Big Sky and Yellowstone Ski Trip

As many of you have probably seen on Facebook, I went on my annual ski trip last week! My two best friends from California and I have gone to Mammoth and Whistler in past years, but this year it was time for Montana 🙂 We planned this trip before I moved and I was SO looking forward to spending time with the boys and getting out on the slopes! Traveling from Greensboro, NC to Bozeman, MT was an adventure. Especially going through Chicago (ORD). In the snow. We had to use de-icing spray on the plane to take-off. This California girl was thinking “WTF. Just get me to Bozeman”, lol. I landed before the guys and enjoyed sitting by the fireplace while I waited. Once they arrived we got our (free upgrade) Expedition, which was WAY too big for three people, but it turned out to be great for our equipment!

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We got groceries, picked up our condo keys, grabbed our equipment for the week, and had some mediocre barbecue for dinner. Our place was super close to the slopes, which was the point, but it was also fairly small. We settled into our studio (with a murphy bed and sofa bed for sleeping, lol) and headed to bed fairly early? Morning one we were all (especially me) quite pleased that the weather was in the mid to upper 30s. After bundling up, we skied ALL DAY. From 9:30am to 4:15pm. Snow was in pretty good condition, great for me! I’m not an icy skier, it’s harder on your legs and edges. Especially since I hadn’t skied any yet this season. But we all held up well and had a blast. At lunchtime we paused at the Lone Peak Cafe at the base of the mountain. One disappointment that continued throughout the week was the lack of on-slope amenities. But I guess it added to the rustic, Montana charm 🙂 For dinner after showers, we cooked up a delicious pasta-beef-salad dinner before playing games long into the night.

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Day two we set out with the goal to explore the right side of the map. One minor snag was that we didn’t really know how to get there… and we ended up essentially cross-country skiing on downhill skis for a bit. Other than that, day two was another amazing day of skiing and we even got some sunshine in the afternoon! For lunch we checked out Whiskey Jack’s bar and grill, which was better than the cafe and the tacos really hit the spot. We skied harder this day, tackling some un-groomed blues and even escaping into the trees! Everyone was skiing really well and we did another full day on the slopes with no injuries (yay!).

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That evening… I think by now we are at Friday… X had some work to do so Sean and I decided to seek out hot tub options around town. We learned that the Huntley Lodge right across the street had a spa with a heated outdoor pool and hot tubs. After wandering through the underground tunnel, we acted like we knew what we were doing and walked right in unnoticed. It was a great facility and we enjoyed relaxing after a second long day on the slopes. Then it was back home for another amazing dinner (these guys spoil me, but I’m a really good sous chef) of chicken curry. Poor X had more work, so Sean and I hit the town to check out one of the free concerts going on as part of the weekend’s blue grass festival. The band was really chill and it was nice to see what happens in Big Sky after the slopes close (bonfires, music, food… the usual ski bum life).

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Saturday was our last day of downhill in Big Sky, so we set out to cover as many new slopes as possible, which was easy since that place is HUGE. And it had snowed overnight so there was fresh powder to be had! Unfortunately, with the snow came gusting wind and several of the lifts were closed. Boo. We managed to get over to a new part of the mountain and made first tracks on a huge section of slope. But visibility was almost zero, between the wind and the snow and the low light. We pulled up at one point above a drop, and determined that we needed to keep speed to then cross the flats below. The line I chose was not the right one, and I didn’t see a steeper drop followed by an abrupt rise. Basically, my body folded in half into the far slope and I crumbled to the ground… losing all speed and one ski. My elbow hurt and my body was shaken but, with help from X, I got re-situated and skied down to meet Sean at the base. I was in pain. But nothing like my knee last year in Whistler!

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After the crash, we quickly learned that we were trapped on a small number of warm, almost slushy slopes. Luckily, a cowboy (bellhop) from the Huntley Lodge was dropping some people off and offered us a ride back to the main part of the mountain. We cruised tons of perfectly groomed slopes and even experimented with some moguls and blacks. My elbow was only painful when I fully straightened it, or put too much pole pressure on it. So I was good to go for the most part! We did make reservations for a fancy, slope-side meal at Everett’s (located at 8800 ft). The meal was over the top, but probably the second-best meal of the trip. I had an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich with an egg, apples, and some fancy kind of cheese on a sourdough-like bread. It was awesome! At the end of the ski day, we turned in our downhill equipment then drove straight to the other rental place in lower village to pick up our nordic skis for Sunday.

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We had booked a snow coach trip with See Yellowstone from West Yellowstone (an hour south of Big Sky) into Yellowstone National Park and added on a short cross-country ski section. After a late night out Saturday at another blue grass concert (this time with X!), we were all a bit tired when our 6am alarm went off. Admittedly, I was the slowest moving because my arm and back/shoulder muscles were on fire from my fall the day before. I was so stiff and I think the guys had coffee brewed before I was even out of bed. But we made it to West Yellowstone in time to hop in the snow coach and drive into the park. We were SO fortunate on this trip to see a ton of animals. Elk, coyote, bobcats, bald eagles, and of course bison. It was a long day with the tour lasting from 8:30 to 5:30, but I think it was absolutely worth it! Especially since we hopped out a few miles shy of Old Faithful to cross-country ski through the geyser fields. Not only did we get to stretch our legs, but we got to see more of the thermal features!

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We made it in to Old Faithful with a few minutes to spare before the eruption, which was just as amazing as it was decades ago when my family visited. We met back up with the group, loaded our equipment, grabbed a quick bison brat for lunch and headed back out. We didn’t get very far before we had issues though. The road had melted through to mud in several sections because of the unusually warm winter weather. This jacked up the tread on our snow coach and we were soon stuck. As we waited for help to arrive, we hung out with the nearby bison herd and cat-napped. We were picked up by Andy in another (bigger) snow coach and made it back to West Yellowstone fairly on time. Then we had to get our equipment back to Big Sky before closing, which wasn’t a problem. We rewarded ourselves with an AMAZING barbecue dinner “for two” at the Riverhouse restaurant. It was a sample platter with brisket, pork, chicken, sausage, and I don’t even know what else. Oh, and sides of beans, cornbread, coleslaw, and a corn mixture. So good. So, so good.

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Big Sky Trip 371Post-dinner we cruised the rest of the way up to Belgrade (where Bozeman Airport is) and checked into our Quality Inn for the night. The boys had a ridiculously early flight, so we wanted to be close. Monday morning we all got up, I dropped them at the airport, and then went back to the hotel to sleep for four more hours. Then I checked out, dropped the rental car and checked in for my flight. By this time they had already had a layover in Seattle and were well on their way to San Diego. Lucky them! I had a connection in Chicago again, but it was warmer this time so no icing issues. I finally landed in Greensboro about 10pm and drove the hour and half home to Wake Forest. I was exhausted but I was happy. This trip was great on so many levels and I can’t wait to see where we end up going next year (Colorado? Utah? The Alps?).

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