Outdoors

Pioneer Peak, Spring 1997

Some old-timers lament the fact that skiing has changed a lot, but I disagree

In the spring of 1997, my wife Laurie and I were living the good life in Vail, Colorado, skiing almost every day when I was invited to take a ride on a private jet to Bozeman.

On board were former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, Jon Reveal and the man who had invited us, Tim Blixseth.

We were going to look at Tim’s 14,000 acres of private property where he wanted to build the world’s first private ski and golf club. We all really wondered why he thought he could sell someone a lifetime lift ticket/membership for $200,000 and also sell them a $2 million dollar piece of property before they had the right to use their lift ticket.

Tim had incredible vision along with being very naïve about the ski business.

Fortunately, at least we thought, he had deep enough pockets to carry out his initial vision and I signed on as the director of skiing, Jack signed onto his board of directors and Jon Reveal was hired to lay out the runs where the chairlifts should be built.

Before I knew it Laurie and I had sold our Vail home and moved into a condominium at the bottom of nearby Big Sky.

On that first trip, there were no roads other than a narrow, bumpy logging road that took an hour to drive the 12 miles to the bottom of the mountain.

The top half of Pioneer Peak is steeper than the cornice at Mammoth and the bottom half is similar to Snowmass at Aspen. With the help of a helicopter, it only took a couple of hours for the four of us to ski and survey the entire mountain. Jon Reveal and I both agreed it was a perfect mountain for every member of the family regardless of their ability to ski or ride a snowboard.

Within a couple of years, the chairlifts were running. That first winter Jon and I quickly forgot how many days of untracked powder snow we got to enjoy.

But don’t forget, you can only make one turn at a time and as long as the snow is on the side of a mountain you can also enjoy places such as Bintz Fruit Farm where they dug a big enough hole in the ground to build four or five rope tows and 150 vertical feet of downhill skiing.

From small resorts such as Bint, come many of the skiers who eventually save up enough money to fly to Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, California, Washington or Oregon for their life-changing experience on some big mountains.

Adjacent to the Yellowstone Club is Big Sky with the most vertical rise of any other ski resort in America. On the northern slopes of Big Sky there is Moonlight Basin that is also full of chairlifts and condominiums. On the eastern side of Big Sky is Spanish Peaks with their ski-in, ski-out home sites. The whole area provides an amazing amount of ski terrain. I’m so happy we ended up in the area. But unfortunately, I had to quit skiing four years ago when I fell and broke my back.

I’m lucky I can sit by the windows in our living room and watch the skiers go right by close to our winter home.

I have discovered that good luck was on my shoulder during my early days skiing in the winter of 1946/47 when I was living in the parking lot at Sun Valley in our small teardrop trailer. The chairlift towers on Dollar Mountain were made out of telephone poles and a bed in the skier’s chalet was two dollars a night.

Some old-timers lament the fact that skiing has changed a lot, but I disagree. The setting has changed, no longer is there just a base lodge, a picnic table for your brownbag lunch and a place to hang up your wet socks from ski boots. Now things are much nicer and skis, of course, have changed radically since I started in 1937.

There are 16 different ski resorts in Montana – many very small but with incredible terrain. Many are only open from Thursday through Sunday and the lift tickets start at only $23. Parking places are free and all the base lodges have brownbag picnic areas.