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By Brian Hurlbut

Standing above the powder-filled meadow, I was just inside the northwestern border of Yellowstone National Park. The sky was cloudless, the bright sun illuminating surrounding trees and mountains like a spotlight. It was perfectly silent.

My wife and I had skinned up on splitboards to reach this point, a mellow patchwork of snowfields perfect for newcomers to the sport. It was her first time, and I was eager to demonstrate the endless riding possibilities within a few miles of our Big Sky, Montana, home.

Both our young children were in school, no one else at the trailhead. As we sat down for a snack, I thought about this stroke of luck: Here we were, a short drive from home, ready to snowboard fresh powder in our country’s first national park. Nobody around, just us, together in the mountains.

It was still the middle of winter, but we basked in the warm, spring-like day. The sun was heating up five inches of new snow to perfect consistency – great conditions for lower-angle terrain. We didn’t talk much as we geared up for the descent, the silence too strong to interrupt. A slight breeze rustled the lodgepoles and for a moment I didn’t want to leave.

In the distance, we saw a single set of ski tracks on an open face across the highway below. “How do we get there?” we wondered, making a mental note and promising to find out soon.

We made plans to meet at the bottom. No need to stop on the way down. We took off, making effortless turns in hero snow. I let out a few obligatory “whoops” as we wound our way through the meadows and short stands of trees, even catching a little air off of a small rock outcropping.

The descent spit us onto a final football field of powder, delivering us back to the car.

We gazed back at our tracks, which were easy to pick out. They were the only ones. In moments like this, I thought to myself, my decision to live in Montana’s mountains is reinforced, hammered home with Steinbeckian authority.

The parallels to daily life are obvious. We live here because we choose to, to stand out from the crowd, to do something extraordinary. We have the ability to make the mountains part of our daily lives, to blend in with a landscape about which many only dream.

As we quietly loaded up the car to head home, a moment of perfect clarity: We live here for a chance to leave our mark.

Freelance writer Brian Hurlbut is the author of the Insider’s Guide to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, and Montana: Skiing the Last Best Place. He lives in Big Sky, Montana, with his wife and two children.

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