By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – The thermometer reads minus 6 F at 6:30 a.m. on a clear morning in Big Sky. I stand by my car and stuff my unwilling toes into ski boots alongside my coworker and adventure pal, Mira Brody. Though we are wondering what madness prodded us from our warm beds this morning, soon we will witness Lone Mountain cloaked in the glow of a Big Sky sunrise as we ascend the untouched corduroy, and the cold, early morning will be more than worth it.
In years past, Big Sky Resort has allowed uphill travel on Andesite only while the lifts were spinning. This year the resort is switching it up.
For the first time ever, the resort has begun allowing uphill travel, or alpine touring, before the lifts begin running at 9 a.m. From 6–8 a.m., skiers were allowed to skin up Hangman’s ski run, a perfect way to get early morning exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“An early morning uphill route made perfect sense this season as folks are seeking more socially distant outdoor activity,” said Troy Nedved, the resort’s general manager. “So far, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and we plan to continue this option in future seasons.”
This policy change offers a new way to get your heartrate up before heading back inside to work for the day. Though on the particular morning we chose to exercise our new uphill travel privilege, type-two fun may have been a more apt descriptor.
After getting geared up in the parking lot at the resort, we head over to the base. A quick interlude at Vista Hall provides my touring companion the chance to pour some boiling water over her frozen bindings in order to thaw them for use.
We start by the bottom of Ramcharger lift on Andesite Mountain and head up the cat track. Around us, lift operators set up the lift line mazes, and ski patrollers whiz by in red coats.
As we continue, the bustle fades, and we experience a moment of peace under the pre-dawn indigo sky. My eyelashes and Mira’s hair freeze bestowing on us an ethereal aura.
We gain elevation along with the sun and are able to glimpse some stunning Alpenglow-infused views. The freshly groomed corduroy provides some great traction for our frozen skins.
After stopping to take many photos and make minor gear adjustments, we call it quits halfway up. We are tired, cold, and most importantly, Big Sky Resort asks that all uphill travelers turn around at 8 a.m.
We transition from uphill to downhill mode roughly halfway up the run, and of course, try to capture the stunning sunrise.
The ski down is short but glorious. It is rare to have the opportunity to claim a freshly groomed run entirely to yourself.
In the future, it may be prudent to check the thermometer and plan accordingly. The mercury may have slightly misled us that morning, but the views and the turns were unparalleled.
Uphill access on Hangman’s ski run officially opened on Dec. 24, 2020 and it is free with a valid Big Sky Resort season pass or ticket media. Otherwise, skiers must purchase an uphill access-only Sky Card for $5.
The resort strongly recommends that guests bring a headlamp since, once you leave the base area, the trail is unlit. The only route available for uphill travel is Hangman’s on Andesite Mountain. This trail was chosen since it is regularly groomed, slightly less steep than Ambush, more fun than Pacifier, and, most importantly, it keeps guests out of avalanche terrain.
“Opening Hangman’s to uphill travel in the mornings fills a gap for those looking to get some skinning in without heading into the backcountry,” Stacie Mesuda, Public Relations Manager at Big Sky Resort wrote in an email to EBS. “After a quick hour of uphill travel, watching the morning alpenglow unfold on Lone Peak is breathtaking.”
The experience is breathtaking indeed, in more ways than one, and it is a great start to any day. After we wheeze our way back to the car, Mira and I agree that the morning was a great one, but next time, we will wait for some warmer temps.