GTotN Day 7: The long way home

One thing I failed to mention in my write-up of the snowboarding day in Big Sky is that it was “unseasonably warm.” It was mid-February, when temperatures should have ranged from 15 to 38 (low high). Instead, it was 38 to 50. Locals told me it felt like May.

I had checked the weather before going up the mountain and made the right (if scary) call: only the Tesla base layer and a cotton sweater on top. That my usual uniform for spring skiing, and it was way too much for the day. I wish I had brought the convertible jacket (the one where you can separate the shell from the inner lining and wear it as a full protection jacket, a shell only, or a light jacket with not shell).

The warmth and sunshine and lack of wind certainly helped make the day as perfect as it was. They also conspired to make the night a tragedy for the snow. All the softness of the day would turn into crusty ice at night. I thought maybe I could get by on Moonlight Basin, maybe I could get to the tram and do some of the crazy stuff on the top of the mountain.

But I didn’t. I was tired, since I hadn’t slept well, and I had a long drive back to Boise ahead of me. There was snow on the forecast for the afternoon, and I didn’t want to get trapped in it. And I was tired, with a crescendo of snowboarding that had culminated in a day spent nonstop on the slopes.

Finally, I would have to pay a full day, $106, while knowing I wasn’t going to stay much past noon. I would also have to pay for parking, since I would have lost another hour getting to the shuttle and driving down.

For consolation, I told myself it didn’t really matter: I would be back. Big Ski is easily reached from Bozeman (it’s about 50 miles from the airport) and the snow is much more reliable, still, than at other resorts. It’s the kind of place where you feel comfortable buying a time share, because it doesn’t really matter that your week is assigned: no matter what week it is, you can make it work.

I also learned about the existence of a “secret” resort just South of Big Sky. It is called the Yellowstone Club, is members only (where members means you have to buy real estate), and boasts 2200 skiable acres. It is weirdly adjacent to Big Sky in a way reminiscent of Alpine’s proximity to Squaw. If you want to buy into the private resort idea, you should know that the cheapest condo there is about $2M at the time of writing. “But no lift lines” sounds a lot more appealing in Heavenly or Mammoth than in Big Sky.

I jumped in the car with the clouds from the West looking dark and uninviting. I had planned on leaving after the stores opened, so I could buy one more Big Sky souvenir. But I didn’t make it: it was 8:30 when I went downstairs and handed the key to the front desk. Dumped everything into the car, not caring about planning anything, not needing to make sure the snowboard gear was in reach and that I wouldn’t leave the boots in the car, or else I wouldn’t be able to get into them in the morning. No more snowboarding for a while. Sad Face!

I drove off knowing the drive was going to be 6.5h on a good day. Six and a half hours don’t sound too bad until they are your parting shot going away from a week of perfect fun.

The gas stations in Big Sky, at the bottom of Lone Mountain Road, are both relatively cheap. If you are leaving town, buy gas there, since anything en route is much, much more expensive. When I drove past, it was $1.85 in Big Sky and $2.65 in West Yellowstone. That may be because West Yellowstone seems to be the snowmobile capital of the world: I saw at least seven bands (gaggles? murders? choppers? packs?) of snowmobiles on tour just driving through.

There was no snow. I drove down without the slightest issue and by the time I had reached Ashton in the Snake River valley, I knew the drive was not going to be a problem. From there on, I drove to Idaho Falls and onto the freeway. Stopped for a Starbucks on the way. After that, a long long boring boring drive and stop at the McDonald’s in Burley. I might be forgiven for not knowing much about Burley: the only thing I remember was the people driving off the drive-through, reclined in their car seats because of obesity.

As you drive on, you reach the Snake River Canyon and things get more scenic. Central Idaho is volcanic and the canyons are steep and scenic. There is an area called Massacre Rocks that sounded historic, but turned out to be just a cautionary tale for emigrants.

Eventually, I got to the airport in Boise.

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