By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

Big Sky is coming into its own as a year-round destination, and our summers are growing with all the fervor of a hydroponic tomato under ultraviolet light. Our “off seasons” are now “shoulder seasons,” and traffic through Gallatin Canyon is often slower in summer than winter. But despite summer’s welcomed growth, nothing beats the time of year when there is barely an empty bed, untouched line on the slopes, or an open seat in a restaurant. We know it as Christmas week.

We talk about it over beer at the brewery, in line at the grocery store, or while grabbing coffee, riding up the Swift Current lift, and hanging out at Thursday night music in the park. If you live and work in Big Sky, you are well aware of this particular week and a half.

And not only do these conversations know no seasonality, the preparation for it doesn’t either.

Here at Buck’s, our preparation for the next holiday season begins in early January. It usually begins with meetings during which we analyze our challenges and successes of the recent holiday, and try to assess what we need to do now to be better prepared for the next one.

One of the challenges that many of us in hospitality face, not only in Big Sky, but in similar communities throughout the Rockies, is that early winter can be one of the quietest periods. And then literally, in a matter of a couple of days, some of our slowest days are followed by our busiest.

Imagine taking your first ski run of the year by descending the fastest, steepest part of the mountain. Sure, many of you will succeed, but if something goes wrong, you will know it—painfully and quickly.

In the final days leading up to this annual challenge, we have what seem to be countless conversations with our brethren around town in those same stores, breweries and lift lines. We all ask each other the same question: “Well, are you ready?”

As those precious few days draw near, we begin preparing our minds for what is to come. I am in the ears of new team members on a daily basis, coaching, encouraging, organizing and preparing them in every way possible for what is to come.

As former boxer Mike Tyson famously said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

There is nothing like that first night of a restaurant up and running at full speed. We always joke that the Buck’s kitchen is like a train. It may not always start instantly, but once our establishment is humming with cooks, dishwashers, bartenders, hosts and waitstaff, I fear for anyone that gets in its way.

And so, another Christmas has come and gone in Big Sky. Restaurant staff are taking a breath, employees are taking to the slopes again, and everyone is putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.

But I have to admit, stressful as it is, it is this energy, volume, and the precision demanded to avoid chaos, that drives many of us in the industry. It is how I cut my teeth in this business and, after every holiday season, I reflect on my former mentors and ask myself if we would have met their standards. Thanks to an amazing crew, I can usually answer “yes” to this question.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.