By Jimmy Lewis Explorebigsky.com Contributor
On a Thursday morning in January, I eagerly began calling the local snow phones. The National Weather Service had forecast a major winter storm for Southwest Montana, including the Bozeman and Big Sky area.
First, Big Sky: “…We received an inch of new snow…”
Next, Bridger Bowl: “…with two inches of new snow…”
Are you kidding me? Not again! We were supposed to get over 20 inches. Like so many times before, I woke with the hope of a raging snowstorm, several inches of snow on the ground, and glowing snow phone reports, only to be disappointed.
As my disappointment grew into palpable frustration, my wife, not a skier, sat nearby and watched with a mixture of concern and amusement.
“Maybe the storm hit up north,” she offered. “What’s that place called? The one up past White Sulphur Springs?”
…Showdown, I thought. “Showdown!”
Not knowing whether Showdown even had a snow phone or not, I dialed the first number I found in my frantic web search.
“Hello” came a voice, in a not-quite-up-and-awake-yet tone.
Awkwardly I responded, “Yes, hello. Is this the Showdown Ski…,” I thought for a moment. Resort? Mountain?
“Yeah. What do want? It’s early,” came the craggy response.
“Well, I’m a skier from Bozeman trying to get a snow report if you have one” I responded timidly. The person on the other end ignited like he’d been hit with an epi-pen.
“Oh, man! You’ve got to call in sick today and get up here! It’s epic! You Bridger guys have no idea! (Bridger guys?) We’ve had over 18 inches and it’s supposed to keep dumping all day and into tonight! –That’s fair, accurate, and to the point!—Nobody’s here!”
An image of lonely powdery slopes somewhere in the boondocks of Montana came to mind.
“Get on Facebook, or whatever you guys use…Twitter? And tell all your friends to call in sick and get up here,” he said.
What?! A potential 20-inches-plus storm? Nobody there? “Fair-Accurate-and-to-the-point!”?
A trip to a funky little ski mountain with an insane amount of powder in the Little Belt Mountains of Central Montana was sounding better by the second. A quick text to my ski partner and a plan was made for a first-chair-style six-o’clock departure on Friday morning.
After having passed by a nearly snowless Bridger Bowl, in the breaking dawn, we drove Highway 86 up toward White Sulphur Springs, the depth of the snow increasing with each passing mile.
Gradually, the landscape began to take on the look of winter. In White Sulphur a plowed column of snow towered in the middle of main street. Cars and buildings were adorned with the white stuff, and people walked around in winter gear. But this was the town where I come to fly fish and bird hunt in the summer and fall. It started to become evident that I was opening up a new dimension in my Montana ski life.
My partner grinned and we exchanged fist-pumps as we headed north out of town into The Little Belts, and into deeper and deeper snow.
Our anxiety of making first chair and beating the crowds proved asinine. Aside from a bus of high school kids from a couple of small Hi-Line towns, the patrons adjacent to us in the parking lot included a handful of ski bums, some snowmobilers set on riding the trail network around King’s Hill, and a few other locals. I suddenly felt very happy I’d recently sent my ski jacket in for repair and was instead wearing my camouflaged hunting shell.
A $38.00 lift ticket, some friendly conversation with unhurried resort employees, and we were off to find first chair.
When we arrived at the lift, there were a total of four skiers waiting to ascend. I almost felt guilty thinking about my desperate ski friends back in Bozeman. Then, after making our first descent through over 20 inches of fresh, I braced myself for the crowded lift line that I thought was sure to come. But all day my partner and I made turns through untracked powder without ever once waiting in a lift line.
By the third run, the spirited lifty recognized us and made conversation, and other skiers shared their powder day strategies with us.
At the end of our best day of powder skiing so far this year, and after a cold beer on the tailgate, we began our journey back across the prairie. To stay awake, we picked up a hot latte in White Sulphur Springs. To our surprise, we arrived home in time for dinner. Where had we gone? What had we pulled off? It was a coup for a couple of skiers desperately seeking snow.
My disappointment and frustration had turned to inspiration, then excitement, joy, satisfaction and contentment. I’d finally realized that there is more to Montana skiing than our local world-class resorts. Showdown, you might say, is “Montana-Class” and sometimes, that’s just right.
Jimmy Lewis is a freelance writer, English teacher, and self-described omniventurer, meaning he enjoys participating in a wide variety of all things outdoors, taking special pleasure in mixing his passions into a sporting soul cocktail. He lives outside of Bozeman with his family and a passel of bird dogs, cats, horses and other sundry critters.