If you have been following our escapades, you know that some from the SkiTalk team traveled to Big Sky to volunteer at the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. While there @Andy Mink @Winks and Phil were treated to Big Sky's Headlamp at Night adventure. The price of the evening is $795 for 7 people. As you can see from their web page, starting time varies for the time of year and with the longer days we are having now, this particular outing started at 7 PM and lasted until just after 9 PM. Phil and Andy both will share their perspectives on this unique offering below.
Phil: Having experience using head lamps night mountain biking, I thought this sounds like a ton of fun ... and it was. I will start by saying that it is amazing how far lighting systems have come. While I was tempted to bring my Ledlenser system, we used their Lezyne that were much more compact but did more than an adequate job.
After signing the waiver we were provided headlamps similar to those I've used during summer nighttime mountain bike rides. We gathered and met with the guides at the base and skated over to the Ramcharger 8 pack lift. We would be able to ski any terrain that funneled back to the Ramcharger. If you're not familiar with Big Sky, that's a LOT of terrain! I opted to stay with the group that stuck to the four or five groomer runs right near the chair. As those runs were all groomed between the 4pm close and 6pm start of night skiing we would find fresh tracks on predictable terrain. These were perfect conditions for tired legs.
Phil: Under the suggestion of the instructors/guides, fifteen of us split up in smaller groups of 4-5 which made for a better experience for all. Our group consisted of Chris Neary from CB, Jerry Bedingfield from Revo, Winks and me, along with our Instructor. Our first run or two were still under the light of the sun so we didn't need extra illumination, but night quickly approached and by the third run we were using the visibility of our own lights. What was additionally cool was that there was no moon, so that made the experience with the lights more dramatic.
While the tour suggested that it would be contained to the groomers, we were content there for a while and then our guide asked if we wanted to go explore. Usually after a relatively warm bluebird day of skiing like today, the snow will set up at night and become unskiable, but that was not the case this night. The off piste and ungroomed trails were just as light and chalky as they were earlier in the day, including in the woods. Speaking of woods, we were taken into Congo, which is one of my favorite spots which we skied earlier in the day here at Big Sky.
Andy: For the first 45 minutes or so the remaining daylight provided ample vision but when night falls at Big Sky it gets dark quickly. Adjusting the headlamps to get the best light took a little experimenting but was easy to figure out. After a few tentative turns, we were able to ramp up the speed to what felt like day time or beyond speeds. Knowing there would be no people popping out of the trees or distractions in the peripheral vision allowed total concentration to be on the snow right in front. Much like driving, it isn't a great idea to over-ski the throw of the headlamp, but even when right at the edge of the beam the fresh groomers inspired confidence.
Our friend found out quickly that the lamps have several settings and skiing, or attempting to ski, at the lowest setting is not comfortable. Once that was fixed he was ripping right along with the other four of us. At one point our guide A.J. hopped into the bumps on the side of a groomer and gave us a lesson in how to shred moguls. In the dark. With a small but bright light. On cheater GS skis. It was impressive. Another takeaway was it gets dark really quickly when the light falls off your helmet and into your hood. Again, knowing the groomer was smooth and predictable was a comfort as I came to a quick stop.
There is something very special about being on the mountain at night, at speed, with just your light and the lights of your skiing partners to illuminate the way. For one thing, you are all but forced to look further down the hill than you might during the day. Then you realize that's where you should ALWAYS be looking. With very little to distract you, the sound of the skis on the snow and the wind in your helmet become more of a focus, and it's a good thing. The rooster tail of groomer dust from the skier ahead sparkles in your light beam and adds a surreal effect to an already new and exciting experience.
While the price of entry is high ($795 for up to seven participants per guide), the experience of watching the sun set over Lone Peak, seeing the groomer lights run up and down the mountain preparing the dozens of runs for the onslaught of tomorrow's skiers, and spending time on the slow ride on the lift (the lift runs slowly due to non-sliders going up and down to and from dinner at Everett's Lodge) talking with friends new and old make this a "bucket list" event for not only the passionate skier but everyone who loves the sport.
Phil: Overall, it was a great night and an incredible experience. If anyone is traveling to Big Sky, I strongly suggest that you put a group together and do this.
I am not sure why other areas haven't adopted a program like this, because it is a hoot ... or in accounting verbiage, an opportunity to create additional revenue.