By Doug Hare EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – This winter at Big Sky Resort was one for the record books. The snow came early and did not seem to let up all season long, culminating with a bluebird weekend for Pond Skim on April 21, when the Mountain Village swelled with celebratory skiers and riders.
The ski area closed April 22 with an impressive upper mountain base depth of 123 inches.
“It’s the best winter season I’ve seen in 35 years. Great snow from the beginning until the end. Big Sky is always consistent for snow, but this was an exception on the high end,” wrote Taylor Middleton, general manager of Big Sky Resort, in an email to EBS. “Very few cold or warm spells made it even better. And all that snow combined with slim snowfall south of us, more air seats into Bozeman, and a growing community led us to record-breaking visitation.”
Although the resort wouldn’t release the final skier-visit tally when EBS went to press April 25, it’s expected that number will easily eclipse the 1/2-million mark for the first time in Big Sky’s history.
“We didn’t just break the skier visitation record-we shattered it,” said Chelsi Moy, public relations manager for the resort. The previous record was set last season with more than 478,000 skier visits. Notably, the resort was open a week later than most past ski seasons. Moy also highlighted two additional indicators of an exceptional winter of snowfall: most of the south-facing A-Z Chutes were open throughout the season, and more people skied the seldom-opened Little Couloir than ever before.
“It was so close to the record amount of snowfall for the season,” said Bob Dixon, ski patrol director for nearly four decades. “This winter ended up with the third most snowfall the resort has ever had, just inches away from the 2005-2006 season. And if we had been open one more day, we would have been an inch away from the all-time record set in 1996-1997.”
For anglers, whitewater enthusiasts and backcountry skiers, the future looks promising.
“The snowpack is still building, even in late April. There has been some runoff, but the freezing temperatures at night help the snow melt more slowly, which is something that is good both in terms of reduced avalanche danger and consistent runoff throughout early spring,” said Doug Chabot, director of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center.
Chabot added that with the Gallatin River watershed at 140 percent of average snow water equivalent, it bodes well for healthy streams and good fishing in southwest Montana during the upcoming summer months. Snow water equivalent is a measurement referring to the depth of water that would theoretically result if you melted the entire snowpack instantaneously.
Two other resorts in the region also experienced above average snowfall seasons and record-breaking skier visits. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort boasted 634,500 visits this season, and Whitefish Mountain Resort also set a record with 328,000 skier visits. This winter in the Northern Rockies will likely be remembered for years to come.