Friday, February 27th, 2004 - Big Sky, Montana
If you'd like to use a map to orient yourself while reading the report, click on the images below to open high resolution trail maps of Big Sky in a new window.
It's great to go to bed when it's dumping outside, sealing the promise of unknown amounts of powder into your dreams, but it's also great to wake up to blue skies towering over the fresh bounty. James and I were the only ones moving about in the condo at first, the others still catching needed sleep after the previous night's festivities. I'm not exactly sure when I became aware of the conditions outside, but from that moment on, my goal was to get packed up as quickly as possible and get on those slopes. Today was moving out day, and we had to be totally packed prior to leaving for the slopes.
But, packing up would have to wait for a bit, I had a much less practical scheme in the works. It involved Chris and Dave's room, the one with the window that looked directly at Lone Peak. I checked the view, and was happy to find that the almost completely blue skies still included some small wispy clouds blowing across the peak. If ever there was the opportunity to catch the time lapse video I'd been trying to get, this was it. Dave, being the first of the late night crew to return home the previous evening, was already stirring. He was reading in bed, and was gracious enough to keep low and out of my shot (which was out the window over his bed).
While the time lapse recording proceeded, James and I worked to get our stuff packed up and into the car. Eventually, everyone was up, but not necessarily ready to head out. So, once James and I got our last stuff together, we headed out with radios so we could eventually meet up with the others on the hill. I parked the loaded car near the condo, and we caught the local Bear Back Poma to access the main lifts. On the short trip over to the main base, we dipped into the powder a bit, and found it was nice and light. The snow report said there were 7-12 inches up high, but down near the base it was more like 4-6 inches. It was one of those crisp, blue sky mornings that holds the promise of a great powder day, and we were psyched.
We took the Swift Current High Speed Quad for our first run, and although we certainly hadn't made first chair, we were pretty close to opening and lines hadn't really formed yet. Once we got off the quad, the next thought was to get up higher, but the upper lifts still seemed to be on hold while they did snow control work. So, we headed back down on some of the lower terrain. The first part of our run was really great. I'm guessing we were in the area of Rice Bowl, and it was a sweet open area with sparse trees and great pitch. The CMH fatties were doing their thing, and I was able to fly through the snow like a super hero. It was undoubtedly one of my favorite runs at Big Sky. I was having so much fun on the fatties that I had to let James try them, which he did. Unfortunately, after the first few hundred feet of vertical, the pitch mellowed to blue and pretty much stayed like that all the way to the bottom of the lift. After the first pitch, the terrain was actually pretty boring, especially after such a fun start. Looking at the trail map, I realized that we weren't going to get much steep terrain if we stayed where we were. To top it off, the sun was already beating up on the snow in areas where it hit, snow which was on top of the base that had already been beaten down before. It was at this point that I really started to feel the disadvantages of Big Sky's layout. The stuff below many of the lower lifts isn't really that interesting, and much of the stuff on the upper lifts gets hit by the sun. You really have to search to find steep, sun-sheltered terrain.
With this in mind, James and I decided to take our next run over on Andesite Mountain. The north-facing terrain there had served us well on Wednesday, so we figured it was worth a shot again. We got in line for the Ramcharger Quad, and were lucky to be there when they started handing out free energy bars. We headed down in the region of the Congo and Safari trails, and while they offered a pretty good pitch, they were mostly tracked up (and hadn't received a lot of snow) since they were down near the base of the mountain. Soon, we decided it was time to check on the upper lifts again.
Our goal was to get to the Lone Peak Triple, which serviced a huge bowl called simply "The Bowl". It's interesting, but even though there are several upper mountain lifts at Big Sky, they still feel somewhat limiting. To get to the real peak, the only option is the tram. While it's a great ride, its capacity is low and you are likely to have to sit in a lift line for quite a while. Once you get up there, you don't have much choice for terrain; you basically have to take the steep, south facing stuff, or one of the major couloirs. The steep south facing stuff is well, south facing, and we knew it had been cooked from our run on Wednesday. I wasn't too optimistic about what a mere 7-12 inches of new snow would do for such terrain, and didn't want to wait in the tram line anyway.
We made our way onto the Lone Peak Triple, and fortunately it treats you to a fantastic view of The Bowl and surrounding areas below Lone Peak. Geographically, this region seems like the heart of the resort's terrain, with options for skiing both above and below. The Bowl is surrounded by really steep terrain on its main three sides. To the southwest is terrain above the "Turkey Traverse" consisting of a bunch of cliffs that don't seem to be open to regular skiing, and below that is an area called "South Wall". To the northwest is the huge face of Lone Peak with the Big and Little Couloirs, and off to the northeast are the A-Z Chutes and other terrain serviced by the Challenger Lift. Although it is possible to drop into the bowl from the summit via "The Gullies" area (sort of on the west side of The Bowl), this is a somewhat small section of the surrounding terrain. Just riding the lift, we could already tell that the south facing terrain (which unfortunately is much of the terrain) was getting a bit cooked, and of course it already had a crusty surface below it. We looked beneath our feet from the lift, and could see a few sets of tracks on Upper Morningstar, a relatively open slope which faced directly south. Closer inspection of the tracks revealed why there were so few: it basically looked like crud on crust.
With that observation, we set our sights on finding the correct aspect of The Bowl to get us some of the quality powder that had fallen overnight. Fortunately, as we scanned across The Bowl, we could see that there were few tracks at the end of the Turkey Traverse in the area of South Wall. This was likely due to the law of averages; people weren't likely to head out all that way when they could drop in much sooner. It certainly wasn't because of snow quality though. James and I could tell that the South Wall area was going to offer the most sun-sheltered powder in the bowl. We hopped off the lift and started out on the well established traverse. It was actually a fun traverse. As much as I hate traversing on my snowboard, I find gravity traversing on skis is quite enjoyable most of the time. You can just stand there and let the skis ride, and if your speed gets too high, you can bleed it off simply by heading uphill (as long as the terrain permits).
Anyway, we followed the traverse out to near its terminus, and ended up above South Wall and some nice open areas of untracked powder. There were a couple of big rolling drops with rocky areas behind them, but sliding around and below them made for some nice terrain variety. All I can say is that the skiing was excellent. We only got a few hundred vertical out at this end of the traverse (the lift only serves 833 feet of vertical to begin with), but the powder was light and fluffy, and we were our own worst enemies as far as the tracking out process went. We clicked off a half dozen runs in the great snow, while the crowd on the lift gradually saw what we were doing. It's hard to hide when you're the only two guys out at the edge of a big bowl cutting tracks in virgin snow. A few people decided to make the full traverse, but most of the crowd still didn't bother us. Good for them.
Eventually we made radio contact with Dave and Greg, and they joined us for a couple more laps. By that point, the terrain was starting to look as tracked up as the rest of the bowl, so we figured it was time to move on. We still had to make the drive back to Hamilton, so we figured we'd work our way back towards the condo where the cars were parked. A few of us swapped skis while we took the cruisers terrain back to the base. I got to try Dave's Salomon Pilots, which seem very stiff compared to my Volants, and he got to try the CMH fats.
Dave enjoys the snow on South Wall
Next, we headed up the Ramcharger Quad on Andesite Mountain and worked our way over towards Flat Iron Mountain, a peak we hadn't visited up to that point. Like a lot of Big Sky's terrain, the Flat Iron area seems to face mostly south. In this case however, the exposure wasn't such a detriment to the snow surface because we were riding a couple of groomers called Madison Ave. and Elk Park Ridge. The sun had nicely softened the surface into something that would hold any edge. The two trails are parallel, and so open that they essentially make one REALLY wide trail (I'd say hundreds of feet in some places). We took advantage of the opportunity to really lay the edges over at high speed, and I recall going so fast that I was looking for more space, even on such a huge boulevard.
We took the Thunder Wolf High Speed Quad to get us back to the top of Andesite Mountain, and had a chance for one more run while we headed back to the cars. To the skier's right of the Bear Back Poma that serviced our condo, there was a large triangle of terrain with three glades, Blue Room, Low Dog, and Colter's Hell. We took part of our run down Blue Room, and although it was tracked, traffic hadn't been that bad. Since the only practical lift option out of the area is the Bear Back Poma, I'd be surprised if these glades ever got as much traffic as the terrain served by the main lifts. I'd noticed some terrain to the skier's right of the Poma, that always seemed to be untracked, and we did our best to find our way there. Moving to the skier's right of Blue Room, we got out of the formal glade area and into much thicker vegetation. There were only a few tight lines, but the snow was fantastic. With blue skies and deep light snow (since this area was protected from the sun) it was just what one would expect from a Montana ski day. We soon ran into a cat track, and the reason for the large area of untracked snow to the right of the Poma became obvious: the region below the cat track was all fenced off. I'm not exactly sure why this was the case (although the vegetation WAS quite thick, and we saw a large debris pile full of logs in there). But, we simply followed the cat track over to the Poma line and cut into the terrain from there. Things were again quite thick, but we found a few nice lines and shot some final video from Big Sky.
Back at the cars, Dave and Greg decided to change out of their ski clothes and go for a bit of hot tubbing, while Chris, James, and I started on our way back to Hamilton. The ride went pretty quickly (the typical 75 MPH Montana speed limit helped) and soon we were back, filling E in on our adventures from the past few days. The next day we would be heading back to Lost Trail to explore the terrain with the entire group.
(More powder at Lost Trail)
Back to J and E's ski page