I’ve spent many days on the summit of Lone Peak: As a former ski patroller, it was my “office” for five winters. At 11,166 feet, it is one of the highest peaks in the area, and on sunny days I loved looking down on the sweeping flanks and high, wild basins of Fan and Cedar Mountains.
Receiving 400 inches of annual snowfall—over 33 feet—the peak sees fierce weather conditions and is host to some of the most intense big mountain skiing of any resort in the country.
But I’d never been to the summit in summer, so I jumped at the opportunity to join a Lone Peak Expedition in late June. Our group of 11 walked from the plaza to the bottom of the Swift Current Chair, loaded up, and swung our ski-less feet all the way up. A Chevy Silverado 3500 customized safari-style took us into the Bowl and up rocky, hairpin switchbacks to the base of the Tram. From there, it was a four-minute ride over the otherworldly striated cliffs of the 1,000-foot east face.
Our guide, Alyssa Nagel, told us about the complex geologic history of sedimentation, plate tectonics and glaciation that formed the mountain and the nearby Yellowstone caldera, and pointed out the resort’s marquee run, the Big Couloir, which cuts a striking line beneath the Tram. Nagel, a fourth-year guide and a nursing student at Montana State University in
Bozeman, also explained that building the tram in 1996 involved more than 3,000 helicopter flights and put Big Sky on the map as a major U.S. ski destination.
When we stepped out of the tram car at the top, a blast of cold air washed over us. Rounding the corner of the patrol building, andesite talus gave way to snow, and seven-year-olds Massey Adams and Karly Williams made a run for it. Although the two had never met before and were from Spring Branch, Texas, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, respectively, snowballs were soon flying and a snowman was in process. Massey’s grandparents, Gary and Curry Adams, walked out onto the Titanic Deck, a steel promontory overlooking the Bowl, Alto Ridge—host to the first summit climb on the grueling Rut 50k ultramarathon—and the sweeping 2,000-foot ski runs of Marx and Lenin on the South Face. In the distance, 10,968-foot Electric Peak marked the entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
I strolled over soft summer snow to the summit, scanning the southern horizon for the distinctive crest of the Tetons, light blue in the distance. Between us: the snow-striped peaks of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, which protects 254,288 acres in the remote and spectacular Madison Range. Lone Peak is one of the highest points in a 50-mile radius, and from here we can see 14 other ranges including the Gallatins, Tobacco Roots, Absarokas and the Snowcrest.
“That you can come to the top of this mountain and stand in snow in the middle of June—it is incredible,” Curry said. “It’s so not [Alabama]… This is an adventure.”
Christine Baker, a longtime local who oversees all basecamp activities and manages the children’s ski school, recommends reserving a tour in advance.
“You still have the same epic views that the hardcore skiers descending a couloir experience without having to have all the technical skills and background and ability,” Baker said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
In winter, the skiing is more akin to the Alps than the Rockies, according to extreme skiing pioneer Scot Schmit.
“To be able to ride the tram and ski down into [the North Summit Snowfield]… [those are] Euro-style descents up there,” Schmidt once told me. “You’re skiing big couloirs and faces. There’s a
pretty good pucker factor.”
By Emily Stifler Wolfe