Big Sky is going where few resorts have gone before: the triple black diamond route.
The Montana resort recently gave 25 named runs that designation — a step up from the common double diamond extreme terrain that dot a lot of North American ski and snowboard resorts.
“Our ski patrol and mountain operations spearheaded the move,” said resort spokesperson Stacie Mesuda, “to increase guest education and awareness to the risks of skiing high-alpine, high-consequence terrain.”
The resort found that the 25 runs that are rated triple black diamond had at least three things in common: a steep, continuous pitch, route complexity and high-consequence terrain (i.e., you could suffer major bodily harm in the event of a fall).
An abundance of scary terrain
Many other resorts around the continent have super steep and super scary “high-consequence” terrain, such as Corbett’s Couloir at Jackson Hole, the Highlands Bowl at Aspen Highlands, Eagles Nest and the Palisades at Squaw Valley, Climax at Whistler Blackcomb, Needles at Red Mountain et al. There are even at least two other resorts that have assigned runs the triple diamond designation — Black Hole at Smuggler’s Notch and La Charlevoix at Le Massif.
But none has as much as Big Sky, about 8 percent of the resort’s 300 named runs. As a result, they are using the new rating as “a communication tool to encourage conservative skiing with a focus on skiing in control.”
Among the runs earning the triple diamond status are the Big Couloir, the North Summit Snowfield, Upper A-Z chutes — which for years have been “managed access” areas where ski patrol permission, a skiing partner and avalanche safety gear are required — and several of the chutes that line the headwalls above the Moonlight Basin region of the resort. You can find a complete list of Big Sky’s triple diamond runs here.
Closest thing to heli-skiing
Though these runs aren’t heavily trafficked — for good reason — they do see a lot of action on certain occasions.
“We tend to see more skiers and boarders on this terrain on a powder day or when the wind is blowing in the right direction,” Mesuda said. “It’s the closest thing to heli-skiing in Montana.”
(Photo courtesy of Jeff Engerbretson/Big Sky)