A Tour Of Duty In Big Sky Territory.
Words By Jennifer Sherowski

The state of Montana is filled with pickup trucks. This isn’t some cockeyed generalization about rednecks, but simply God’s own truth. Roads are crammed with F150s, Dodge Rams-anything that has mud flaps and room for lumber in the back. Vehicles are piloted by roughened frontier-types with the vacant stare of those hardened by life in the mountains. “What would everyone do if they stopped making pickups?” one of our crew asked from the back of the rental car. And like an answer to the question of human existence-we’ll just never know.

Our group consisted of Craig Ballantyne, Lukas Huffman, Matt Standish, Anthony Meggait, me, photographer Derek Kettela, and our guide and host-who for security reasons wants to remain anonymous, but for the sake of the story, we’ll just call him “George.” The plan was to meet up at George’s parents’ vacation home near Big Sky. His father is the CEO of an oil company in Toronto, so you can imagine that if one thing went right the whole week, it was how completely amazing this house was. The snowboarding … well, we worked hard to track down Montana’s hidden treasures. But you know-the sweetest things in life don’t come easily.

“Even Warren Miller was an asshole.”
All in all, we caught a lot of heat from local blood along the way. There was the old buzzard at the snowmobile rental place who made a big scene about us wearing helmets, but thought it was hilarious when Ketella almost killed himself on a patch of ice in front of the office building. “Ice in Montana during the winter, wow,” was his unconcerned comment. Then there was the lit fuse at the cat-skiing operation who unleashed verbal wrath on me for not calling him to confirm our spots on the tour the next day.
Ironically, the first piece of attitude we ran into came by way of ski-movie mogul Warren Miller, who was at Big Sky for a book signing on the first day of our visit. Ballantyne immediately seized the celebrity photo opportunity-hey, if we couldn’t arrange something with him and Gisele in the hot tub back at the house, then this would have to work. But Miller was suspicious of the whole thing from the get-go-no doubt irritated at being faced with the exact demographic that was destroying his one-piece-wearing Warren Miller empire. He stopped just short of giving Ballantyne a dissertation on manners before reluctantly allowing Kettela to get the shot.

“No, I meant next to the other sink.”
The house where we stayed was simply too nice for us. What were a bunch of dirts doing setting up their boards on a real Persian rug, anyway? But if anyone fit into the rap-video surroundings, it was our tour guide. Despite being a reformed pro shred, George drinks red wine with dinner and knows what “chukar” is. He spent the entire trip cleaning up after us and telling the shreds where stuff was in the house. This was no easy task-considering that the line, “the bottle opener’s in the drawer by the sink” doesn’t really help when there’s more than one sink in the kitchen.
The downstairs area boasted a pool table, a bar, a Ping-Pong table, couches that felt like beds, and what can only be called an in-home movie theater. This would be the location for the nightly viewing of our exploits recorded on digicam, as well as the place where Kettela discovered the joys of watching E!’s Sizzling Sixteen on a ten-foot screen.
(A word to the wise: no matter how funny it seems at the time, don’t force a nightmare-prone person to watch The Shining and Apocalypse Now in the dark-with surround sound. Kettela drifted off into restless dreams on the couch next to me just after the chopped-up-twins scene in The Shining. Ten minutes later, he sat bolt upright and tried to punch me in his sleep. Oh well, I probably deserved it.)

“I don’t know, my panties are on too tight.”
Big Sky is insanely extreme with powder, but after we wasd a day casing the joint for every promising hip, road gap, and logjam, we swore not to return to the mountain unless it dumped. Better just to build something in the hills by the house. After waking the next morning to avalanche bombs, however, the prospect of new snow lured us back.
Now, it’s entirely possible that there were fresh lines to be had that day, but an 11:30 a.m. chair on President’s Day weekend pretty much guarantees tracked-out at any resort. Instead of endless powder lines through open bowls, the top of the tram lent us row upon row of granite shark’s teeth-cleverly hidden beneath a milky veil of snow. Meggait, Standish, and Huffman all got core shots in their base, and Ballantyne blew out his edge. Sweet.
Eventually we wandered down to the lower mountain and sessioned a mellow roller in the trees-where the bemused riders remembered how to hit a jump within ski-area boundaries, and Ballantyne made reference to wearing female undergarments when describing the size of his airtime. The jump may not have been death defying, but after announcing, “I didn’t say I was the best photographer, I said I was the smartest,” Kettela pulled out his camera and made it all look epic.

“We’re going to inspect our comfort zones.”
After milling around Bozeman on the third afternoon scouting rails at the University, we drove to Bridger Bowl just before dark. The plan was to shoot the double-set handrail directly in front of the lodge. A serious ten-flat-ten, kinked chunk of metal to parking lot-this rail is high-profile and high-consequence. We had to be careful. While Huffman ran around with a shovel “inspecting his comfort zones,” the rest of us stood around looking suspiciously unsuspicious until the resort emptied out for the day.
Convinced we were busted with every employee who spilled forth from the lodge, we developed the foolproof excuse that this was “a school project.” But there was actually no need to use that line, because we soon realized the effectiveness of saying something simpler: “Somebody already told us it was okay.” It seemed that most of the mountain workers were just trying to cover their asses. Once they heard that another Bridger employee had given the thumbs-up, they were all game.
After pulling one of the cars out onto the snow to light up the runway (someone said we could, of course), it was on. Huffman ollied the double-set first, followed by Meggait. Sparks flew as more serious stunts were thrown down-Huffman gapped to 50-50, Meggait boardslid it twice, and Ballantyne snapped a huge ollie. Fortunate to make it this far, the crew should have packed up and made out with the goods-especially after Huffman almost landed on the rail with his neck. But Ballantyne wanted one more piece of the action, and who were we to argue?

“In about five minutes, I’ll know what the rest of my season’s going to be like.”
Rails have taken down a lot of cats, and this particular one would be no different. See, there’s nothing half-assed about the way Craig Ballantyne rides-if anything, it’s too powerful sometimes. And when he said he’d frontside boardslide this thing, we all should have foreseen the possible outcome. Kettela was sketched, but that was nothing new. Even after Ballantyne pulled out on his first try because he was off balance, we dismissed Kettela’s warnings as the pointless pleadings of the paranoid.
So there we all stood in the frigid Montana darkness, clutching cameras, flashes, and shovels to our chests, as Ballantyne hiked up the lonely path to strap in. After a sharp yell of “Ready!” cracked from the woods, he dropped in, rounded the corner into the Cherokee’s headlights, and exploded off the top step, getting so much pop that his board touched down on the very last six inches of the rail. It was impossible not to notice how his knees and ankles bent in at odd directions under the force of the landing.
We all ran up to the crumpled pile of Ballantyne. He was cradling his knee and managed to communicate that he’d hurt it before doing something similar-if anything was wrong, he’d know in a couple minutes. After a brief wait, it was confirmed: “My knee feels yucky.” Within seconds he had a bag of ice, a bottle of Newcastle, and a plane ticket home to his physical therapist.

“I’ve never heard so much swearing before noon.”
Countless variables help dictate how (un)epic a day of snowboarding will look to the camera-the most important being light. Blue skies or the luminescence of sunset can make the silliest things look insane, but the sweetest maneuvers are rendered flat and boring under graybird. You can imagine, then, how a day of sledding in the backcountry with mostly cloudy conditions could nearly drive a photographer over the edge.
The terrain back there was amazing: cliffs, chutes, rollers-everything. But as soon as Huffman lined up to drop a cornice, the holes in the clouds moved west toward the resort and left us under flat light. Curse words could be heard bouncing off the highest peaks and echoing around in the glaciated valleys.
The pinnacle of the day’s freak-out came when Kettela actually called the weather “assholes” after seeing how sunny it was across the valley at Big Sky. But you don’t sled 45 minutes out of bounds just to get pissed at nature, and we eventually found a nice little outcropping to build a kicker on. As twenty or 30 rednecks in full snowmobile-cross gear cheered them on from the flats, Meggait, Huffman, and Standish went to work on the thing-and for the first time that day the sound of sequences being snapped replaced the cries of exasperated rhetoric.

“It’s kind of bad etiquette.”
The final day we spent working a jump near the road by the house. The shreds had to use snowmobiles to get speed into it, and always one for intellectual debate, Huffman discussed with me the finer points of snowboarding etiquette. His stance was that tow-ins are in somewhat bad taste. “As long as you’re snowboarding, you may as well use it to get you off the jump, too.” Although I could understand his point, it was tough for me to see the harm in using all of one’s available resources.
Nevertheless, George floored the 700 and hauled rider after rider into the thing. Standish slaughtered huge Indy air to fakies, Meggait corked big Cab fives, and Huffman boosted mean backside airs and tilted spins. Meggait definitely had the tow-in formula dialed, going so huge on a few that he nearly landed in the road. Riders had to proceed with caution, though, because the jump had what certain dudes call “Wu-Tang,” and controlling your trajectory was pretty tough. A few near misses with trees were the only altercations of the day.

“That’s not how I packed it.”
This trip started and ended with one hell of a logistical travel nightmare. The shitstorm began when I stepped off the plane in Seattle into a panicked call from Kettela telling me to meet him at the “Special Services” desk. George’s flight from Vancouver had been canceled due to “mechanical difficulties”-a term used so often by Alaska Airlines that we were convinced it was code for something else (like the pilot being drunk). Because George was kind of the kingpin of our whole shaky plan-we were staying at his house, he had a car at the airport in Bozeman-this simply wasn’t happening without him.
At the Special Services desk, Kettela was trying to find out where George was-the woman at the gate had already threatened to call security on him for exhibiting “violent behavior.” But after a half-hour of haggling, we were able to determine that George was arriving in Seattle all of twenty minutes before our departure to Bozeman (the last flight of the day, of course). He made it, thankfully-but don’t worry, his bags didn’t.
Huffman and Standish’s journey from B.C. brought to light an important travel lesson: when crossing the border into a country . He was cradling his knee and managed to communicate that he’d hurt it before doing something similar-if anything was wrong, he’d know in a couple minutes. After a brief wait, it was confirmed: “My knee feels yucky.” Within seconds he had a bag of ice, a bottle of Newcastle, and a plane ticket home to his physical therapist.

“I’ve never heard so much swearing before noon.”
Countless variables help dictate how (un)epic a day of snowboarding will look to the camera-the most important being light. Blue skies or the luminescence of sunset can make the silliest things look insane, but the sweetest maneuvers are rendered flat and boring under graybird. You can imagine, then, how a day of sledding in the backcountry with mostly cloudy conditions could nearly drive a photographer over the edge.
The terrain back there was amazing: cliffs, chutes, rollers-everything. But as soon as Huffman lined up to drop a cornice, the holes in the clouds moved west toward the resort and left us under flat light. Curse words could be heard bouncing off the highest peaks and echoing around in the glaciated valleys.
The pinnacle of the day’s freak-out came when Kettela actually called the weather “assholes” after seeing how sunny it was across the valley at Big Sky. But you don’t sled 45 minutes out of bounds just to get pissed at nature, and we eventually found a nice little outcropping to build a kicker on. As twenty or 30 rednecks in full snowmobile-cross gear cheered them on from the flats, Meggait, Huffman, and Standish went to work on the thing-and for the first time that day the sound of sequences being snapped replaced the cries of exasperated rhetoric.

“It’s kind of bad etiquette.”
The final day we spent working a jump near the road by the house. The shreds had to use snowmobiles to get speed into it, and always one for intellectual debate, Huffman discussed with me the finer points of snowboarding etiquette. His stance was that tow-ins are in somewhat bad taste. “As long as you’re snowboarding, you may as well use it to get you off the jump, too.” Although I could understand his point, it was tough for me to see the harm in using all of one’s available resources.
Nevertheless, George floored the 700 and hauled rider after rider into the thing. Standish slaughtered huge Indy air to fakies, Meggait corked big Cab fives, and Huffman boosted mean backside airs and tilted spins. Meggait definitely had the tow-in formula dialed, going so huge on a few that he nearly landed in the road. Riders had to proceed with caution, though, because the jump had what certain dudes call “Wu-Tang,” and controlling your trajectory was pretty tough. A few near misses with trees were the only altercations of the day.

“That’s not how I packed it.”
This trip started and ended with one hell of a logistical travel nightmare. The shitstorm began when I stepped off the plane in Seattle into a panicked call from Kettela telling me to meet him at the “Special Services” desk. George’s flight from Vancouver had been canceled due to “mechanical difficulties”-a term used so often by Alaska Airlines that we were convinced it was code for something else (like the pilot being drunk). Because George was kind of the kingpin of our whole shaky plan-we were staying at his house, he had a car at the airport in Bozeman-this simply wasn’t happening without him.
At the Special Services desk, Kettela was trying to find out where George was-the woman at the gate had already threatened to call security on him for exhibiting “violent behavior.” But after a half-hour of haggling, we were able to determine that George was arriving in Seattle all of twenty minutes before our departure to Bozeman (the last flight of the day, of course). He made it, thankfully-but don’t worry, his bags didn’t.
Huffman and Standish’s journey from B.C. brought to light an important travel lesson: when crossing the border into a country where you aren’t a citizen, you are always, I repeat always, on vacation. I don’t care if you’re carrying 10,000 dollars in camera equipment or a suitcase full of pills and absinthe. Saying you’re going to work abroad will get you shut down faster than you can say “full cavity search.” And as Standish learned, yes, even going to shoot photos for a magazine constitutes “working.”
The trip home was traumatic mostly on account of our 6:55 a.m. flight out. After a night on the town in Bozeman, we wandered into the tiny airport at what seemed like hours before sunrise-eyes red and heads like train wrecks. Naturally, they picked Kettela for the secondary security check. The last thing I saw as I stepped onto the plane in Bozeman was Kettela’s hawk-like supervision of a female security guard trying and failing to repack his bag properly. Shaking my head, I thought, “She has no idea what she was getting into.”

try where you aren’t a citizen, you are always, I repeat always, on vacation. I don’t care if you’re carrying 10,000 dollars in camera equipment or a suitcase full of pills and absinthe. Saying you’re going to work abroad will get you shut down faster than you can say “full cavity search.” And as Standish learned, yes, even going to shoot photos for a magazine constitutes “working.”
The trip home was traumatic mostly on account of our 6:55 a.m. flight out. After a night on the town in Bozeman, we wandered into the tiny airport at what seemed like hours before sunrise-eyes red and heads like train wrecks. Naturally, they picked Kettela for the secondary security check. The last thing I saw as I stepped onto the plane in Bozeman was Kettela’s hawk-like supervision of a female security guard trying and failing to repack his bag properly. Shaking my head, I thought, “She has no idea what she was getting into.”