By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com managing editor

MONTANA – When Cory Birkenbuel
woke up on Nov. 27 his porch
was on fire. He grabbed a couple of
things and ran.
The entire house burned, and Birkenbuel
lost almost everything he owned,
but was unharmed. He could have been
devastated, but the 33-year-old Dillon
native looked at the bright side instead.
“I gained so much through that with
love and support from the Dillon community.
And I had [the Montana Sweet
16] project to look forward to, so I had
to keep going.”
Birkenbuel’s senior project at University
of Montana-Western’s business
administration school was to ski all of
Montana’s 16 ski areas in 16 days, i.e.
Montana Sweet 16.
So, he took off for Big Sky on Jan.
1 with Kevin Hilton, an MSU film
student and a childhood ski friend from
Maverick Mountain.
On day two, he skied the North Summit
Snowfield with Moonlight Basin’s
Erik Morrison.
“That was a challenge for me,”
Birkenbuel said. “It pushed me as
a skier, mentally and physically. It
made me a better person.”
The boys got into their first pow –
der, at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
The dry weather the previous nine
days didn’t stop
them from having fun.
“Everywhere
we go people
are welcoming.
Everything has
been positive.”
As they traveled,
they spread
the word about
their mission via
Facebook, gaining
hundreds
of followers
quickly.
When they
arrived at Bear
Paw, on the
Rocky Boy
Indian Reservation
on Jan. 7,
the area didn’t have enough snow
to open yet. But Team Sweet 16
hiked and skied it anyways. The
Chippewa Cree’s love of skiing was
impressive, Birkenbuel said.
“Those people have passion like no
other. It’s really cool that a bunch of
volunteers are there to ski and keep
that mountain open. We know it’ll
snow and they’ll open.”
By day 10 they’d driven 2,400
miles, their stoke was still growing,
and their legs were still running
strong.
“It’s been so much fun to ski a day,
get in the car and drive to the next
hill,” Birkenbuel said. “We’re addicted
to it right now.”
Red Lodge, Showdown, Bear Paw,
Teton Pass, Turner Mountain,
Whitefish Mountain, Lookout Pass
and Montana Snowbowl were all
new spots for Birkenbuel.
And although 2011 ended on a
rocky note, 2012 has been easy, he
said. “Skiing is what I do because I
love it. I’m here for a reason, and I
have to share that energy with ev –
eryone. This is the biggest opportu –
nity of my life.”
They’ve been filming the tour, and
plan to launch a website promot –
ing Montana ski areas this summer.
After all, the ultimate goal is to
inspire others.
“I hope I make people jealous. I
want them to say, ‘Hey, I wanna go
do this. I’ve gotta go skiing.”