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A Brief History of the Dirtbag Ball



By Scotty Savage Contributor

Big Sky Ski Patrol’s Dirtbag Ball, and its accompanying wild, wooly—and sometimes scandalous—festivities have been going on more than three decades. Here, Scotty Savage, a Dirtbag expert himself, interviews “Father Dirtbag,” patrol veteran Jon “Yunce” Ueland. Yunce has attended every Dirtbag Powder 8 competition in the event’s 32-year history, and more than 25 Dirtbag Balls.

Yunce, take us back to the beginning – when was the inaugural Dirtbag Ball?

The first Dirtbag Ball was in the spring of 1979 at Buck’s T4. Patrollers David Stutzman and Mike Meyers hatched the idea to host a party at Buck’s as a fundraiser. The patrol used the money to buy rescue equipment, gear for the patrol shacks, and to pay for our end-of-the-year celebration.

Has there been a Dirtbag Ball every year?

The patrol and management weren’t getting along so well in 1982, so we thought that might be the last one because most of the patrol might not be back the next year. The Bridger Bowl patrol called us and asked if they could have a Dirtbag Ball, since ours might be ending, so that’s how theirs got started. In true Dirtbag fashion, we didn’t keep our word and had one the next year anyway. So yes, there’s been a Dirtbag every year.

How did the name “Dirtbag” come about?

Terry Onslow and Hambone (Hamilton George Strayer III) used to work as patrollers in Stowe, Vermont. The Stowe patrol gave a yearly award for the patroller who did the dumbest thing at work – a bag of dirt. The award became known as the Dirtbag award. Since the term also described the locals who lived to ski and party every day, it was a great fit for a party.

A Dirtbag King and Queen are crowned each year – how are they chosen?

Someone needs to ski hard every day, and it helps if they are having fun at night too. For years you had to live in Big Sky and be a skier (not a snowboarder), but unfortunately that’s changed. To vote, all the patrollers go into a small room just before midnight at the Dirtbag Ball and yell for the candidates they want. Whoever gets the loudest yells becomes the new King and Queen.

Tell me about the Dirtbag 8’s.

That started sometime in the ‘80s, back when powder 8 competitions were all the rage. Only ours wasn’t quite as serious. You get judged on skiing, but costume and attitude are just as important. You’re also allowed to bribe the judges.

Any particularly fond memories of the 8’s?

People are there to have fun, and a lot of the costumes are memorable. John Kircher (former general manager of Big Sky Resort) frequently attended the Dirtbag festivities and used to ski in the 8’s. One year, he dressed up as the pope and his partner (Scott Bowen, former mountain manager) dressed up as a priest. They had a really good time that year.

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