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Opening day: Resort officials recognize a strong effort from staff and ‘a perfect storm’

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Grooming, snowmaking, lift operations, lift maintenance and ski patrol were given credit by resort officials for opening 2,000 acres in November. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

Among Wednesday’s estimated 2,500 skiers, GM Troy Nedved said, “the stoke is so high” for Big Sky Resort’s opening day  

By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER 

Lifts didn’t open until 9 a.m., but a few powder hounds were standing in line before dawn. Various sources confirmed that Wednesday felt just like any other powder day… but in November.  

If the tram construction site didn’t need a few more days to transition into ski season, the mountain might have opened a few days earlier than Nov. 23, according to Troy Nedved, general manager of Big Sky Resort. Nevertheless, Nedved said that almost 6 feet of natural snow since Oct. 1 is the highest amount he’s seen across 26 early seasons, combined with twice the typical snowmaking pace. Wednesday morning’s 7 extra inches, he said, is just icing on the cake. 

“We took one run, and the stoke is so high,” Nedved told EBS around 10 a.m. “It is so much fun out there, there’s a lot of elbow room—what a fantastic opening. We always have challenges getting open, and this year they are some really good challenges. That’s a really nice change for us.” 

Nedved said he would almost call it a perfect storm.  

For the past two years, the resort struggled to find enough staff. This season, Nedved said they’ve received more applications than ever, combined with the resort’s highest-ever rate of returning staff.  

“We’re in a great position to open, with so much experience on our teams this year. From mountain [operations] to food and beverage, to lodging, we’re really excited. All the things are coming together with a fantastic opener, great conditions, high demand for guests this winter and a strong staff.” 

And, of course, the terrain. 

“[The] bowl should be opening up [Wednesday], and we’re working hard for stuff near the summit. This storm will make [snow safety controls] a bit harder to open terrain, but we’ll take every snowflake,” he said. 

Lastly, Nedved said this year’s visitation should be “a little more steady” compared to unexpected surges in the last few years, lending to “modest growth and a great guest experience.” 

Mountain Manager Adam West oversees various departments of mountain operations. He called Wednesday’s opening conditions “all time.” 

“You’re making a mistake if you’re not coming out today or tomorrow,” West told EBS. “I’ve been here for eight years, and I have never seen an opening day on this scale. It’s such a huge footprint of terrain—it’s made [opening day] a lot easier and a lot harder at the same time. But seeing all these people out and enjoying the powder, I’ve never seen anything like it at this time of year.” 

Despite the early opening, West said mountain operations staff has trained significantly to have the mountain ready—some departments since the beginning of October.  

“Lift operations has been spinning chairlifts all week to get ready for the public,” West said. “Our older, more experienced folks are working with our newer folk—that’s how we’re staffed all over the mountain right now.  

West said coverage in the bowl is good, and the recent decision to include the Powder Seeker chairlift in Wednesday’s lineup came after the green light from snow safety officials.  

“We’re expanding, expanding, expanding, but we need to make sure all of our t’s are crossed and our I’s are dotted,” West said. “Yesterday we felt like we could do that with the Powder Seeker terrain, and here we are.” 

Ski patrol finished roping terrain on Wednesday shortly before the mountain opened. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

Grooming Manager Matt Fregly said his team has been compacting snow since the first storm in October. As it continued to fall into November, they started putting their tillers down and laying corduroy. Fregly said it’s pretty crazy how much terrain his team was able to groom in the pre-season.  

“It was definitely a challenge but we have a devoted crew of really experienced operators that got out there every day, all hours of the day, getting it ready to go. I felt really confident coming into this morning; we got a lot done, and got a lot done really early this year.” 

Future Wednesday openings 

Although Thanksgiving is the traditional opening day, Nedved said that might change seeing this Wednesday’s success. In future years, the resort will consider planning on the day before Thanksgiving.  

“[That’s] just to have a more modest opening and spread [guests] out a little bit. We’re not always going to have 2,000 acres to open with. It’s something we might look at for the future,” he said. 

Nedved also gave credit to the resort’s new events team, whose breakfast buffet, free swag, beer tasting and live DJ added some life to the base area on Wednesday. 

“They are all over it. Their calendar and plans to enliven the guest experience and get the stoke up on all kinds of things is great.” 

The low-down 

Nedved gave EBS his current sense of the best snow on the mountain. For the benefit of our readers, EBS decided to conceal the name of the trail he named. However, it rhymes with “Tunebright” and can be accessed by the lift which rhymes with “Ballenger.”  

“It’s deep, it’s well-covered, and it’s long and steep,” Nedved said, as he grabbed his skis in pursuit of that very location with his family.  

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