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Keely Kelleher and Crystal Wright in Montana

Keely Kelleher and Crystal Wright film a segment in Montana for the upcoming film, Ticket to Ride. We caught up with these natives of the west to find out why Montana is so special, not just for the skiing, but also for the people and the beautiful landscape.
By Brigid Mander
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Photograph by Tony Wilhelms

The ladies of next year’s Montana segment are no strangers to skiing in the west: Keely Kelleher grew up on a ranch near Big Sky, Montana, and Crystal Wright is a Jackson Hole, Wyoming native and accomplished rodeo rider. With their skiing and cowgirl skills, they may as well be the poster girls for Western ski culture, so it is only fitting that they show Alaska-native Elyse Saugstad around their dual stomping grounds – ranches and ski mountains - in Ticket to Ride.

The trip takes the three athletes back to where Keely grew up and Crystal attended college, skiing both Bridger Bowl and Big Sky. According to Keely who, like Crystal and Elyse, has skied all over the world, coming home to ski is like nothing else. “It’s hard to describe skiing in Montana. Everything feels bigger, the sky, the mountains, the kindness you find in the locals,” said Keely. “I think it’s something everyone in his or her lifetime has to experience and not just for the skiing, but for the people you’ll meet and the beauty you’ll see.”

Wild west adventures, from runaway pickup trucks to powder stashes punctuated the trip. “I think this was good initiation into the cowgirl skier world for Elyse,” said Keely. “Even though Elyse is a badass Alaskan woman, I’m sure she had a chuckle and eye opening experience on the Lazy Shamrock Ranch [the name given to their land by Keely’s dad].

“We had a ton of fun. We got to bounce around in an old truck and sing "save a horse, ride a cowgirl," which was pretty funny! I used to love that song when I was on the rodeo team for Montana State, so it brought back good memories,” said Crystal.

Her love for the state and the skiing creates a conundrum for Keely. “I want to keep my home a secret but I find its hard not to tell people about how beautiful and remarkable it is here,” she explains. “You have the big resorts and big skiing in Big Sky or Whitefish Mountain, but then you’ll get on back roads on your way to places like Maverick ski area, or ride the slow double chairlifts at Showdown ski area, where you’ll meet the old rancher with skis out of the 70’s who tears up moguls better than anyone you’ve seen. But he’ll never tell you that!”

Even with globe-trotting ski trips behind them, the charms of western skiing keeps a strong hold on the two skiers. “The big thing about skiing in places like Montana and Jackson is there are not as many people and the resorts are not as built up,” Crystal said. “It is truly big sky country. It is definitely different skiing than in the Alps or the Andes, but it has its own special small town feel with still amazing mountains that I love.”

Keely concurs, and while she may say she wants to keep it a secret, she can’t help but tell everyone how wonderful the local culture and mountains are. “Montana ski culture is never a scene or a proving ground; the people simply enjoy skiing and their way of life and they want to share it with you,” she said. “My favorite part is they’ll never be too caught up in themselves to forget to wave to you on the road to the ski hill.”