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Local Look Back: Childhood summers in the canyon

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By Paul Swenson EBS Contributor

My early memories of Big Sky revolve around my family’s cabin near the Cinnamon Lodge, or Almart to the old timers. My parents bought it in the summer of 1970 when I was between second and third grades. My Mom, my sisters, and I would move up there from Bozeman the day school let out, and would head back Labor Day weekend. Dad would drive back and forth to MSU for the week.

In the summer of 1971, my father was driving up the canyon and saw the construction of a new road up the West Fork. He looked into it and found out it was for a ski hill and golf course. I remember his reaction like it was yesterday:

“They are building a road for a ski hill! Who the hell is ever going to come this far from nowhere to go skiing?” After several seasons of the resort losing money, he thought his prediction of failure might come true. Then Big Sky Resort was sold to Boyne, and the resort turned a corner.

Several decades later, when Big Sky was thriving, my father pursued an idea, decades in the making, to develop a research institute in Big Sky focusing on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. He approached several influential community members, research faculty at MSU, and Big Sky Resort, and to his astonishment, the creation of the Big Sky Institute progressed at a very rapid pace. Within a couple years, the BSI gala was one of the premier fundraising events in Big Sky.

I was lucky enough to attend several of those galas. They were held in the meadow where Ophir School now sits, in a huge white tent full of residents eating food, listening and dancing to music, and outbidding one another during live auctions. Those events would almost outshine the beautiful summer evenings on which they were held.

Dad was always amazed by the enthusiasm, generosity and engagement of the community. Unfortunately, in the long run, BSI did not materialize, but the memories of swing dancing to Montana Rose with my wife, meeting new people excited about my father’s dream, and experiencing the willingness and commitment of Big Sky’s residents to try something new, remain vivid.

I hope that all people that come to Big Sky get to experience the uniqueness of our community, not only the scenery and outdoor activities, but the forward-thinking, dedicated, and generous people that make Big Sky home.

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