A helmeted, bandana-cloaked, giant lime-colored coat slingshots from one side of a ski run, up a snowy ramp to launch an off-axis spinning double-back flip and switch 1080. Only after the XXL jacket lands on Big Sky Ski Resort’s cushy powder does the human reveal himself: Jibber and park rat Shay Lee, who expresses his monosyllabic pleasure, “Sick.”
Lee, a 20-year-old from Billings, Mont. has been working on the “must have” terrain park trick: the double cork, a mid-air maneuver where the skier’s body and accouterments act like a corkscrew while inverted, creating a twisting double back flip at 35 miles per hour. He lands traveling backwards— 1,080 degrees of spinning, enough to warrant a dose of Dramamine for the uninitiated—perhaps that’s the “sick” part.
This generation of snow sliders, called freeskiers and freeriders, are injecting energy into a waning sport, induced by twin-tip skis, snowboards and a can of Red Bull with a side of patois, their own language formally defining top-speed tricks.
The exciting, crazy, serious, frivolous, mordacious, mundane and mostly testosterone-infused action is courtesy of one gargantuan Montana mountain and two colossal ski resorts: Big Sky and Moonlight Basin, which share 11,166-foot Lone Mountain.
The resorts share another interesting component: one lift ticket for both resorts, tagged the Biggest Skiing in America’s Lone Peak Pass. At $95 per day per adult, it might seem like more mountain and more money than some consider reasonable; however, the Biggest Skiing lives up to its name: the Lone Peak Pass accesses 5,512 skiable acres, multiple routes to massive vertical drop of 4,350 piled up with 400 or more inches of annual snowfall.
Day passes are available for individual resorts: $77 a day at Big Sky if purchased online and $58 per day at Moonlight. Multi-day passes offer savings at both resorts, which also offer free passes to children 10 and under.
The charm of Big Sky and Moonlight remains in the variety of terrain among the glades and bowls, super steeps and super gentle routes—some of which are 6 miles long—and, most importantly, see very little lift-line waiting. Because the twin resorts zip the up-mountain traffic aboard 25 lifts, accessing 220 named runs covering 110 miles on three separate mountains, “crowds” disperse quickly from the base areas.
New skiers and riders find gentle terrain and savvy instructors at Big Sky’s Snowsports School. Equipment rentals and instruction are offered from a slope-side central location, so adults and kids find first turn easy and fun.
Moonlight’s ski and ride school offers programs from group lessons to private sessions and specialty programs such as the Adaptive Lessons for children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities through the local Eagle Mount organization.
Intermediate skiers and riders discover Moonlight’s wide trails and superb grooming provide seamless routes down the mountain with spectacular views into the Lee Metcalf Wilderness to the north. Families with skiers and riders of varying abilities enjoy the powder traps alongside the groomers, as well as two terrain parks that entice the airborne crowd to show off next to the groomed-trail lovers.
Moonlight’s Zero Gravity Pony Park under the Pony Express lift offers a gentle slope with enticing, yet petite jumps, hits, boxes and rails. The more advanced Zero Gravity Terrain Park freestyle terrain features jumps, hits, ramps, fun boxes, jibs and rails, and challenges even the best freestylers.
Then there’s Shay Lee and his friends who rip from the top of Lone Peak down Big Sky Resort’s Liberty Bowl, the mountain’s 500-turns thigh-cramping southern flank, to a cat track where they reach the top of Swifty Terrain Park. Best spectator seats are aboard the Swift Current high-speed quad lift. It’s the newschoolers of ski and snowboarding who glide, go airborne with chopper-like whirring and land just in time for a low-key carved turn and head down to the lift for another lap.
“Last year really opened up when I got my double back flips,” says Minnesotan Todd Kirby, who attends Bozeman’s Montana State University. “I’m trying to broaden horizons this year. The big thing now is the double flip but it depends upon the size of the jump. From the top of the lip to over the knuckle is 40 or 50 feet, so a good amount of airtime for double flips.”
On a sunny Thursday, Kirby and other college kids squirrel-cage laps on Big Sky’s Swift Current chairlift and park, Swifty. They manipulate their class schedules as adeptly as they maneuver drops, lips and hips—Monday, Wednesday, Friday classes and Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday jibbing, hucking and grinding.
Kirby, dressed in oversized and insulated brown and yellow plaid jacket and lemon-meringue colored snow pants, is the Pied Piper of pipe. He leaps onto the first up-down rail, followed by super-sized jackets in five-second increments. Each terrain park feature, rails, boxes and jumps offers front-row spectating from the chairlift where cheers erupt when Kirby hurls himself off a jump, pulls an easy backflip and lands superbly. Heckles erupt from the overhead audience when one of Kirby’s friends crashes—a scorpion, when during the belly-on-snow slide, the snowboard nearly hits the back of its rider’s helmet.
“Sweet!” yells someone from the chairlift bleachers.
Big Sky also offers Swifty 2.0 newby terrain park, the Explorer Park for beginners on White Wing run off of the Explorer lift, and the lit-for-nights Family Fun Zone. The Family Fun Zone Park is open with access from Chet’s Knob during the day and access from the Magic Carpet from 4 to 8 p.m.
Nights in Big Sky’s village have offerings including après ski bonfire for youngsters to roast marshmallows, eateries of varying prices and formalities, and luxurious to unadorned accommodations. Lodging specials often include lift tickets and a fourth night free, even at the deluxe slope-side Summit Hotel, which offers a spa, indoor-outdoor swim pool, hotel rooms, studios and condos, and dining rooms.