By Sean Forbes Explorebigsky.com contributor
I’ve got nothing against chairlifts. Actually, I like them – especially when they stop on the top of something like Lone Mountain.
That said, some days I skip that left-hand turn to Big Sky and hang a right before Moonlight Basin. After passing the first few houses though, sometimes I wonder where I’m going, and in a Frostian moment pondering the possibilities of two roads diverging in a forest, I wonder if I’ve made the right choice.
Even then, and assuming I could also avoid pinballing my way down the last steep hill toward the Beehive Basin Trailhead, the skiing would probably still be worth it.
Aside from the irony of marking the miles into the wilderness by passing houses – and thanking those homeowners for the easement across their property that allows this access – there is nothing else about my sweat-inducing, breath-heaving trudge that can be described with poetry. Although, the gently undulating, pine-cloaked hills are an interesting contradiction, since this is quite literally someone’s backyard.
For the entire approach, the ragged alpine ridgeline wrapping round the basin appears as a stony crown, Beehive Peak the prize jewel. The view, as well as the skiing, only gets grander with the elevation gain.
The last time I took this road less traveled, my choose-your-own-style adventure led to the top of one of the nearer rock-lined chutes on the eastern wall of the vale. As the pine forest thinned, the occasional stalwart angling against the steepness, the final push uphill didn’t take much longer than the average lift ride – though the pain that burns at random through my legs and lungs reminded me of the advantages of the cabled chairs.
With climbing skins stowed and sun streaming down, the untouched snow between the trees and bony ribs of rock dropping away beneath my ski tips was the blank canvas of powder every skier dreams of. And at that moment, on that day, that look was not deceiving.
Of course the first run was amazing, but it’s the second – out here anyway – that gets me. There is always another fresh line, and never a reason to follow anyone else.
Dropping in again and picking up speed, wending wide turns through a maze of tiny trees, powder billowed up my shins over my knees, washing against my chest and over my shoulders. A couple of the pockets I dipped into were deep enough for me to disappear completely.
This is everything I want in pristine powder turns.
Nearer the bottom, when I came into a roller carrying too much speed and couldn’t see the backside, time seemed to stop.
In that weightless moment of peaceful flight, the whole ordeal of slinking around on sticks, going up and down made the most sense. For that quick span, I had no other earthly concern but skiing. It didn’t matter if I sunk my tips, double ejected and landed like a lawn dart a few body lengths down the mountain or stuck it like a champ.
When my skis finally touched down, I found that the extra cushion of untracked snow hid my wallowing on the landing, and that made all the difference.
Sean Forbes is a freelance writer based in Bozeman, where chasing stories only occasionally gets in the way of playing in the mountains.
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