Page 2 of 4
After a lavish breakfast under the elk-antler chandeliers of the ranch’s dining lodge, we spent our first morning taking skate-skiing lessons on featherweight gear from the resort’s well-stocked Nordic center. We frequently tromp around the woods on our heavy Nordic skis with three-pin bindings back home, but flying along groomed trails on greased-lightning skate skis isn’t even the same sport. When the LMR folks dropped us off at the edge of the Big Sky Resort base area and told us we could skate the four miles back to the ranch on downhill-trending trails, I thought, yeah, we’re onto something here.
“What do you guys think about skate skiing?” I asked the kids as we glided down the silky trail. They were both pumping and poling across the snow like tiny racers on Red Bull.
”Awesome!” they cried in unison, without slowing down.
I could see we were going to have to buy skate skis. I’d always resisted it—we already had Alpine and classic Nordic skis, in addition to countless backcountry skis, and, seriously, how many pairs of skis can one family own? Apparently the answer—as with bikes, boats, maps, field guides, etc.—is “whatever you currently have, plus one.”
As we cruised along, trails branched off in every direction, all scrupulously signed. Caution signs marked the bigger downhills, where our “Woohoos!” rang out with the calls of chickadees as the trail plunged around hairpin turns and through babbling creek bottoms. Whoever says Nordic skiing isn’t exciting needs to ski trails like these.
A couple of hours later, Silas and I were herringboning up through six inches of fresh snow, with more falling like confetti on our shoulders. But there was no parade here, just a son following a father with suspect decision-making skills up a mountain. This was our first attempt at The Summit, that bewitching jewel that had caught my eye on trail maps that morning. Since we had planned only one day on LMR’s trails, I thought it would be our sole shot, so after our intro to skate-skiing we grabbed our touring gear and headed back out. Silas was the one person I could convince to join me, and then only with the promise of a long, super-fun downhill—which, at the moment, I was far from delivering.
About a mile from our goal, the snow deepening with every step, Silas pleaded, “Can we turn around now, Dad?”
I paused and sighed. But one thing I’d decided long ago was that I never wanted the boys to feel like skiing was an obligation. Which is why I called back cheerfully to Silas, “Sure we can turn around. Just give me a minute to go up a little bit higher.”
It’s an explorer’s addiction I have—it’s virtually impossible for me to turn around in the mountains. But if anything can make me do it, it’s my sons. So I did, and we bombed down a steep section, carving powder turns on spindly classic skis. It was indeed super-fun. But then came a long flat section in deep, sluggish snow, which, on our slippery toothpicks, quickly became decidedly un-fun. The ranch was miles away and I suddenly had visions of my patented after-dark, mountain boondoggles. I thought of Silas, who was already starting to complain, and grimaced.
“All we can do is keep skiing,” I said—before adding, “or we could drop down into the woods here and take a shortcut.”
I showed Silas the trail on the map and how we could cut off a series of switchbacks by dropping straight down the mountain. He resisted for a minute; he’d heard stories about my “shortcuts.” But the trees below us were invitingly gladed and the powder pristine, never mind that we were skiing on swizzle sticks and darkness was looming. After considering it for a minute, he agreed.
I smiled and dropped in, floating through powder for a few delicious seconds. Then one ski punched through a buried layer of crust and dove into the sugar beneath. My face-plant was spectacular.
“Dad, are you sure this is a good idea?” Silas called down, while I furiously tried to dig the snow out of my pants. What could I say? We were high on an unfamiliar mountainside, it was an hour before sunset, dumping Wheaties-size flakes, and I was sprawled in the snow like I’d just been dropped from an airplane.