Friday, March 20, 2009

What it felt like to ski the Big Couloir at Big Sky

(image by TetonGravityResearch)
So Tom got the video transfer all figured out for me! Yay! But its going to take another hour for the raw footage to upload into iMovie, and then a bit of time to edit and post it, so I'm gonna write the story without the video for now. I'm kind of an instant gratification kinda gal (in case that isn't abundantly clear by now...), so we're gonna go with what we got!

Christine, Jill and I stood in line for the tram in the sun and watched a couple of dudes boot packing up the A-Z chutes, which looked heavenly, deep and untracked. One young fella decided it'd be fun to just go straight, so after a 30 minute slog cutting trail in thigh deep powder, he slapped em on and pointed em. Yup. 2 or 3 seconds to the bottom. When he got back to the tram line, he did a steezy little move, you know, a whirlybird? and fell flat on his butt. His friend, on the other hand, decided to come down in style and enjoy every single turn. Very nice. Hey, man, whatever floats your boat!!

I was a little nervous in line, but I have to admit that I was pretty sure we were going to go up there and sign up for a later spot, they only let 2 people in the Big at a time, so I wasn't freakin' out too bad. We got to the stairs at the tram, and Jill had to go down to work, so she skipped out of line, and we carried on. It was great to catch up with Christine, I haven't seen her since tryouts last May, and she's looking great and skiing hot and enjoying her new puppy!

We ran into Ben in the tram, where he humbly and proudly showed us the really gnarly line he took into the "Apple Core" a billygoaty way into the Little Couloir. Now, the big is fun, but its a groomer compared to the extremity of the Little. I was impressed.

The tram pulled up and we walked up to the patrol shack to look at the sign in list and add our names. Surprise, surprise, there was a 12:45 spot. It was 12:10 or so. Christine had to be back at line up at 1. Could we make it across the traverse and through the Big and back to the ski school in 15 minutes? It would be tight! Christine hesitated, she grappled, I was SO sad that the helmet cam wasn't looping right, because I had thought I'd caught the whole thing on video, but... anyhow... the Patrol dude who was up there was tres cool, and said he'd do his best to get us in a few minutes early, and I sort of poked Christine, because we don't get to ski together that often, and its fun to watch her cut loose and play... and she did it! She signed up, we sat down, and the wait began.

image by Distinctly MontanaI was okay, I wasn't thinking too much about it, we had 40 minutes or so... wait, we had 20 minutes. Oh. Okay, now I was getting nervous. The group in front of us were told to gear up, the Couloir was clear, now we only suddenly have 10 minutes... we've gone from a nice 40 minute wait to its almost our turn! I had to pee, there's no porta potty up there, I went into my pack for my granola, I'd taken it out for some lame reason... wait, wait, what else can I come up with??

STAY COOL, KATE! I listened to the instructions the Patrol was giving, and then I asked Christine to explain the protocol for skiing it, she walked me over to the map and talked me through it, we go along the traverse, around the corner, then ski one at a time to the Dog Leg, then one at a time out. I'd be able to see her the whole time. She asked if I wanted to ski first or second, and I wanted, in my head, to ski second and be safe, so I decided to ski first and not be a pansy, and then I decided to be safe and ski second so I didn't make a dumb mistake with two weeks to go to the exam. Time to be a bit more conservative.

It was time! We geared up, went and got our skis, and headed out of the backcountry gate. The traverses at Big Sky are full of buffed out whoopties, just like Bridger, but at Big Sky, for some reason, they get these nasty stair step like drops in them which is just totally discombobulating. To be totally honest, it wasn't until this year that I have started feeling okay on traverses, they are absolutely terrifying. You have to go fast, there's no place to feather your speed, you hit these huge bumps, you have to gain speed and ski up hill... now I think they are kind of fun, but WOW. Okay, so this traverse is on the top of Lone Peak at like nearly 12,000 feet, which is beautiful and amazing and really, really high up there. (thirsty... thirsty... out of breath...)

I was worried that the camera wasn't on, but I didn't want to waste any time, so I just pushed the button a bunch and hoped for the best. We headed out and Christine showed me the North Summit Snowfield, the newest wild terrain that's inbounds at Big Sky, it looked incredible! But I was getting kind of heart-poundingly nervous. Angela and I had been skiing the South Boundary at Bridger a lot in 3' of fresh powder, and while I was getting the hang of it, we were skiing in a big open snowfield, where if I screwed up, I could make an enormous turn and get it back together. There was not really a whole lot of room for error in the Big, I mean, its very wide, like 5 or 6 ski lengths at least, but I just wasn't sure... I was worried about the snow conditions, worried about how well I'd ski it, worried about falling down it to the bottom, worried about getting hurt with only a few days to go to the exam.

We came around the corner, and oh. That's it? I've skied steeper stuff than THAT before!! Now the only question was... could I ski it well? And would my legs let me make great turns for the however many vertical feet (that's a lot more than I ski in one go at Bridger) this monster was? I was relieved to look into it, it looked doable, fun, exciting. I was still nervous, more nervous than I let Christine know, I think from the exposure and not being sure what the snow would be like, not having taken a warm up run of any sort, and, you know... skiing right under the Tram, which I hadn't even THOUGHT about until Christine told me, "I always feel pressure to ski this well when I'm in my uniform, I prefer to ski it out of uniform. Because, you know, skiing under the Tram, you want to ski it well for the ski school, do a good job."

I was like, OH YEAH. Awesome, hadn't thought of that. But then I thought, cool. That's like an exam. Ski it for the audience, ski it well for whoever is watching. Show them what you can do, the best you can do it.

Christine dropped in and disappeared after three turns, the snow looked phenominal, the turns she made were elegant, fun, energetic, easy... I thought, well, how hard can it be? I mean, really?

I saw her pull into the dog leg and it was my turn, can't wait, she hast to get to the bottom, there's another party on our tail... so I shut my brain off and dropped in, made that first blissful turn and thought, WOW, this is steep! But the snow is great. GREAT, firm enough to push on, light enough to float a little, ego snow. EGO SNOW!

I had to ask myself to ski it, outloud, not to hold back or try not to fall, but to go, to ski it how I know I can ski, and I got close, I had about three turns on the top section that were smooth and flowing and with my gear and down the mtn, I hung onto a few, I got slightly tossed on a few, but all in all, it was a rather blissful ski. I pulled up next to Christine drooling and smiling, and she took off on the second leg, while I caught my breath. She skied the bottom portion flawlessly, really raised the bar, and I thought, okay, me too, ski this section even better, there's not as far to slide if you fall here, just ski it SKI IT!!

I saw her pull up and I had a moment of clarity... I hadn't caught my breath yet, and rather than charging in, I waited another thirty seconds to slow my heart and breathe easy. Then, round, fun beautiful, turns, I wish it went on forever, it felt so damn good! I skied up to Christine and hugged her, just blissed out of my mind with the feeling of flying, of floating and turning, and I wanted so bad just to get back in the tram line and go again, but Christine needed to get down, so I hopped on her tails and she took off through the crud, hopping off this, jumping off that, maching through the low angle skied out slop that scares the crap out of me...

We made it down in plenty of time, and it looked like Jill and I might get a run in the Big, could we REALLY just go up there and do it again???

It turns out, no, we were 10 minutes late to get another lap. So instead, we skied everything else steep we could find off the Tram, but those turns in the Big, that feeling of adventure, of committing to a line... it has stayed with me!

Video coming soon!

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