[Ed's note: Photo gallery is currently under construction.]
One year ago, a video popped up in my inbox: Pond Skim 2011 – Big Sky Resort. I hit play, and 03:27 later I said to myself, "I'm going to Big Sky next April."
This weekend, I made good on my claim. I flew into Bozeman Yellowstone Int. Airport on Friday, rented a car, drove 45-minutes to Big Sky and checked in at the Huntley Lodge. Once situated I made my way to Choppers, a local bar, to watch the NHL playoffs; three games were on tap that night.
Alone on this journey, it didn't take long for me to make some acquaintances. I found myself at the head of a table of nine. To my left, Philadelphia Flyers fans, and to the right supporters of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The two teams were facing off in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal. For hours—like a tennis spectator—my head went left, right, then left again as I followed the exchange of banter between proud loyalists. Many drinks and buffalo wings later I parted with my new friends, with plans to meet again in the morning.
Saturday brought mostly sunny skies and warm temperatures. The forecast had called for a mix of rain and snow and the pleasant conditions came as a welcome surprise. Registration for the pond skim opened at 11:00 am and space was limited to 100 participants. I arrived early to ensure a spot on the roster. The action wouldn't kick off until 3 pm, so in my spare time I set out to explore the mountain. Never before a visitor to Big Sky—let alone the state of Montana—I was especially excited to ride Big Sky's Lone Peak Tram to the top of Lone Mountain (11,166 ft). From the cable car, I peered out at the famed Big Couloir and the other surroundings. "This place is big," I thought.
After shredding for a few hours I joined my Choppers pals for lunch at Whiskey Jack's. Fueled up on burgers and Bloody Mary's, it was time to rock.
By the time we arrived at the pond countless spectators had already gathered, eager to watch the shenanigans. And what I haven't told you yet is that three out of five people on the mountain that day were adorned in costumes–Santa Clauses, Mickey Mouses, lions, tigers and bears (oh my!), and more 80s themed outfits than one could shake a stick at. With the masses assembled, the hillside transformed into a sea of bright colors.
A crowd of 6,000 on hand to cheer on the pond-skimmers.
Last year, Big Sky constructed a double-stage pond skim setup. This go-round, the Resort opted to switch things up, creating a unique shape that offered a zig zag route, a jump, a jump-to-platform-to-drop, etc… It's rather difficult to describe, so I'd better just let the photos do the talking. And with 6,000 people cheering him on the first pond-skimmer of the day dropped in.
For the next hour and a half we were witness to mayhem. Utter hucking, big spills, great successes, fire hoses, pool toys, PBR's… The best performances earned deafening applause while the fails and/or cheesy outfits brought on onslaughts of snowballs and jeers.
Memorable highlights included Buzz Lightyear sending a massive superman front flip off the jump, over the platform, and straight to his back resulting in an explosion of water, an Anchorman news team dropping in a train (and crashing like a train), a five-year-old snowboarder who found that 3 MPH is not quite fast enough to get from side to side… I could go on and on. The 100 individuals who registered all dropped, plus many poachers who couldn't resist the urge to partake in the fun. Each costume that came flying down the in-run was more outrageous than the next.
Clear water, bright sunshine, life is good.
Looking around the hill I couldn't get over the amount of people who had come to spectate. There was a tremendous energy, and I felt certain those few hours alone would have been worth the trip. The sun burned particularly brightly for the duration of the show, and just minutes after the last man dropped, the clouds rolled in. Perfect timing.
Following the pond skim, the masses shuffled down the hill to the base plaza where Milton Menasco and the Big Fiasco graced us with their musical talent. The sound inspired dance. Once the band had played its full set, I grabbed some quick dinner before The Dirty Shame took the stage at Whiskey Jack's. More great music inspired more wild dance, and once the plug was pulled it was on to a handful of late night parties. Condos, hotel rooms, the Huntley pool and hot tub, RVs in the parking lot—take your pick. Big Sky was hopping 'til the sky filled with light on Sunday morning.
And just like that, my first Big Sky pond skim experience was in the books. In one day, I'd explored much of Big Sky's "Biggest Skiing in America," I'd met many new friends, I dazzled the crowd (not really) with a successful foray across the pond, I partied, I ate scrumptious food, I danced… 'twas a Saturday for the ages.
The mountain remained open on Sunday. Not surprisingly, many slept in before buckling the boots and heading back out onto the snow. Sunday was a mellow day—a chance for partygoers to regain their bearings before the clock struck Monday.
Big thanks, Big Sky—I'll be back.
Big Sky Closing Weekend, Pond Skim Video — 2012
Stay tuned to the 2012/13 Freeskier Resort Guide (dropping in November) where we'll compare and contrast closing weekend festivities at a handful of ski resorts around the West.