By Mario Carr EBS CONTRIBUTOR
Big Sky Resort unveiled its winter 2023-24 trail map on Tuesday, Sept. 26. Aside from the new Lone Peak Tram, the map shows another significant change: double-blue squares are included in the mountain’s terrain rating system and will now represent about 15% of marked terrain.
Representing “advanced intermediate” terrain, the mountain aims to offer better clarity with regards to the slope ahead. “The increased specificity gives skiers more confidence when making terrain decisions and navigating the mountain,” the resort stated in a blog update on its website. This change follows the resort’s decision to change green circle trails Safari and El Dorado to blue squares. The resort stated that this “created a cascading effect as some terrain historically rated as a single blue, such as Elk Park Ridge and Ambush, would need a recalibration to double blue/advanced intermediate to reflect their steeper pitch accurately.”
According to PR Manager Stacie Mesuda, “This was a mountain operations initiative. Big Sky Resort’s mountain operations team took on the task of evaluating our current terrain ratings and recalibrating when necessary. The rationale was to have each run category be more similar to each other.”
The changes are shown in the updated trail map for winter 2022-23.
A close inspection
Anybody who has skied terrain off the Southern Comfort chairlift at Big Sky Resort has likely witnessed a debacle on El Dorado, the lift-line trail. This former green circle—now a blue square—has a steep section right in the middle, under the chairlift. That section could cause breakdowns including panicked wipeouts as speeds increased, fits thrown by novice children and adults, and many choosing to carry their gear in their arms as they proceed to walk down the slope under the well-ridden high-speed quad. However, experienced skiers and decent human beings would not judge, understanding that El Dorado was not the easiest green-rated run at the resort.
As of now, Safari is the other green trail that has been promoted to blue for the 2023-24 winter season. Instructors in the snowsports program at the resort know just how difficult it can be to take green-level skiers down Safari, with many instructors encouraging their students by telling them that it should be rated a blue square. In fact, many of the greens at the resort present challenges that may remind all skilled skiers and riders just how difficult it can be for beginners to learn how to control their descent down a mountain. Pacifier, while it has been widened, still has its sharp right turn before heading back toward the base—and of course, Mr. K has its infamous headwall.
The ski industry’s traditional rating system of green, blue and black represent “easiest,” “more difficult,” and “most difficult.” That now presents a shortcoming in Big Sky—two runs that were once the hardest of the “easiest” runs on the mountain are likely now the easiest of the “more difficult” runs. Without the double-blue “advanced intermediate” classification, Safari and El Dorado would be competing in the same weight class as heavyweight contenders like Ambush and Elk Park Ridge.
For years, skiers at Big Sky Resort have suggested, “The blues here are like blacks at other resorts.” And while the study needed to substantiate those claims might prove to be an endless endeavor, it is certain that local blues will not be turning black any time soon, only bluer.