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Warren Miller Flies at Big Sky, Part 2

Vibe
posted: 08/14/2000

The next morning we woke up at 5:30 A.M. to meet the ski patrol at 7:00. The wind had finally settled down, but a thin layer of clouds still remained above Big Sky. Despite the low light, cameraman and director Chris Patterson still wanted us ready to ski.

The light was beautiful as it broke the horizon line and reflected off the ceiling of clouds and snow-covered earth. By the time we arrived at ski patrol headquarters, they had already started firing explosives from an ava-launcher in the direction of the surrounding terrain. The charges bounced against the thousand-foot walls of Lone Peak like rocks being thrown into a still pond. The vibration radiated throughout the mountain, sending shock waves through the multiple layers of snow with the hopes of disrupting any weak bonds.

Another team of patrollers summitted the mountain on the Lone Peak Tram and started dropping charges on the higher walls. The Warren Miller team hung out in the lift shack, watching small snowslides triggered by dynamite explosions throw golden plumes of snowdust into the air. Thankfully, everything was fairly stable, and the patrol felt confident we could ski anywhere we wanted¿exercising extreme caution of course.

We divided into two groups. Some would hike the southwest-facing A-Z shoots, while Asia Jenkins and I would ride the Lone Peak Tram to Big Sky's famous summit.

The tram is an engineering marvel: a cable tram that can hold 15 passengers and rises 1,450 feet in 3 minutes. The ride resembles an Alaskan heli-drop. If you can stomach heights, it's an amazing experience, and to ski off the summit is even more amazing.

The top of Lone Peak feeds into two exposures, one north and one south. On the north resides the "Gullies" and the "Big Couloir." Both are considered black diamond runs, but compared to what most other resorts consider black diamonds, I'd tag on six more diamonds to each of these drops.

Asia and I worked our way into the gullies and began hiking before we were called back down over the radio mounted on my chest. Clouds had moved in and were parked directly over the peak, shutting down any opportunity of us being filmed skiing the trackless snow. There is nothing worse then down-stepping a perfectly good powder run.

Soon after, Asia and I were hiking up the backside of the A-Z Chutes when the clouds once again took over. So far, we had hiked more than we had skied, but we kept our fingers crossed and continued trudging along. Whatever we recorded by day's end, I wanted it to be in one of the riskiest places I could find. I had been eyeballing one particular narrow chute for a couple of days, wondering if I had the courage to ski it. It was a funnel about 15¿20 feet wide, which narrowed down to about four feet between two large rock walls for about a 30-foot stretch, then spat out into an opening riddled with surface rocks spaced just far enough apart to sneak through.

I made my way to the top of the couloir and waited patiently for the sun to peak from behind the clouds. When it did, I had been sitting on my butt for an hour. My legs were getting numb and I was starting to get nervous. Since I might actually do this descent, I decided that I should take out the helmet I had been carrying around in my backpack and stick it on my head.

By that point, I was actually hoping the sun would disappear again, which would have given me a good excuse to climb out of the ridiculous position I had put myself into. No chance. The sun continued to shine and the call came over the radio with a countdown. After a three-two-one countdown, I broke into short radius turns that were quickly interrupted by the snow sloughing between my legs. Instead of fighting it and risking being flipped, I decided to point myself straight down the fall line into the narrowest part of the chute. My adrenaline kicked in, and suddenly I felt like Luke Skywalker speeding through the trench just before blasting the Death Star.

I exitted the narrows at about 50 miles per hour through the scattered surface rocks. This worked out much better than I thought it would. Or maybe I just lucked out. Who knows? I was just so amped about surviving it, that when I stopped I had to remind myself to breathe.

Look for Chris Anthony at Big Sky in Warren Miller's upcoming film RIDE.

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