Story and photos by Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

Video by Chris Davis Explorebigsky.com videographer

The first chair on Ramcharger on opening day at Big Sky was packed with locals. So was the chair behind them, which included the 2001 dirtbag king, and a human-sized turkey on skis.

The king was here, he said, because he couldn’t afford to go anywhere else. The smile on his face made it clear there was nowhere else he’d rather be. The turkey just said ‘gobble, gobble.’

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In fact, at least three quarters of the first 50 people riding Ramcharger on that warm, cloudy Thanksgiving Day were loyal Big Sky locals. The crowd cheered enthusiastically, looking forward to their first turns of the year on Tippy’s Tumble.

Those not from Big Sky included a posse of MSU kids chomping at the bit, and the Eck brothers from Pennsylvania (although one was spending a month in Bozeman for a medical school elective and the other had been in Darby, Mont. all summer).

“It’s great to see smiling faces and friends we haven’t seen in six months,” said Mountain Manager Mike Unruh.

The mountain was alive again.

“Amazing!” said local ripper Mike Mannelin, back for another year and breathless from running up the hill to the lift in excitement.

By 9:45, Jesse and Eileen Coil had already taken three runs and were “extremely psyched” to be back on the snow. “The energy today is good, even though the conditions are variable,” Eileen said.

Explorer was also running, with Mr. K groomed and in prime condition. The Swifty 2.0 terrain park was popular, and the zipline ran a party through mid-day.

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More than 20 kids and adults participated in snow sports classes—more than the last couple of years, according to director Christine Baker. She was enthusiastic about an expanded beginner area this year, and continued kids programs.

The feeling that opening day was an annual reunion was a theme through the hundreds of skiers on the hill that day.

“It’s a family tradition,” said Tate Niese, referring both to seeing old friends, and to the many families he imagined had driven from far away to ski over Thanksgiving weekend. “It’s a great way to bring people together.”

Watch the video by Chris Davis: