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Moonlight Basin clears Headwaters for hikers on Opening Day

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By Joseph T. O’Connor Big Sky Weekly Editor

MOONLIGHT BASIN – This is how opening day should be.

Moonlight Basin Ski Resort opened to season pass holders on Friday, Dec. 7 with seven inches of new snow, and lifted the rope for hikers shortly after 10 a.m. to ride Headwaters terrain.

Pass holders jammed the parking lot, seeking powder they’ve been waiting to ride since the end of last season.

“I was stoked for opening day!” said Kruin Seibert, a native of West Yellowstone, booting up in the lot. “And then we had fresh snow on top of it – this is going to be one of the better opening days.”

Seibert’s friend Cam Carlsley, also from West, gave a thumbs-up.

“The first thing I did this morning was check the snow report. Then I smiled,” Carlsley said.

The mountain opened with the Iron Horse and Pony lifts, the terrain park boasting 23 terrain features available to session. But access to the Headwaters had everybody talking.

“We got lucky the way the snow fell,” said Kevin “Sheriff” Retchless, a 10-year veteran of Moonlight’s ski patrol and the assistant director. “It’s filled in up there.”

“We’ve had teams [in the Headwaters] for the last week doing control routes,” he added, saying on opening day patrollers completed full routes. “It’s not bottomless, but it’s good.”

In Moonlight Lodge, Ryan Gosse, a game warden in Ennis, was stretching his legs, waiting for the lifts to spin.

Gosse said it felt early for Moonlight to open Headwaters, the rugged, north-facing terrain, but knew ski patrol wouldn’t open it unless it was safe.

“They do a hell of a job up here,” he said. “And that’s the truth.”

Pass holders waited patiently for Iron Horse lift operators to begin loading chairs, and off-duty ski patroller Shawn Orloff, of Bozeman was first in line. This is his fifth year owning a pass at Moonlight.

This early in the season, rocks abound, but most folks weren’t worried.

“We’ve heard reports of more [than seven inches of] snow, but we can’t disclose where it is,” said John Stebbins, a fourth-year pass holder second in line. “It’s looking good though. There’s a potential for face shots!”

For Earl and Patty Randall from Placerville, Calif., this was their first opening day experience at Moonlight Basin. Each year they move to a different ski resort for the season.

“We’ve gone from Heavenly (Calif.) to Deer Valley (Utah) and now we’re here,” Patty Randall said. “Maybe we’ll go to Colorado next.”

She glanced up the chair line, as lifties loaded Orloff and his friends on the first chair, and the crowd gave a howl.

“Or maybe we’ll stay here forever,” she said, smiling, and poled her way up a few spaces.

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