By Mike Mannelin, Big Sky Weekly Columnist
I woke up early from four hours of sleep knowing it was my last day in Big Sky for the season. The boots went on without a thought, and I was out the door.
My mission for the day was to ski the Big Couloir, then start the drive to Alaska. Approaching the top ramp of the Triple Chair, I automatically looked over my right shoulder to check the tramline. It was a Saturday, and I was surprised there were only a handful of people waiting on the stairs.
During the four-minute ride up to the summit of Lone Peak, I stared out the window of the tram, wondering just how good the snow would be in the couloir. I set down my skis and walked up to the summit shack to see what was going on.
The first group of two had already signed out and was heading out the door. My buddy Chad was sitting on one of the familiar magazine covered picnic tables in the shack, hoping to find a partner. I was alone, so my timing was perfect. We both walked over to the sign out sheet to set our tee time (a scheduled Big Couloir lap). Fifteen minutes later, we walked out the door and hiked up to the Moonlight shack to put our gear on and head to the entrance.
Atop the Big, I looked over the tips of my skis where the steeper entrance gave way to the rest of the run. We decided on the easier, lower entrance, and Chad hopped in, carefully making his way through the first constriction to the good snow below. We skied out the Secret Entrance in creamy powder and back to the tram.
This time the line had grown to about a four car wait. As we slowly made our way to the stairs, we watched as two patrollers hiked up into the Ballroom (a steep shot of rarely skied powder in the bottom of the Little Couloir). The snow was flying, and the patrollers were sinking up to their knees as they skied one at a time. Chad and I instantly knew that we needed to get in on some of that action.
Shane and Justin beat us to the punch, signing out just as they opened the Ballroom. The patrol explained that if we waited an extra 15 minutes, another group would go through the Couloir, allowing the boys in the Ballroom enough time to come out the bottom. We decided it would be worth the wait and let another group go ahead of us, timing our run so that we could hike up in there too.
I snapped a couple photos of Chad as he dropped into the top of the Big again, this time riding past the Dogleg to the Secret Entrance. We skied over to the boot pack in the bottom of the Little Couloir and strapped our gear onto our packs for the hike. It took us about 20 minutes on the snow covered boot pack before we were looking down on the tramline from the base of the rock cliff. As we were shuffling our gear, a steady stream of snow blew down off the cliffs above us, infiltrating our collars and gloves like we were standing under a waterfall.
We safely got back into our gear and each took a turn harvesting the sheltered powder that had collected in the steep couloir. As I skied out of the bottom, I cruised by the tramline for one last goodbye to friends who were waiting for the same thing.
Coasting down the groomer towards the base area, I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. With my rearview mirror display of Lone Peak getting smaller, I felt lucky to have skied the Ballroom for my last lap with Chad as my partner.