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Winter 2009: Life as a ski bum

By Jim Sullivan

Well as the spring weather starts to roll in I can only reflect on another excellent winter spent out west in Big Sky, Montana. This winter seems to have had it all; epic trips, great friends visiting, and of course snow that only Big Sky can provide.

This winter started off with a bang with a trip to the Selkirk Mountain range in Canada. My friend Jess called me up one morning and asked “hey do you want to go heli skiing in Canada?” “uh duh, of course” I answered, but I thought, “ What ski bum can afford that?” Well, her friend Jamie had two weeks to gather twenty people to helicopter into a cabin for a nine day trip. No easy task considering everyone needed crampons, mountaineering axes and of course backcountry ski gear, plus the knowledge to go with the toys. Out of the twenty spots available we were able to grab eight for ourselves. Ten other spots were filled by the Matchstick ski film crew. Fortunately the trip ended up costing less than half the normal price because of a timely cancelation from a different group, and we didn’t need a guide or cook.

Flying over huge mountains in a helicopter is like living through an IMAX movie, and living in the cabin made us feel as though we were all ski movie stars. There is something surreal about being dropped in the middle of the Canadian mountains and left for eight days to ski the untouched epic powder. It snowed and snowed and each day got ridiculously deeper. The size of the pillow lines and height of the cliffs being dropped also continued to grow. It was inspirational to watch the professionals hit a massive cliff band just seconds from the door of the cabin, and it got us all amped to go out and ski harder!

The winter continued with my good friends Katrina and Jess (fellow Zoar Outdoor employees) coming out to visit. We rented an awesome little cabin in the Crazy Mountain Range in middle of nowhere Montana and enjoyed some sunny ski days. There’s nothing like sharing Big Sky’s incredible secrets with just your close friends.

Although there was a bit of a dry spell through the middle of the winter, it allowed for some good backcountry skiing including an overnight trip off the tram. Leyland, a fellow Big Sky employee, and I started the morning early by riding the two lifts that brought us to the tram. When we reached the top, we skied down a narrow ridgeline, and began a long hike up the beautiful backcountry mountain range called the Cedars. It’s one of those mountains that you stare at in awe, and just know it’s too far to do in a day, but every once in a while something drives you to try anyways. We didn’t have much overnight equipment because we needed to travel fast and move easily. We reached the proud summit of Cedar Mountain around 4p.m. and with the afternoon sun hung low above the peak we were still able to spot the perfect lines that seemed innumerable and skied down into the fresh bowl. From there we built a snow cave for shelter from the dropping temperatures. A fire helped to dry us out and we relaxed in its’ warmth, tired from a long day of hiking. Yes, we expected not to have the most welcoming accommodations at the base of an isolated mountain in the Montana backcountry, but on a side note I can’t believe the on mountain grocery store didn’t sell hot dogs, and cold dinner sandwiches prevailed. The sleeping sucked, but in the morning we made the return trip to Big Sky stoked with plenty of stories to tell.

Well before I drive back across the country I was able to sneak in one more super fun adventure. I visited my friend Mo in Bend, Oregon. Some people might also remember taking lessons at Zoar from Mo back in the day. Not an easy trek from Big Sky, but Oregon is so unique in diversity I had to check it out. It turned into a multi-sport trip. Here’s a list of what we did: skied, hiked, bouldered, mountain biked, climbed, and caved. We almost went kayaking but opted out last second for other adventures. It was so good to visit a close friend that I hadn’t seen much of in the past couple years. Randomly we also met up with two other close friends, Owen another former Zoar Outdoor instructor and Andy a buddy of mine from college. Hope you all have had wonderful winters and I look forward to paddling with all the great Zoar folks this summer.


Peter testing out his new camera, while I think about some epic powder


Nothing like waiting under the rotor blades while a helicopter takes off and lands above you


The mountains and glaciers of the Selkirks are a place dreams are made of


Dave getting in hucking mode at the Selkirks


Pillows everywhere in the Selkirks


These actually weren’t the deepest turns that Greg took


The cars tell their own story


The old forest service cabin in the Crazy Mountains with Jess and Katrina


The girls enjoying some fine cross-country skiing


Going hiking with my boss Kyle on a cold winters morning


After hours in the demo shop

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Told you Cedars were a long hike from Big Sky, the resort is in the background

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Mountain goats reign supreme at Cedar Mountain


Mo exploring the depths of the earth through lava tubes


We both agreed it’s too big to be that runnable, keep the boats away from us


One of the most gorgeous places that I’ve ever climbed; Smith Rock, Oregon


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