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On Opening Day for the 2021-22 ski season, resort officials unveiled the new Swift Current 6 chairlift, the fastest six-person lift in North America. PHOTO BY JOSEPH T. O'CONNOR

As Big Sky Resort unveils new lift on Opening Day, gratefulness abounds

By Joseph T. O’Connor EBS Editor-in-Chief

BIG SKY – At 9:07 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, the first riders on what is now the fastest six-person chairlift in North America unloaded at the top terminal on Jay Walk at Big Sky Resort. They were all smiles on this first day of the 2021-2022 ski season.

And why not be grateful? The resort’s new Swift Current 6 chairlift dumped them at mid-Lone Mountain in exactly seven minutes, nearly half the time of the old Swift Current quad chair, which ran for 25 years.

It was a momentous occasion for Opening Day this year. After announcing a massive upgrade in snowmaking ability at the resort, which allowed Big Sky to open three aerial lifts, servicing 106 acres of skiable terrain today, resort officials cut the ribbon on the historic ski lift and General Manager Troy Nedved welcomed skiers and snowboarders waiting in the snaking base-area lift line for the chair to load.

“Today is extremely momentous,” Nedved told the crowd. “Opening on Thanksgiving Day is a tradition here at Big Sky Resort; lots of familiar faces so thanks for being here and sharing it with us.”

Riders didn’t wait long once they began loading, the base area cleared in a matter of minutes. With a maximum speed of six meters per second, or 1,200 feet per minute, Swift Current 6 joins the fastest lifts in the country and marks a revolution for the ski lift industry as a whole. 

First chair, Swift Current 6: Big Sky Resort General Manager Troy Nedved preps to join the line (from L): 2021 Dirtbag King Ted Shred, Queen Michelle Clark-Conley, Grady Towle, 2003 Dirtbag Queen Julie Towle, Poppy Towle. PHOTO BY JONATHAN STONE / BIG SKY RESORT

“The ride itself is a Cadillac,” said Julie Towle, the Dirtbag Queen of 2003 who, along with her kids Grady and Poppy, were among the first six to experience the new Swift Current 6 lift. “It’s gorgeous,” added Towle, a Big Sky resident of 22 years and the 2003 Dirtbag Queen. “It was warm it was fast and the way you get off is top notch.

Joining the Towles on the lift’s first chair were Nedved along with 2021 Dirtbag King Ted McClanahan, better known as “Ted Shred,” and Queen Michelle Clark-Conley.

The unload area is made to pour skiers—at a jaw-dropping rate of 3,000 per hour—directly onto Jay Walk, the cat track at the top of the lift, to keep skier traffic flowing and disperse them across the resort’s nearly 6,000 skiable acres. The bottom lift terminal design was also strategic. Constructed approximately 40 feet further up the hill, it affords additional breathing room in the base area.

Overlooking the new Swifty 6 base terminal starting at 8 a.m., DJs Take a Chance and Jenn N’ Juice set the rhythm for the day and Bozeman’s MAP Brewing Co. unveiled its new Swifty Session Pale Ale, pouring complimentary tasters until the kegs were kicked.

The celebratory mood was infectious and the gratefulness flowed across the resort.

Curt Sundeen moved to Big Sky and began his career as a lift operator in 1986. Now a ski guide and instructor at the resort after four seasons at the Yellowstone Club, Sundeen was all smiles.

“Opening Day is my favorite day of the year, it’s Thanksgiving,” Sundeen said. “Gratefulness is everything to me. My life is so good.”

There is much to be grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day. Especially in Big Sky, Montana.  

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