Hundred Days: Road Tripping to Big Sky and Moonlight Basin
02/16/14 – Road Tripping to Big Sky and Moonlight Basin
Written and Photographed By: Stephen Williams
When it comes to snowboarding, I have definitely become attached to the terrain around Jackson Hole. A couple days a season at Grand Targhee Resort, a few dozen more in the backcountry of Teton Pass and Grand Teton National Park, the oft nights of skiing at Snow King, and the remainder of my season is spent riding the big red heli to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. Having a pass to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort through work for the last 8 seasons, my riding at the Village is already paid for through the 40 plus hours a week of my choosing that I spend at my desk. Traveling for snowboarding has become a distant memory of road trips that I used to take to Colorado and Utah before moving to Jackson. When the Coldsmoke Film Tour came through Jackson in the beginning of December, the idea of taking a trip to cover the Coldsmoke Awards show in Bozeman was born. Memories of packing a weekends worth of gear, food and beer into a car with some good friends, crashing on an acquaintances couch or floor, and riding new chairlift accessed terrain for the first time flooded my mind and I was immediately game.
The last time I went to Bozeman was for a beer festival in the spring a few years back, I remember being amazed at how quick the drive was. Just under four hours up the road, the turn-off to Big Sky was even a little closer. I assumed the drive would take a bit longer in winter conditions, especially after the storm that rolled through the second weekend of January. The car was packed, Ellie, Marian and I headed out, and only sporadically encountered icy road conditions over Teton Pass, around West Yellowstone, and along the Gallatin River. The road was clearer than expected and the drive, thanks to good company, went by quickly. We turned off the highway and headed up the Big Sky road past the Mountain Meadows and towards the far end at Moonlight Basin. The sky was clear and moon almost full, and the silhouette of Lone Peak was visible against the night sky. A small light at the top of the tram confirmed the height of the mountain, and I immediately saw that the terrain at Big Sky and Moonlight Basin was of a much bigger scale than I expected. We took the road until it ended at the Moonlight Basin lodge and met an old friend and coworker just as he was finishing his shift at the Jack Creek Grille. Having not seen my man Catfish since college, I was pleasantly surprised when he offered us a place to crash. We caught up over a few late night beers at the lodge and discussed the day of skiing that would greet us in the morning.
We awoke to a crystal clear, bluebird day and my old friend remarked over coffee about the opportunity to see a little piece of home later in the day. “With these conditions, we might be able to see the Tetons from the top of the Tram,” Catfish said as we got our gear together. “B.S. man,” I replied packing my up camera bag for the day. “There is no way we can see all the way to Wyoming from up here.” We again set off up the road to Moonlight Basin and my visions of the terrain were confirmed in the daylight. I became excited seeing the bands of chutes and couloirs falling off of Lone Peak and could only imaging how different my mind state would have been on a powder day.
We started the day off on the Moonlight Basin side of the resort I was immediately introduced to how expansive the ski area was. After acquiring Moonlight Basin this past fall, Big Sky now boasts the largest acreage of ski resort in the country. Aside from a few operational matters, the two resorts now act as one entity accessible from a single lift ticket. The dollar value of a day of skiing has essentially doubled, but all this terrain couldn’t be covered in a single weekend, let alone a single season of regular exploration. We were happy to have a local guide that could lead us around, as we set out the other side of the mountain to begin our ascent to the base of the tram. After linking a couple of chair rides together, we stood above treeline and got in line to ride the 20 person Lone Peak Tram. As we waited, we gaped around at the variety of terrain that flows from the top of the peak. The Gullies, the Crons, Big Couloir, Little Couloir, the A to Z chutes, this mountain is no joke. Jackson Hole is certainly known for its steep and challenging terrain, and Big Sky boasts a nearly comparable amount of chutes and couloirs.
Getting to the top of Lone Peak, I hopped off and immediately looked to the southeast. Lo and behold to my surprise, we could see the outline of the Teton range rising above the mist of some distant clouds. A sense of geographic clarity came to me as I traced the path from those distant peaks to our current location and realized that despite the expanse of mountains and valleys between us, Big Sky and Jackson Hole are much closer than you expect. Apparently, the saying “I can see your Tetons from here,” is pretty common, and the crystal clear sky showed us that you can see a lot more than that on the 360 degree panorama from the top of Lone Peak.
We made a few more laps exploring the Big Sky terrain before wrapping around the mountain to the shady side and Moonlight Basin. Nicknamed the Dark Side for a reason, the sun immediately dropped behind the ridge as we moved to the north facing exposure and found a few runs that had escaped the melt and refreeze process. Considering it hadn’t snowed it weeks, the snow wasn’t quite soft, but definitely carvable off the groomed runs. Riding the Six Shooter lift gave us plenty of time to stare up at the Headwaters area, where a Freeride World Qualifier event will be held in April in which our writer and contributor Rachel Fortier will be competing in. We ended the afternoon at the Jack Creek Grille again for a couple apres beverages before rushing to get ready to head to Bozeman for the Coldsmoke Awards. Our experience in Big Sky reminded me of how much fun road tripping to go snowboarding really can be, and the proximity of Big Sky will definitely make it easy to keep on the radar for a future trip.
I can see your Tetons from here