3/3-7, 2019 -- Big Sky, Again!

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  1. #1

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    3/3-7, 2019 -- Big Sky, Again!

    It felt like just yesterday that I went to Big Sky. But that was actually last March.

    This year, I wanted to go a bit earlier. But that didn’t quite happened. So I found myself back in BS the very same 1st week of March.

    First thing I noticed, even before arriving, was lodging being quite tight and as a result more expensive compared to last year. Keep in mind last year snow was terrible in much of the west, but Big Sky was the few that has tons of snow. So according to the locals, the whole country (or at least those who could afford to) went to BS! Yet I was able to book on mountain lodging relatively close to the time. And I even had some choices: from rather pricy to very pricy, that is. This year? Even a month out, there’s almost no availability near the lifts for that same week, never mind the cost. It’s super pricy ($3-400 a room) or stay the hell off the mountain!

    That’s what we did. Down the mountain at a motel called Buck’s T4. It’s a 1/2 hr drive each morning. Not the end of the world. It’s for similar price as I paid for on mountain last year, (walk to lift full service hotel with only 2 weeks lead time). If that has nothing to do with Ikon, I don't know what it can possibly be.

    It had snowed just about everyday the previous week, so I was eager to take whatever leftover. But an arctic blast brought the temperature to the negative territory on my planned first day. Brrrr...

    I would have loved to move the dates of my visit back a couple days. But unfortunately, there’s absolutely zero availability for the next 5 days! So I opted NOT to ski at BS my first planned day. (cutting my 5 day at BS to 4, and skied at Jackson instead, where the temperature was a more reasonable...20’s).

  2. #2

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    03/04/2019 -- “Day 2” (1st day in Big Sky) — still in the teens, but thank god the sun was out, sometimes.

    After booting up, I caught a small window of quiet in the ticket office and asked for suggestion on the best place to start our frigid day. The advice was to lap the Ramcharger first. The runs faces the sun, so it’s the first to soften. The heated chair doesn’t hurt.

    For the first hr or so in the morning, the perfectly groomed runs were soft and empty! We lapped it and sampled all the groomers off that chair, until it the masses woke up from their hibernation and started to ski it off.

    We moved on the Thunder Wolf chair. The runs were again nice and soft. But we were getting a little bore with groomers only. So we were on the hunt for soft off-piste runs. A quick tour from there to Lone Moose then to Southern Comfort convinced us we were on the wrong part of the mountain. Although we found a few short stretches of tracked out powder, I knew BS has a lot better potentials. Also, the Southern Comfort chair reminded us we were skiing in a single digit day.

    We moved to the main access chair, Swift Current. With so much snow the previous week, I was eyeing some of the trees in hope of sloppy seconds. But I was alarmed to see almost all the obvious trees had been turned into network of shiny toboggan trenches. Obviously too many people had been there the past few days.

    We moved on to the Powder Seeker. For once, my buddy found the steep a bit disturbing, especially in the flat light. It’s time for a warming lunch break.

    Afterward, there’s only one last place to try, the Challenger chair. Finally, the sun decided to came all the way out of the cloud and stay out of the cloud. So we had visibility at last! And the snow didn’t disappoint either.

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    Yes, those were snow powder spray off my skis!

    (And those of you viewing from a large screen device will be able to see the dots on the run below are...people!)
    Last edited by abc; Mar 16, 2019 at 5:58 PM.

  3. #3

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    Day 2 — Sun, warmth, powder. And a memorable trip up the Lone Peak tram

    We went from previous day’s teens to the twenties and sunshine today!

    Since we had such a great time at Rancharger yesterday during the first hour, we repeated again first thing in the morning. But for whatever reason, the snow wasn’t as good. Though the view made up for it.

    9C4F1019-F589-444D-9BE8-B4B66E2342A4.jpg

    So we moved on. The forecast was for snow and cloud the next 2 days of our stay. So if we were to go to the top of Lone Peak, today would be the day.

    We beelined for the Powderseeker chair after getting off the Swift Current. The tram line was already ungainly long. On the other hand, the bowl itself looks very inviting! So naturally we started to lap the bowl instead. Plenty of chopped up powder to be had.

    After a couple laps, we were ready for a break and some food. So we got back on the Powderseeker chair with the intention to get on the tram line and eat our food while we wait in line. We were alarmed by the tram indicator showing it was on hold. Worse, 30 yards after our chair left the loading, it stopped. And it stayed unmoved as minutes ticked by. Finally, my buddy called ski patrol, and was told there’s a mechanical issue with the chair! They said they’re turning on the “auxiliary” of thing kind to get us going "soon". Sure enough, we even saw a mechanic heading up to the top on a snowmobile. However, they wouldn’t give us an ETA. With nothing to do but wait, we started munching on our food.

    The good news is, there’s no easy way to get to the tram other than the Powderseeker chair. So our wait on the chair is the same as standing in the tram line anyway. And we had our "lunch break" sitting down, sort of.

    Eventually (probably 15-20 min), the chair resumed moving and we got to the top. Naturally, we all dashed towards the tram, only to find there’s NO ONE there but a guy in red coat! Turns out the tram had been down all that time!!!

    A quick chat with ski patrol, another but unrelated mechanical problem. They expect the tram to run again before the end of day, but wouldn’t give us ETA either.

    Dejected, we debated whether to move on to Challenger. But the skiing in the bowl was really good. And the sun was still high. (Powderseeker bowl goes into the shadow in afternoon) So we decided we would lap it a few more times before breaking for a sit down lunch.

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    (Powderseeker bowl is also the only part of the mountain that has food and place to sit down. Hence the reluctant to move elsewhere until after we have our lunch)

    Every time before we load the chair, we glanced on the tram status light, hoping. It remained yellow (on hold) for runs after runs. But then on one more run, I watch the light went from yellow to green!!!

    My buddy and I looked at each other, we didn’t say anything. No need to say anything. As we slid off the chair at the top, we straight lined for the tram!

    (the wait ended up being 1/2 hr, because ski patrol and private lessons have priority. We wind up sharing the can with mostly ski patrollers, from which we got some suggestion on which way to go down)

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    We opted to go down Liberty Bowl partly because I want to hit the Dakota area, which is hard to get to otherwise. But unfortunately, when we got down, it was already closed for the day! So we end up lapping the Shedhorn area twice before the Shedhorn lift closed. Given that outcome, I wished we came down the Dictators instead. The snow condition is usually better there.

    (Bottom of Liberty Bowl, top of Shedhorn lift)

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    Last edited by abc; Mar 16, 2019 at 6:20 PM.

  4. #4

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    End of day wildlife sighting:

    Attachment 24806

    I celebrated a good day of skiing with a 12 oz Elk tenderloin. My buddy a giant beef tenderloin. (there’s enough leftover for next day's dinner)
    Last edited by abc; Mar 16, 2019 at 7:50 PM.

  5. #5
    Edd's Avatar
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    Awesome! You really kill it with western trips.


    Sent from my iPad using AlpineZone

  6. #6

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    Day 3, 03/06/2019, SNOW!!!

    6”!

    It’s time to run for first chair! But we didn’t quite make it. Though not too far off.

    I knew the groomers should have hero snow on them. So we went up Swift Current chair for a long cruise of hero snow back to the bottom hoping for a quick repeat. But what’s with the long line all of a sudden? Ok, we’ll take a lap on Ramcharger.

    By then, we saw tracks all over the groomers. It’s time to move to terrain most people don’t touch, like the far end of Powder Seeker. The lack of visibility made the skiing less than enjoyable for my friend. And 6” wasn’t enough to smooth out the chop. So we decided to tour the Madison (Moonlight Basin) side. There, we found some peace and quiet, even some powder in the steeps.

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    (Challenger chair, the connector between Big Sky and Moonlight Basin: )

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    The access road in and out of Big Sky seems to be a wildlife highway too. So more end of day wildlife sighting. This time they came all the way right up to the road!

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    Last edited by abc; Mar 16, 2019 at 9:57 PM.

  7. #7

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    Day 4: last day, last deep powder run on Challenger.

    Another poultry 1/2” of snow. Not even worth getting up early. But since we need to quit early to drive back down south, we’d better start at a reasonable time to put in a few hours.

    I spy a couple of runs on the grooming report that wasn’t groomed the day before. They should have the smoothest surface. We sampled them and found them to be enjoyable. Again, when we tried to lap them, we were deterred by the lines. This time, the cause of the lines were clear: the chair had stopped for considerable length of time. Combined with our experience of the previous day, seems Big Sky should change its name to Big Stop!

    2 laps of RamCharger bought us enough time to see the lines cleared.

    Again, we lapped the PowderSeeker chair. The snow were still soft and deep. But with cloudy sky and flat light, there’s only so much we can managed before it starts to feel more like work than fun.

    Again, we moved on to the Challenger chair.

    I know a line that usually has good snow, though a bit hard to follow. Harder still, is trying to convince my companions to take the awkward traverse to get to it. Everyone always got lured down earlier lines which, while look smooth and creamy, are full of little rocks that migrate upward perpetually until they reach the base of your skis! This time, I insisted strongly, by dashing off right after saying “follow my line closely”! (I knew my buddy can handle it, and I knew she would enjoy it, because I’ve had excellent result with a less skilled partner last year in similar condition).

    The moment we dropped in, my insistence as a pseudo local was instantly vindicated! Deep soft snow with only one other group sharing a huge (only moderately steep) face.

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    We lapped that twice. And sadly it’s time for us to get off the mountain and hit the road. But the memory of those run would be with us the whole way!

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    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by abc; Mar 17, 2019 at 11:00 AM.

  8. #8

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    (Mistakes not allowed in uploading photos?

    I didn’t mean to upload so many. But it seems if I upload a wrong one, and try to delete it, it just end up at the bottom of the post!

    or should I just delete the entire post to start over?)

  9. #9

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    One last piece of information. For the 3 times I went to Big Sky, I stayed in 3 different TYPE of places. 1st year a condo, 2nd time on mountain hotel, this year off-mountain motel. They all have their pros and cons, some of which has nothing to do with price.

    I have to say this year's stay at Buck's T4 exceeds my expectation. Granted, for a off-mountain motel, it's quite pricy (~$150). But the room was huge, with a decent size frig and microwave. You could almost make dinner with that setup, except the food at the restaurant on site was to die for. So we ended up eating at the restaurant 3 out of 4 nights (cost a tiny fortune). Breakfast was REAL breakfast (eggs/bacon etc) that really prepares one for a good day of energetic skiing!

    The only drawback, which is a significant one, it has no laundry. So doing laundry in the village up mountain is a big hassle. And since I was on the road for 2 weeks, laundry was necessary. But apart from that, everything else was as good as any hotel (hot tub, fire place etc).

    The drive isn't too bad. I got a bunch of those wildlife pictures above!

    Contrast that to the Lodge at Big Sky, where I stayed last year. It's "on mountain", but the walk was a good long trek on ski boots. And they don't even clear the snow off their driveway. I saw multiple people yard sale on that driveway.

    Majority of Big Sky's so called "on mountain" lodgings involves some amount of walking to get to the slope/lift. Unlike Vail or Whistler, you don't walk through some sort of "village". You walk on ROADS, with cars and buses squeezing between you and the snowbank. Restaurant options are not that big, and all are expensive. AND INVOLVES MORE WALKS ON BUSY ROADS!

    Condos are probably the best bet, if you're part of a sizable party and prepared to make your own dinner.
    Last edited by abc; Mar 20, 2019 at 5:26 PM.

  10. #10
    Great TRs- thx!


    If it's snowin' I'm goin'

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