Monday, June 24, 2019

Winter Conditions on the Summer Solstice at Beartooth Basin

Beartooth Basin in all her glory. Summer hours are 8 am – 3 pm every day, weather permitting. Image: Martin Kuprianowicz
Clearly, Beartooth Basin – the cash only, summer-only ski area located on the border of Montana/Wyoming, didn’t receive the memo that summer had officially arrived. Because they had gotten 3-4 inches of new snow the day before (on the summer solstice!), the resort was closed last Friday and had a delayed opening when we arrived on Saturday. So much for the summer solstice party that was supposed to go down. But who really wants it to be summer up there anyway?
highway 212
U.S. Highway 212 – otherwise known as “Beartooth Highway” – stays closed the entire winter and is only open in the summer. Image: Martin Kuprianowicz
Last Saturday, June 22nd, we skied there in winter conditions. It was 24 degrees in the morning when we arrived. At around 8:30 am, we went up as far as we could on the road only to find that the gate on the pass leading to the mountain was still shut. We were tense – we had driven 4 hours to come to ski this place yet the road wasn’t open to get there – a recent dump of 3-4 inches the day before was keeping it closed. However, we did not lose hope.
Snowboarder Tyler Mayer waiting patiently in freezing conditions for the road to open. Image: Martin Kuprianowicz
When an official looking guy pulled up on the other side of the closed gates we went to pry about the resort’s chances of opening that day. That’s when we met Brad, Beartooth Basin’s one-man ticket sales operation. After some joking around about how much it had felt like winter, Brad reassured us that he would allow some riders in through the gate and let them ride the mountain that day, even though the road would still technically remain “closed.”
beartooth passes
Beartooth Basin is a cash-only ski area. Image: Martin Kuprianowicz
Then at 9:45 am, when he got word that lifts started spinning, Brad lifted the gates and allowed us, two large caravans of mogul skiers who were training at Beartooth, and a group of cars to pass through the gates and start skiing. The people who made it past the gates for this brief 10-minute window were the only ones to ride the mountain that day – the entire day.
We basically had the whole mountain to ourselves! It was us two, a few other riders, and then all the mogul skiers and those traveling with them. That’s it. Those were the only people skiing Beartooth Basin that Saturday. Plus, the mogul skiers stuck to the mogul courses so the lift-lines stayed short.
Deserted! Image: Martin Kuprianowicz
When you drop into Beartooth Basin from U.S. Highway 212 where the parking lot is situated at the top of the resort, you have to send down a gnarly, 55-degree slope of rock hard ice. This was the only way to ski to the lift at the bottom of ‘The Basin,’ and it is not for the faint of heart.
The steep and icy drop in to the ski area. Image: Martin Kuprianowicz
Beartooth Basin features 2 tow-rope lifts, one at the bottom that drops you off about halfway up the mountain above the terrain park, and the other that takes you from there to the top. There are no lodging or facilities at Beartooth besides an old airstream trailer that sells ski passes.
beartooth ticket sales
An Airstream trailer turned ticket office. Image: Powell Tribune
Skiing from the top is steep and challenging – you drop down an icy, 55-degree slope and have to navigate around cliffs and moguls made of ice lurking around every turn. But man is it fun.
beartooth's park
A side-view of the park at Beartooth. Image: Martin Kuprianowicz
Beartooth Basin also features a terrain park consisting of a couple of jumps, some rails, and a funky, natural wall-ride feature at the bottom of the park. Skiers and snowboarders were getting all sorts of creative with this feature – hitting it like a jump, doing stalls/butters, or just spinning on it like a top.
Getting buttery at Beartooth. Image: Tyler Mayer. Skier: Martin Kuprianowicz.
After a hard day of skiing, we capped the day off with beers and banter with some locals in the parking lot. When the resort staff finished closing the mountain for the day, Brad led the wagon trail of ski vans and cars back to the gate and set us free. Before we hit the road, Brad told us he had been skiing Beartooth for 40+ plus years and running the resort since day 1. The man was the definition of a legend.
These guys really work hard to keep those lifts spinning, and “it’s more than just flipping on a switch,” said Brad. Well, we sure as hell appreciate those guys and their hard work for keeping the dream alive, all summer long.
Another view of ‘The Basin’ from the top. Image: Martin Kuprianowicz

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