Skiing Is Believing

Lone Peak, Big Sky, Montana

Lone Peak & Fan Mountain, Big Sky, Montana

In October, I climbed Mount Saint Helens by moonlight and when I stood on the summit at sunrise, I felt the mountain rumble beneath my feet. On the way back down, sliding freely down the loose scree slope on the soles of my well-worn hiking boots, I said, “I want to learn to ski.” I believe in the wishes I make on mountains: it’s now mid-April and after around 100 days spent sliding down the slopes of Lone Peak in Big Sky, Montana, I’m well on my way to being an expert skier.



Driving east to Montana after Helens, I wasn’t thinking about skiing. I was thinking about Clydesdales. I had been offered a gig ranch-sitting a horse farm in southwest Montana for the winter and I was in love with the idea of having horses back in my life. After a week on the ranch, working side by side with the resident ranch woman, getting to know her animals and forming what I thought were trusting partnerships, I shook her hand and told her I’d be back in a few weeks, well before she left for winter in Hawaii. Then I headed south for Zion.

Overlooking Zion from the Eagle Crags

Overlooking Zion from the Eagle Crags

But my winter with horses was not meant to be. One morning I woke up to a sharply-worded email of demands, all of which should have come up much sooner: no friends or family could visit me at the ranch, my dogs needed to be kept penned up and I was to live in the tiny bunkhouse and use an unheated outhouse all winter, instead of the main house. Most disturbing was the uncompromising tone of the email and the implication that I would be watched; it was clear this woman had some serious trust and control issues. Red flags were flapping feverishly… this was not somebody I wanted to work for.

Pretty dreamy but you gotta know when to walk away.

Pretty dreamy but you gotta know when to walk away.

When I told Dan, a friend from Big Sky and my co-pilot for the Zion trip, about the ranch woman’s email he said, “Well, how about you spend the winter skiing instead.” What a perfect Plan B: if I couldn’t spend the winter with my first love – horses – I would spend it with my next great love: Mountains. And so I closed the barn door and climbed out the window to Big Sky.

Our big backyard

Everything is big in Big Sky

And so here I am, wintering at one of the the most epic ski resorts in the world, on the most beautiful mountain in Montana (which in Montana is saying something), surrounded by skiers – people who live to ski, for whom skiing is being – learning new lessons outside in the mountains, everyday.

Three of the gnarliest bros I know... aka my roommates

Keeping up with three of the gnarliest bros I know… aka my roommates

Before this winter, I’d skied a handful of times, but I was in no way a skier. Now I have an Unlimited Gold Season Pass to the biggest ski resort in America and I go skiing just about every day: on sunny days, snowy days, and on negative 20 degree days. I’ve skied all over this mountain: from greens to blues to blacks to double blacks to the backcountry. Now I can look at Lone Peak from any angle and say, yeah I skied down that face.

Lone Peak, yeah I skied that

Lone Peak from Porcupine Ridge…Liberty, Lenin, Marx, the Gullies, the North Snowfield, the A to Z’s and the Headwaters: check. Still to go: the Big Couloir!

The most important lesson I’ve learned this winter is that Skiing is Believing. Skiing is purely physics and metaphysics, both of which the body and mind speak fluently, if you can keep your doubts, your fears – your ego – out of the way. I’ve been working on my balancing act for years, living on the razor’s edge, believing. Now I stand on my skis, these erstwhile awkward clown shoes, at the top of a steep snowy slope and I push over the edge and behold: my skis ski, my body balances and my mind is free. I believe in the wishes I make on mountains.

Hiking out the Headwaters ridge to ski my first chute

Hiking out the Headwaters ridge to ski my first double black diamond chute

Skiing down the North side of Lone Peak... double blacks all the way!

Skiing down the North side of Lone Peak… double blacks all the way!

Getting out of bounds, into the backcountry

Getting out of bounds, into the backcountry

Dio's quite the powder hound! Skiing Beehive Basin with Lone Peak in the background

Dio’s quite the powder hound! Skiing Beehive Basin with Lone Peak in the background

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
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16 Responses to Skiing Is Believing

  1. Nicole says:

    Just wondering how you ended up with an unlimited Gold Season Pass – did you work for the resort and this was part of the compensation?
    I am a blonde living in Longmont, CO and very much enjoy reading your blog posts. I have also been skiing since I was a young ‘un. There is definitely something zen about skiing that brings me back year after year. It’s brought a lot of joy to my life.

  2. Box Canyon Blogger Mark says:

    A tip of the old knit cap (or should I say helmet) to you, Ms Coyote. It takes mucho courage to point the tips down a narrow double black chute. It requires confidence to face endless, tight 180 degree changes of direction. But with the life you live you should be used to that by now :). There are soooo many Life metaphors that come from skiing, but I’ll stop with that one.
    Your legs must be in good shape… just in time for hiking season.
    Thanks for posting again.

  3. Lavinia Ross says:

    Too bad the ranch-sitting didn’t work out, but you got in a great ski vacation! I’ve only skied back east. Lots of ice…never got to ski powder.

  4. chris339 says:

    Sounds like you’re ready to take up surfing!

  5. Ed Einwich says:

    I’ve skied over 100 ski areas in the US and Canada over the last 53 years and I just have to say that Big Sky Rocks! It’s a great place, and I love the people there. Even us old timers still party hard and ski hard…..

    You be careful up there on that hill…..I see it’s the last day, but just in case you go back next season.

    Skiing is the best sport…..there is no doubt about it.

    Ed in Tahoe

  6. hrosson says:

    you are a badass! I am glad you know when to listen to your alarm bells and say fuck all! the path is diverging and I will go the way I did not expect. in a few months I will hit the road in my rv with my dogs and I don’t want to be at the mercy of any of those things that your home owner laid out to you. I am glad you know to follow life and not be beholden to bullshit. well done!

  7. It looks magnificent. Glad you’re mastering the art of skiing. Enjoy! 🙂

  8. pmdello says:

    As usual, your fearless personality has delivered you to a new nirvana: skiing! You might enjoy the short films created by Nimbus Independent. They chronicle the lifestyle of free skiers from a unique perspective. It’s not all jumps and daring do. The culture of their destinations is emphasized along with the beauty of floating on and above snow in the backcountry. Try this one:

    My son is the videographer. In the early portion of this video, he is the giant smiling with the diminutive elderly Japanese lady.

  9. glad you found such a great plan b!

  10. Donna says:

    So glad that our lack of communication from you meant that you were having too much fun!!

  11. Way cool, Mary! You are quite the adventuresome woman! We are finally road-tripping in the Pony (our pop-up). We just spent two wonderful weeks camped alongside Paulina Creek south of Bend, Oregon, and are now on our way south. We will be gone from Wallace about 3 months of this trip, but already have others planned that will take us to New Mexico for the winter. Best to you and safe travels always (whether on the road or on your skiis!). Carol

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