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Big Sky, 3/9-11/2012

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thanks to ESA, I discovered two important items in skiing.  The first was attributable to my first ESA, where I got to ski with the incredible Ursula Howland.  Ursula is an incredible teacher, a very giving person, and a delight to be with.  The second was the first ESA I actually finished (having flunked two ESA's at Aspen due to injuries):  Big Sky.  Now that ESA is defunct (at least for the near term), I had the opportunity to combine both.


My posse included one of my best ski buds, my daughter, and son-in-law.  My bud and I arrived Thursday evening, while the kids didn't arrive until mid-day Friday thanks to United Airlines.  It's just amazing what happens when you downgrade the aircraft and suddenly have 40 folk with confirmed reservations but no seats!


The kids' loss was our gain.  We hit a couple of warm-up runs, then went into ski mode.  The first run was a run off of the tram down Liberty Bowl.  This year, the snow is a bit lower than the previous year's I skied Big Sky.  There were a few rocks here and there, but nothing that wasn't solved by terrain reading.  There had been 7 inches of new snow a couple of days before, so the snow was still relatively soft, although the crud would add some ski deflection here and there.  This was great to focus on skiing with a more flexible ankle, a deficiency I've found in my skiing this year.


The next run, we headed back up the tram for a lap down the gullies.  We skied Gully 1, which is pretty wide.  The traverse into the Gullies had a few rocks just around the big turn; good to Ursula in front to keep things under control and avoid being bucked off of the traverse into a nasty life-threatening slide.


The kids joined us in the afternoon, and we skied less intense terrain with a focus on technique.  Good stuff.


The next day, my bud unfortunately was out of commission with food poisoning.  So my son-in-law and I were in for a treat:  skiing the Big Couloir.  I took my pack, shovel, probed and transceiver.  Ursula had us hit the tram early so we could get her preferred time slot.  The weather was incredibly warm (over 50 at the top of Swift Current), so we wanted the 11:45 and 12:30 slots.  Only 2 at a time can ski the Big on a 15 minute schedule.  After signing up, we skied Marx.  It was just softening, steep, and wonderful.   As we had a bit more time to kill, we returned up the tram and skied the first gully.  The snow was pretty good, especially considering the temperature.


Next, I got the first line down the Big.  Ursula led.  To get into the Big, you exit the ski area at the top of the tram.  You've got to slip slide down about 100 vertical feet on a narrow snow lane that has a few rocks in it.  You can take the upper entrance to the Big, but the top is 50+ degrees and there can be some big rocks that put a crimp in your skiing.  So, we took the lower entrance just before you enter the North Summit Snowfield.  The entrance is a bit intimidating:  the slope is about 45 degrees, and it is only about 5 yards wide.  Ursula gave me a great tip:  first you go down, then turn.  The idea is to commit to the fall line.  If you are thinking you want to be behind yourself, then you wind up going in the back seat and fighting for the turn.  Instead, commit to moving down the hill, then finish the turn.  Easier said than done.


The top of the Couloir had a lot of sun on it, and the temperature was quite high.  Just above the rock that divides the Couloir, the slope reaches about 52 degrees.  The snow was not a pretty thick layer of corn that was sloughing.  Because of the slope, it was extremely slick.  I wound up being a bit of chicken through this section, and did a fair amount of side slipping.  After the rock, I could move right into the shade, where the snow was firmer.  I was able to link a few turns, but quite cautiously, as I did not want to take a tumble in a chute with that steepness and vert (along with the rocks on both sides).  I waited for Ursula at the dogleg, then followed her to the apron, where we met my son-in-law.  Of course, this is where I ate it:  skiing what I though was well, I broke through the crust and tripped.  Fortunately, while the slope was still relatively steep, I was able to self arrest in a few feet.  And no injury other than to my pride.


My son-in-law was next.  I rode the tram with them, then skied Gully 1 and waited for them on the apron below the Big.  The sun had moved off of the top of the Couloir and the snow set up a bit so that it didn't slough.  Even so, I was observing what was going on in the Little Couloir:  lots of releases and slides from the warming that was going on.  We also saw a slide in the A-Z chutes as we were headed up the triple.


In the afternoon, more technique skiing with my daughter.  We also got up on Challenger and skied Moonlight, which had the best snow of the trip.


On Sunday, we were hoping to ski the North Summit Snowfield.  However, a bit of high cloud and wind had things closed down on top.  The tram, triple, and challenger lifts never opened.  So, we spent the morning doing a bit of technique until we headed for Moonlight Basin.  My bud, son-in-law, Ursula, and I headed for the Headwaters chair and took the high traverse into Headwaters 3.  Lots of rocks at the top.  The traverse was thin; not a place for moving quickly but instead moving with caution and consideration.  We had to sidestep down 25 vert or so to get over the shark fins and find safe snow to ski.  But it was good.  The snow was grippy, had a bit of crust to it (don't over pressure), but still somewhat soft.  And the chute is in the mid 40 degree range.  I was able to link most of my run, although I again skied cautiously.  After being innudated with chunks from the skiers behind me, I waited for them to move past me so that I wouldn't have my skis taken out by a large chunk hitting my boot.  Not that I'm light enough for that to be a concern, but still it made the run more pleasant.


We skied a bunch of corn snow the rest of the day.


It was a great trip.  The snow could've been better, but when you combine Ursula and Big Sky, what's not to like?


No doubt the warm temps have done a lot to the conditions this week, as they have across the west.  But unlike Colorado, Big Sky has been getting some fresh each day since we left.  I think the skiing will be pretty good there for a while.  Get up while you can!



post #2 of 14

Mike, I love to read your TR's.  I really love your passion for ESA, which rivals my passion for ESA, and I hope that you'll join the Bears for the EpicSki Gathering at Big Sky in 2013.  Heck, as much time as you've spent at Big Sky, you may even be able to be a guide! 


Thanks so very much for sharing your Big Sky experience! icon14.gif

post #3 of 14

Nice Mike -- glad you made it back to BS.


I was in Aspen at the same time-- nothing fresh for quite a while -- probably about two weeks, but the cover was probably a bit better than you had.


That's all right. I don't mind a long weekend of carving groomers.


One of these days, I'll make it back to Big Sky to ski the Big with Ursala... I'm just hoping for some fresh like we had at ESA.



post #4 of 14
Thread Starter 

Yea, that was the trip from heaven, Keith.  I'm headed to Aspen Easter weekend to ski with Schanzy.  Presuming there is any snow left.  I've cancelled skiing this weekend for bike riding.  I've had two great rides this week (65 out!) to start training season.  I'm hoping that some weather moves in to move me back to the skis!



post #5 of 14

The coverage was still pretty good, but the snow depth was shockingly low in some places. Keep praying to Ullr -- maybe there's another good dump or two out there.


I've been crazy busy this year, so this has been my weakest ski season in a long time. Looks like my golf clubs are going to get more work than skis this year.




post #6 of 14

You guys do know that the EpicSki Gathering in 2013 is at Big Sky, don't you? 


I'm giddy with excitement about this one!!!


Perhaps AlephMom can join us as well.....2013 EpicSki Gathering: Big Sky Montana!

post #7 of 14

Nice report Mike.  The Big Couloir is an intimidating line, but you had a great guide an coach.

post #8 of 14

Nice one Mike!  I am thinking the "Big" was especially steep this year with the low snowpack.


post #9 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thanks Jim, Tom, and Tricia.  The Big has been on my bucket list for a while.  Two years ago the conditions weren't conducive to skiing it, and last year I injured myself and had to cancel my Big Sky trip.  So, it was great to ski it this year.


I'm thinking about the gathering.



post #10 of 14

Great TR. One thing that makes BS so great is a tram load of folks go up together and some go down a great high intermediate run (Liberty Bowl) and others go down the Big or the Snowfields which must be some of the most gnarly skiing in North America. Sounds like fun was had by all.

You can't go wrong with Ursula - a great guide and teacher all rolled into one. I'm looking forward to getting back out in about 10 days and looking forward to the 2013 Gathering.

post #11 of 14
Originally Posted by Trekchick View Post

You guys do know that the EpicSki Gathering in 2013 is at Big Sky, don't you? 



I'm in.


BTW: My ski trip in ASE was with my mom, and she says congrat's, too.

post #12 of 14

Tell Alephmom I said, thanks and that I'm looking forward to skiing with her again.  


post #13 of 14
Mike, I just read this report -wow! Great stuff. I got back from my 1st trip to Big Sky last week and was incredibly blown away by the terrain and vastness, as well as all the people we met out there. We had a wild time with Dan Egan during his 3 day steeps clinic there! It was awesome and Dan was fantastic to ski with. We had brutal winds though much of the time and some horrific whiteout conditions. Snow ranged from great to treacherous windblown hardpack on Marx & Lenin.

I skied the Big on the last day in a complete whiteout with about 15' visibility. Total vertigo. It took me forever to get down. I was terrified because I could not judge the pitch. I didn't sideslip it at all, but made 2-3 turns then stopped for a few minutes to compose and calm myself down. It was insane, but I made it. Three out of four of my pals took some big slides. Me, in Gully #1, taking Richie out along with me! Richie had a big one the next day on Marx, then Steve took a crazy fall in Gully #2, somersaulting over a rock band! They both had minor knee injuries, but kep on going.

Thought you might like to see my helmet cam clip of my little tumble down Gully #1: http://contour.com/stories/big-sky-tumble-down-gully-1


(yeah - I know, I'm sucking a lot of wind. Still adjusting on only my 2nd day above my sea level homestead. If you want to jump to just the fall, it's at ~5:00 mark).

BTW- The visibility in the beginning of the clip is better than it was when I skied The Big. The wind was about the same - blowing straight up the couloir about 40-50 mph, or so it seemed! eek.gif
Edited by carvemeister - 3/26/12 at 7:18am
post #14 of 14
Thread Starter 

That snow looked pretty sweet!  I skied with Dan in Aspen a few years ago, it was a real trip.  I've never seen anyone spend as much time in the air as he did.


Glad you had a good trip and good job on the self arrest.  The gullies are not a place to fall.  It is one of the few places where someone actually has died skiing -- no one has done so in the Big BTW.



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