With bellies too full from Thanksgiving dinner, we strapped our skis to the top of the Subie Outback and set out to Bozeman for the second day of their season. We did our best to fasten our seat belts over turkey-filled stomachs and drove through the dark: whatever it takes to start skiing.
We've been antsy to ski since we drove down from Montana Snowbowl on the last day of the season, six months earlier. I called Big Sky --one of the first resorts to open this year-- and confirmed: seven runs open, and $35-lift tickets. When can you ever ski at Big Sky for that price?!
We spend the night before with our skis prompted up, holding wax to the hot iron, dripping along the bone-dry bellies. Drip, iron, spread, scrape, repeat.
My eyes fly open at 6:30 the next morning. It's time. Skis locked and loaded, we watch the sun rise as we drive. We're stopped by two huge mountain sheep licking salt off the road. The cars around us proceed slowly, hanging phones out their windows, taking pictures.
The excitement is building, zipping up snow pants, buckling ski boots, pulling on gloves, clipping helmets. Ski movie music bumps in my earbuds. We walk with swagger, skis draped over our shoulders. Nothing can stop us now.
Till we reach the ticket window.
"That'll be $50."
Wait, what? What happened to $35? Did more terrain open or what? Is there a student discount? There is, but my Griz card sits back at home.
"Come on, we drove all the way from Missoula," I plead.
"Sorry, can't give you the discount without an ID card."
I'm in college. A student discount is the difference between a modest apres-ski beer and going home cold and hungry. I pull out my phone, ready to bring my transcript up on the Internet. Ready for a fight.
"Okay, fine, I believe you. Here's the discount."
We're so excited just to be back on a chairlift, we forgive Big Sky for charging $15 more. But at the top, we quickly realize only two runs are actually open. We lap Mr. K continuously. The groomer feels like Mario Cart, with skiers of all abilities cruising, many at mach speed.
Crazy Horse is the other open run. At the top, a sign states "CAUTION: EARLY SEASON CONDITIONS EXIST." They're not kidding. Every time our skis hit a thinly-covered rock, we moan. We make it through the broccoli fields and at the bottom, we admire the new gouges on our skis.
There isn't a chance of a fresh turn anywhere on the mountain. Or so we thought. We ride up the lift and behold, a line of skiers and boarders wait for the rope to drop under the Swift Current chair. We hustle over and we're in the first ten people down. Skis float on untouched powder. I let out a howl. This is what it's all about.
Within minutes, the entire run is tracked out, but we're too tired to ski much longer anyway. It's hard to put in a full day after sitting around on the river drinking beer all summer. But we leave Big Sky tired and happy, knowing one thing: This is only the beginning.