Sure, ski areas are spinning their lifts a little longer this season, but there is no one doing it quite like Montana’s Beartooth Basin.
North America’s only summer-specific ski area, Beartooth Basin started operating in the mid-1960s as a summer training ground for racers, but was opened to the public in 2003. Because of its snowy location, the area operates only from late May to early July, making it a unique ski location in the U.S.
This year Beartooth decided to up the ante, teaming with the Mountain Rider’s Alliance (MRA), a community- and environment-focused ski advocacy group, from June 16-18 to host Summer Shredfest, a first-ever summer freeski and snowboard festival that includes Freeride World Qualifier competitions, symposiums, parties — and a whole lot of skiing in T-shirts.
We caught up with Freeride World Tour technical director Tom Winter to learn more about Beartooth Basin, Summer Shredfest and why everyone should book a summer ski ticket to Montana.
Why is Beartooth Basin able to open only in the summertime?
Beartooth is unique in the Lower 48 in that the location of the ski area is off of a high pass that’s closed in the winter due to snowfall and avalanche danger. The road links Red Lodge, Montana, with the communities of northwest Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park.
Once the road gets cleared of snow each spring, it’s possible to access the ski area and open up. It’s kind of funky because you park at the top and then ski or snowboard off a ridge and into a basin, then take the lifts back up to the top.
What type of skier is Beartooth Basin catering to? What type of terrain can they expect?
The terrain at Beartooth is mixed, with a lot of options, including some nice steeps and rocky chutes.
But it’s definitely not like a normal ski area. If you’re a beginner, you probably should go someplace else. You’d want to be at least an intermediate skier or snowboarder to ride here, especially because both the lifts are surface lifts — pomas — and those can be tricky, especially for novice snowboarders.
What are some of the benefits of summer skiing?
Well, you get to ski in the summer! For the athletes who train here, it’s because there’s nothing like time on the snow. You can do all the other training you want — water ramps, dryland workouts, everything — but there’s no substitute for actually being on snow.
For people like me, it’s a chance to get into the mountains, make some turns, have a few beers and enjoy the day. You probably won’t score a powder day in late June, but if the weather is nice, the snow will get soft and you’ll be able to have a lot of fun just sliding around. And fun is good.
So what is Summer Shredfest all about?
It’s a gathering of the tribes, so to speak. We have parties, competitions and symposiums. It’s kind of like TEDx meets “Hot Dog the Movie” meets backyard BBQ, with something for everyone: the chance to become educated and informed on the state of community ski areas, the chance to compete or the chance to make turns with friends and drink beers.
I don’t think there’s anything else like Summer Shredfest in the world.
How is Summer Shredfest in line with the core values of the MRA?
Well, the focus is on community and bringing people together to have fun. Beartooth Basin is also a part of the MRA community, being a member of MRA’s Playground Group. The Group is composed of community-oriented ski areas and likeminded brands, all offering discounts and deals through the MRA Playground Card.
At Beartooth Basin, for example, holders of the Playground Card get two-for-one lift tickets all summer.
Why did you guys decide to host a big-mountain competition in the summertime?
It’s a good time to just have a fun event when nothing else is happening. Plus there’s a huge demand for Freeride World Tour Qualifying (FWQ) events, so a big-mountain event is going to be popular at any time of the year. So many athletes are competing right now that this is just another opportunity to get out there and try to grab some FWQ points.
What type of logistical hurdles go into organizing a summer ski event? Anything out of the ordinary?
It’s actually not that different. You still have the same challenges, from snow and weather to risk management and venue preparation.
One bonus is you have a better chance of great weather, the kind of weather where the peanut gallery watching the show can rock T-shirts and chill out in the sun, so that’s a real plus.
What else can people expect from Shredfest?
The two events on Friday to open the festival are pretty interesting. SheJumps, an advocacy group that works to increase female participation in action sports, is hosting a Get the Girls Out ski and snowboard day with top pros like Lynsey Dyer, and the Mountain Rider’s Alliance is hosting a “Community Ski Areas at Risk” symposium featuring Jon Reveal, the former COO of Aspen and Yellowstone Club and current GM of Sleeping Giant Ski Area, as keynote speaker.
For those who want to try big-mountain skiing or snowboarding and compete, there are still some spots open for the Freeride World Tour Qualifying event on Saturday. If you don’t want to compete, come out and watch and then join us for an après-ski party at the mountain hosted by the guys at Sego Skis.