We're on our way back home after five days of skiing in Montana at Big Sky Resort. It is one of my favorite mountains to look at from the bottom:
And also from the top (well, midmountain anyway -- you'll have to ask Mark to take a photo from the actual top, because I don't go there):
Big Sky is now bigger since it bought up its neighboring little sister resort Moonlight Basin. This was a little bit of a disappointment for us, because we loved Moonlight (we've been there twice before); it was smaller and cheaper, with a homely little vibe that said "We are about skiing, not about seeing and being seen in your expensive gear."
Now it is bundled with the other side of the mountain, like the one good cable channel that you cannot buy unless you also buy all the others you don't mind watching but you really don't need. As I was putting on my boots in the parking lot for my first day, an older man with two young men -- my guess is it was his grown sons -- clomped by shaking his head, on his way back from the ticket office. "Things have sure changed," he said. "Next year I think we'll stay in town and drive up to Bridger."
But all the things we love about it are still there, so we had a great time even with a bit of sticker shock.
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Mark's dad and mom met us out there, which was what you call a win-win situation.
We got to visit with them, which is always a good time.
Chip, meet old block.
The kids all got some wonderful grandma-and-grandpa time. Especially the one member of the family who can't ski.
And that meant that the six of us who do ski had plenty of time on the slopes together.
And Mark and I even got in some time together, on the slopes and in the slopeside restaurant and in the hot tub outside on the deck with snow blowing down on us keeping our beer cold.
Sorry, no hot tub pics.
We chose the more expensive route of a slopeside (sort of) resort condo, instead of staying in town and driving to the hill, because that makes it much easier for me to come back and nurse the baby without it putting an end to my skiing day. While I am not usually prone to leave my nursing one-year-old behind for hours and hours in a single week -- I took the opportunity to spend some time skiing with my 14-yo and 11-yo.
(That's them, at the top of an expert gully called "Sticks and Stones." I took the picture, then skied around another way and met them at the bottom.)
Because babies don't keep, it's true, but neither do teenage boys who want to ski with their moms.
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We had more than eight hours' driving time ahead of us from Big Sky to Bismarck (whence I am writing this morning), so we left at six-twenty a.m. on Saturday. I usually drive the first shift, since I'm quite awake after I have had my coffee, but I gladly let Mark start the drive down to the mouth of the valley as he has logged more driving hours in the mountains than I have. It was dark and a bit drizzly, with some sloppy snow on the road, but the conditions were not slippery.
We sipped coffee from a thermos as Mark made his way down the winding mountain road. We had not yet reached the little village with its grocery store and gas stations, when Mark interrupted me to ask, "Are those cars flashing their lights at me?"
I looked up. There were not many cars on the road, but there were more of them driving up than down. Several came around the bend, and the posts strung along the median passed between us and their headlights, causing a flickering effect. But then I thought I saw one of them flash its brights at us. Or was it just the flickering? "I'm not sure. Do you have the brights on?" I leaned over to check and he squinted at the dashboard. No.
"I wonder if there's something wrong with the car?" We were both thinking of the cargo container strapped ti the top of our minivan, the one with all the ski gear in it.
"If it was loose it would be making some noise," I started to say, and then Mark interrupted me again.
"Look," he said, "there's another one flashing at us."
I thought I had seen it too. "That's weird," I said, "that guy only just came around the bend. He didn't have time to see us."
"That's what I thought, too," said Mark.
"The sign says there is a turnout in a quarter mile," I pointed out, "why don't you pull over and check the car. Be careful," I added.
On the mountain roads, when there is only one lane in each direction, the roadbuilders leave a turnout every so often, a place (usually on a curve) where a wider shoulder is carved out of the mountain. Slower cars and trucks can pull over there to let the faster drivers pass, so that each slow vehicle doesn't accumulate a long queue behind it as it makes its way down the curving road.
Mark pulled into the next one and leaned over to rummage through the glove compartment for the headlamp we keep in the car. "Be careful," I said again, "put the blinkers on," and he did and shut the door. I listened to the blinkers clicking on and off and watched the swinging shadows as he went all around the van with the headlamp in his hand. I watched his expression as he came in front of the car to look at the cargo container -- easy to imagine an "Oh shit" moment right the -- but there was no alarm, it must be fine.
"Nothing," he said, getting back in and buckling up. "I wonder..."
"Maybe we were imagining the flashing," I said. "Those posts in front of the headlights."
"Maybe," he said as we pulled out and headed around the next bend, "maybe -- HOLY COW!"
I looked up and saw the leaping shadows on the road in a strange shape that resolved itself before my eyes into a big, square rock -- maybe half the size of a small refrigerator -- right in the middle of the single northbound lane just ahead. There was room -- the next set of oncoming headlights was just coming around the next bend down hill -- Mark steered into the oncoming lane and around it, then back into our own lane. It was sharp-edged, roughly cube-shaped, and almost a meter on a side.
"Whoa," I said. My heart pounded.
"That was huge!"
"Thank you, Montana drivers," I said.
"No kidding," said Mark. "I was on edge and going slow because of the flashing. I knew it was something, and not a speed trap up here, but I didn't know what it was."
"I'm glad you were driving and not me," I said after a while.
"I wasn't going to say that," said Mark, "but I was thinking that."