A day ticket is $42 and it is on a wicket. I buy two, one for me and one for Sam Watson, my copilot. We grab our skis off the rack—featuring a museum of ski design ranging from neon-colored K2 straight skis to Salomon X-Screams, and not a single pair that looks to be current. The parking lot and day lodge here at Blacktail Mountain are at the top of the mountain so we click in and drop in to our first run. At the bottom, we load our first lift, a fixed-grip double chair.
Sam and I are on a road trip through western Montana, seeking out mom-and-pop ski areas—places where the experience is about skiing, the soul and community it creates, and nothing more, or less. These are the places where skiing in jeans, bringing a brown-bag lunch and local ownership keep the focus on fun rather than slopeside amenities. We are skiing nine ski areas throughout western Montana in nine days, where we hope to find a plethora more double chairs and wicket tickets.
Most of these ski areas are only open weekends; Blacktail operates Wednesday through Sunday. It is Saturday, and while the parking lot seemed full, we ski onto the lift every run. At the bottom of one of our several laps down the 1,440 feet of vertical, Sam and I are laughing. “Wipe those smiles off your faces. No fun allowed!” the liftie exclaims. Jeffrey, as his nametag reads, is short and built like he’s probably good at drinking beer. His beard is at least four inches long and his toothy smile seems to take up half his face…