After a fun day skiing with Greg Hill, I was really torn about whether or not to stay in BC. I absolutely love BC but the snow forecast was pretty unexciting and despite constantly putting myself out there, I was having trouble finding partners to head into the backcountry with. It just wasn’t coming together with ease, so I decided to hit the road and pointed the van South toward Bozeman.
I must have been on the road for only 45 minutes when I saw some hitchhikers on the side of the highway. I drove by them and shortly later pulled a u-turn and swooped them up. Sure enough, it was by buddy Spencer Harkins who I met in the Big Mountain Snow Safety course. I was stoked to run into he and his crew and was really hoping they might let me tag along on the next day’s mission, but the offer didn’t come through. I dropped them off at their vehicle 25min up the pass, chatted for a bit, and continued on my way.
En route to Bozeman, I received some terrible news from my friend Todd. He let me know that our friend from college, Joel Shute
, had been caught and buried in an avalanche in Colorado
. Unfortunately, Joel did not survive. This hit me pretty hard. Joel was a great guy and a very experienced skier. In addition, this was the second time a friend was caught in avalanche this season alone. It begins to occur to me that pretty much every serious backcountry skier is connected to someone who has passed away doing this sport. In addition, it’s not just rowdy folks who don’t respect the risk that are getting caught, it’s highly skilled, educated, cautious folks who get caught as well. And this weighs on me and makes me wonder why I participate in this activity at all. I don’t have the answer and will continue to ponder, but the response to Joel’s death by his family and loved ones was incredible and beautiful to watch. Joel, sending you lots of love. You will not be forgotten and may you find peace and powder up above.
Despite the sad news, it was not enough to deter my big mountain intentions and I continued to try to line up backcountry days in Montana and began hitting up my contacts. Plans started to come together pretty easily which was a relief and a sign that I had made the right decision to leave BC. On my first day, I met up with someone I had met in Big Sky a few years earlier, Madeline Thunder
. Madeline is a young skier and artist and she was up for an afternoon tour. We met at her house and carpooled out to Bear Canyon where we took two little sunset laps. Bear Canyon is a tiny little thing but with basically no avalanche terrain. It was a great way to scope out something very Bozeman. We got dinner and Madeline put me up for the night. It was nice to have a great meal, sleep indoors, and hang with someone really cool.
Over the course of the next two weeks, I would go back and forth from Bozeman to Big Sky, back and forth, back and forth. After skiing with Madeline, I headed to Big Sky where I was very fortunate to link up with Big Sky local, Dave “Stergy” Stergar
. Dave is a retired science teacher, Mountain Ambassador for Big Sky and sponsored Salomon athlete. He’s over 50, absolutely shreds, and knows Big Sky better than just about anyone. And so, I had an amazing day 1 at Big Sky Resort with Stergy leading the way. We skied 360 degrees off the summit of Lone Mountain/Big Sky Resort which included the infamous Big Couloir, the Snowfields, the Cirque, and more. It was a truly spectacular day with inbounds and out of bounds skiing. My favorite part of the day was a mandatory air at the bottom of the Cirque. That was awesome. Wish I had it on camera. Below are a few iPhone shots of the lines we hit.
After that, a storm was moving in and I met up with some folks from Ventura/Patagonia who moved to Bozeman a few years ago. The storm proceeded to drop about a foot of snow and thus instead of heading into the backcountry, we went to Bridger Bowl for an epic powder day. I proceeded to ski a few days at Bridger and got to experience the infamous “ridge” that you ahve to hike up to. After a few days of hitting these lines, I can honestly say that that ridge offers some of the gnarliest terrain I found on the trip. Granted, the lines are pretty short, but there are surely some super steep ones.
After two fun days at Bridger Bowl, the back/forth continued. In Big Sky I meant a nice local and skied with him for two days. One of the days we did 5 laps on the Big Couloir and called it a day. This line off the summit is incredible and has got to be one of the biggest and best inbounds lines in all of North America. It’s leg burner of a line at well over 40 degrees and 1,000 vertical feet. Check it out below.
I had two additional touring days before leaving Montana. The first one was with my friend Lou Duloisy
who I met on the chairlift in Jackson a few years ago. She suggested we head out to Hiyalight Canyon. We met there and headed out. The snow was coming down hard so we kept it pretty mellow but had an awesome day.
The next day of touring was with Eric Knoff. I met Eric a few years ago. We hired him as a fly fishing guide for a trip with some friends and it turned out, Eric was an Avalanche Forecaster. I told Eric that I would be coming back to Montana to ski with him, and the next winter I showed up and we got some turns in. Same ting this year. A few years ago, Eric started Six Points Avalanche Education
. He’s a master in the field and it’s truly an honor to be able to ski with someone like Eric. It’s people like Eric that are helping learn, grow, and develop as a backcountry skier and I’m grateful that he and his peers are willing to take me out and show me around.
After about two weeks in Montana, I saw more snow headed to Jackson and thus, it was time to move on. Several hours into my drive however, I hit a road closure in 30 miles past West Yellowstone. I didn’t expect it to last too long and it was early in the day, so I tried to wait it out. That didn’t go very well. Five hours later I was still stuck there. I tried to turn around and head back to West Yellowstone, but it was such a gnarly whiteout that I literally could not see a foot past the windshield of the van. And thus, I was stranded and waited out the storm until the next day. I didn’t have much food which kind of sucked, but I did have cell service and proceeded to binge watch Season 1 of Yellowstone. As they say, when in Yellowstone..