It is Presidents' Day 2016 as I write this. The sun has come out and it's going to be a warm day in San Diego. The yellow jacket is staring at me on a chair opposite this computer, while the board and gear are still firmly lodged on the living room floor. It's a mess, a glorious mess.
This adventure was amazing. I saw places I would remember forever, had more fun than I thought I could have, was less stressed out than I thought I would by the constant need to move, move, move.
There were a few takeaways. First, I am firmly back in the saddle when it comes to snowboarding. I was reticent for a long time, the lingering side effects of the shoulder separation contracted in Breckenridge still haunting me. Not on this trip: I pushed harder than I have ever before, and I was rewarded with more accuracy, more stability, and greater challenge. I snowboarded down double blacks wondering why they weren't just single blacks, and had a ski instructor in Sun Valley tell me I should stay the hell out of blue runs and use them only to get to the more challenging drops.
Second, I was positively amazed at how much my second time in Jackson Hole was better than the first time. I had very, very fond memories of the place and thought they couldn't and certainly wouldn't be bested. But I was wrong, and Jackson Hole delivered. Part of it was that I wasted less time exploring places I wouldn't like, part of it that I actually was able to get everywhere I wanted to get (including the top), and part of it that I found new places (especially in the Village) that I didn't know existed, but made my day.
Finally, and this is the biggest one, I found Big Sky. Sure, I was lucky and got a fresh dump of pow pow to work with, but aside from Swift Current, the mountain was perfect. It is enormous, second to Whistler only in North America, but it also has a variety that is hard to match. Unlike Whistler, too, it has much more consistent snow. I cannot tell you how often I've gone to Canada only to find the snow rained out, or melted already to the point where you couldn't ride down to Creekside. You don't have to be afraid of that in Montana, although it might occasionally get way too cold for comfort.
Better than Whistler, Big Sky is not crowded, ever. Presidents' Day weekend is the busiest time at any resort in the USA, and I remember with horror the lines at Ski Express in Heavenly (45 minutes! in the singles line!) Yet, aside from the popular destinations, I never had to wait in Big Sky. And since it is uncrowded, people are friendlier and don't get frustrated as easily. I wonder about the random rudeness of some, but I have an inkling it is more a function of the weekend than of the place.
Next year? I still have a dream trip to make with the Mountain Collective, and I mentioned it here in a previous post. The trip is Lake Louise, Kicking Horse, Revelstoke, to Whistler. All those resorts are lines up on Highway 1, the Trans-Canada Highway (except for Whistler, which is on a spur through Pendleton). The problem is logistics, having to fly into Calgary and dropping off the car in Vancouver, or vice-versa.
I may do that trip later in the season, if I feel like it. It would be great to have 5 of the Mountain Collective resorts under my belt in one year, although I had 4 last year - not a giant difference.
But next year? I am planning on getting the MAX pass and staying a full week. One full week in Big Sky, and if I have the time and money, one more week at one of their other destinations. Maybe Steamboat in Colorado, although I will be a native by then. Maybe Mount Bachelor in Oregon. I've heard great things.