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  • hannahbbelles Montana

I had a classmate in high school who's parents had a summer home in Montana. She seemed to always find a way to bring it up in most of my interactions with her, and annoying as it was, I was definitely jealous. Okay, my parents did take me to Estes Park for a few summers as a kid, but to actually live in such a wild place like Montana seemed next level. A few years later, I saw pictures posted of another friend's backpacking trip in Glacier National Park. I found myself awe-struck by the landscapes. The mountains seemed so dramatic and the lakes were the deepest blues and greens I had every seen. I especially was drawn to one picture with my friend jumping off of a granite cliff into a glacial lake; her hands were thrown into the air and her body so perfectly positioned conveying this sense of freedom I hadn't experienced at that point. The idea of Montana always seemed like a dream.

So you can imagine how stoked I am that Montana is now accessible to us for long weekend trips! Nick and I first visited Big Sky, Bozeman, and Butte shortly after moving to Salt Lake City last summer. We had a blast hiking, trying new breweries and driving through the mountain passes. Last weekend though, was our first time skiing at Big Sky Resort. We were lucky enough to split an Airbnb with some of our running friends just 4 miles away from the resort entrance. Not quite ski-in and ski-out, but pretty dang close. Nick and I couldn't get over how much easier it felt than trying to struggle through the Cottonwood Canyon traffic in SLC. Parking was a breeze; we especially loved these open air shuttles that took you from the free parking area to the Mountain Village. Little things like that help make the experience that much more enjoyable. (It may have even helped saved my legs a little for the boot packing, but that comes later).

The jewel of the area is Lone Peak, which totes striking prominence among Big Sky. The morning was a little overcast, so Lone Peak stayed obscured for a while, but I was dazzled by the steepness of the surrounding couloirs. The other members of the group were more advanced skiers than me, so I struggled to get any shots with my camera that first day in effort to not be the weenie of the group and hold everyone up. I did end up snapping a few with my phone.

Overcast morning at Big Sky. (Taken with iPhone 10)
Me on "Right of Challenger" (Taken with iPhone 12)

The morning was stellar. I skied one of my favorite lines this season, which Nick and I dubbed "Right of Challenger" (not it's real name...we think it's probably Midnight). We traversed to the right off of Challenger lift and found this fun face all to ourselves. I finally felt rhythm and flow in my skiing and could let go of my incessant focus on technique that I had been trying so hard to work on this season. I tried to embrace the fall line and follow Nick down to the end.

After lunch, the group decided to boot pack up a run called Bone Crusher. For those unfamiliar with the term, boot packing is where a skier or snowboarder will hike up a steep slope with skis over their shoulder or attached to a backpack. Typically, the snow is better since less people are willing to put forth the effort of hiking up. However, observing Bone Crusher from the lift, the hike looked pretty manageable. I thought it would be a good first time to try. "That'll only take us 10 minutes," my friend said to me as we skied off the lift. After about 15 steps, my shoulder began to ache under the weight of my skis and my breathing grew labored. I quickly realized the rest of the group was gaining distance from me. I felt nauseous, dizzy...and a little embarrassed. Why couldn't I do this? I could feel the pressure of my pant button against my distended stomach. The guys reached the top of the run while I was still about halfway. I could only manage about 20 steps before I had to stop each time for a break. 17...18...19...20...okay, don't pass out. During one of these moments, I couldn't help notice how sweet of a photo it would be to get the guys skiing down the slope from my current angle. The idea was extremely tempting, but at that point, I felt determined to make it to the top. 17...18...19...20, oh look someone else wants to pass me. 17...18...19...20, oh god they must think I'm pathetic. 17...18...19...20, what the fuck was I thinking? Finally, after sinking, tripping, and huffing my way through the deep powder, I made it to the top. The guys were so kind to wait for me and even helped me clear the snowpack off of my boots, so I could clip in more easily. I may have been the weenie of the group, but at least I would get to ski some fresh powder.

Made it! Photo taken by Kevin Nguyen

After a few more runs off of Challenger lift, Nick and I headed back down the mountain and celebrated the end of a successful day with some après ski drinks in the village area. The sun lit up Lone Peak in the background and warmed my face as I sipped on my nice, cold beer. I felt sore, tired, but full of gratitude and stoke. Deciding to move across the country away from our families was one of the most difficult decisions we ever made, and sometimes I feel guilty that I chose "fun" over being closer to my parents. I am learning that cultivating a life you love isn't without sacrifice and even some sadness. In settings like these, I find myself wishing that my parents lived closer so I could share these moments with them, and I worry that I will regret not spending more time with them someday. But I try to remember this decision was not a choice of fun versus responsibility, rather a choice of prioritizing exploration, wonder, independence, and yes, play. I drank another sip, took a deep breath and let myself smile looking up at Lone Peak. Here's to more days in Montana.


Update from Day 2:

Unfortunately, Nick and I were only able to ski for a few hours on Sunday before we had to head back to Salt Lake. However, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try Bone Crusher again, but this time get the photo I had imagined. I hauled my butt back up the goddam slope, only this time, stopping halfway and signaled for Nick to drop in.

I'm drawn to the idea of "adventure photography" because you have to be willing to do the work. You have to be comfortable in the elements and willing to almost get blown over by little snow tornados so that you can attempt to get a cool shot of your husband living his best life, and try to capture the moment on the first try because he is not going to hike back up that thing for a third time. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what makes for good composition and good storytelling in a photo, but I'm having a pretty awesome time learning.


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