch directions. I was soon back to a full compliment of gear, but my goggles were useless. They were packed full of snow, and copious amounts were now falling from the sky as well. I had nothing even remotely dry to attempt a cleaning, so I decided to go goggle free. The face-stinging run to the base felt like it took forever. For once I was wishing that Moonlight's 1,850 feet of vertical didn't ski so big.
Shawn and Travis guided us to the Madison Lodge, where we had a good lunch and I conducted a couple of interviews with some of the senior staff. I spread my clothes out as much as possible, and hoped they would shed some moisture. We hung out for a while with Travis and talked ski talk, but Shawn had to return to his duties. It was really dumping outside, and we next had to decide what we wanted for afternoon turns. Travis had planted a seed of interest regarding one of his favorite runs, a gully just below Stillwater Bowl. Not only did it sound like it would be fun to ski, but it was just the sort of terrain I wanted to compliment my other footage for the Moonlight video.
Travis flips out in Stillwater Bowl.
The Six-Shooter brought us back above the bowl, and soon we were at the start of the gully (Lone Creek Gully). Travis had really championed the cutting of the gully, pointing out that it was a signature run in the Six Shooter area and added significantly to Moonlight's skiing. I turned on the head cam, and we were off. It started out pretty wide, and eventually narrowed into a slalom course through moderately sized trees. It wasn't extraordinarily steep or anything (which was perfect for the tight trees at the end) but it was really long. With my legs tired from the day's activities, I had to stop several times. Overall it was a great run, and I think everyone had fun despite the tired legs.
By the time we reached the bottom of the Six-Shooter, the lifts were about to shut down (although technically we weren't too worried since we were with Travis). We caught our last ride up amidst the snowfall and darkening skies, and Travis guided us back down toward the Moonlight Lodge. Since the snowfall had continued throughout the afternoon, a few inches had built up on the groomers and the skiing was getting even better. As we glided down our last run to the lodge, I really wanted to stay and take advantage of the conditions, but there would always be tomorrow.
After skiing, we hung out with Travis for about an hour or so at the Timbers Bar in the Moonlight Lodge. Travis invited us to hang out with him for dinner and beyond, and part of the time at the bar he attempted to figure out what he was going to do. At one point we were going to go over to some girl's house with a bunch of other people for dinner, but I'm not sure what happened with that. Eventually Travis wound up at our condo, and we all went out for food at some pub he knew. Between the heavy snowfall and darkness, I can't recall for the life of me where it was, but somewhere in the bowels of the Big Sky Village we had some great pub food and got to experience a slice of life in the Travis Zone. Next, we traveled to another bar where lots of pool was played. Sometime before midnight (I'm not actually sure how long) James and I decided to head home. We'd had some fun at the bar, but it was still dumping outside, and I didn't want anything to get in the way of getting up for powder in the morning. It was pretty exciting slipping and sliding our way along as we walked back down to the condo. Staying on the mountain really gets you in the ski mood, especially during a snowstorm
James and I played a couple rounds of Xbox and called it a night (or so James would have thought). According to reports from James (who was "sleeping" on the downstairs couch) Dave, then Greg, then Chris filtered home at roughly hourly intervals. I don't think they exactly tiptoed their way to their rooms, but eventually James managed to get to sleep.
Continue below to view the Moonlight Basin Video, then head to the bottom of the page to move on to day 7 where we get some fresh powder at Big Sky.
Check out our Moonlight Basin video, produced in cooperation with First Tracks!! Online Ski Magazine.
You'll need Real Player to view the video, download the latest version by clicking on the realONE icon below.
Move your mouse over the image below for some preview shots of the movie.
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Length: 9 minutes, 3 seconds; Size: 23,507 kB
(Powder day at Big Sky!)
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