POWDER AND BLISS
A gray haze covers the horizon as the early morning sun begins to coat the Flathead Valley below. Steam wafts from your open mouth as muffled breaths resonate in your ears high atop Big Mountain ski resort. You take a deep breath as you rise to meet the mountain for today's first run, the creeping feeling of excitement hitting a fever pitch in the depths of your stomach. A dull thud sounds as you turn the board's nose to face down the steep hill laden with powder. An almost religious experience ensues - welcome to ski season in Montana.
For a ski town like Whitefish, Montana, the first snowfall is marked with child-like delight by those who live in the valley. Talks of the mountain conditions, daily snowfall, and the state of different runs will dominate most all conversations for months to follow. It causes a second wintertime tourist buzz, as hundreds of people worldwide will fly in to experience a day on the world-class slopes of Big Mountain. This monolith mountain and her runs are visible from almost any point as far south as the tip of Flathead Lake. Unfortunately, staring up at those beautiful runs as they close at 5 pm each day gave a few SWAE team members a case of the "powder flu."
Powder days are best to start before sunrise. With only so many hours of daylight available to shred, getting on the road before dawn is crucial for that perfect day in the snow. The chair lifts start running at 9a, so the team was happy to be among the first in line for the top. The cold weather sets into the bone as the quiet hum of the chair lifts take you descending higher and higher into the morning chill. It's one of the coldest weeks on record, well into the negatives even without windchill, more than enough winter chill to keep the tourists off the freshly powdered runs.
As the hilltop is finally visible cresting from the chair lift, the feeling in our toes is all but gone. The top of the mountain is pristine, untouched, and breathtaking in its spectacle. While it's not a clear day, the vantage point is straight out of a fantasy epic - with low-lying clouds covering some neighboring peaks. Smiling faces and shouts of excitement as roll after roll of ecstatic skiers and snowboarders take off in every direction. Once we had taken in the sights and energy levels to near capacity, it was time to fly.
Taking on the Mountain
The downward slope makes time condense at one point, a rollercoaster where you control the track. Every muscle in your body puts total effort into sustaining balance while maintaining peak alertness to navigate the snow drifts. It becomes a solo sport as we weave in different routes, some looking for speed, others looking for powder or a bit of precious airtime. Some people love listening to their favorite genre of music flying down a run - for others, the sound of snow passing under the board at peak speed is as nostalgic as it is riveting. However you decide to take on the mountain, the experience is all your own.
Before you know it, however, you're at the bottom. The visibility has fallen off completely, replacing the once sweeping views with a fog-encased snow globe. Clocking in at full speed towards the bottom of the run, a few other team members who have beaten us to the bottom wait breathlessly. After a couple of laughs and a few experiences shared, it's time to head back to the chair for another round. Dreams buried in the snow won't chase themselves.