Category Archives: Skiing Paintings

Plein Air Painting at Ski Resorts, Part V: Big Sky Resort, Montana

Big Sky Resort in Montana was our last destination of the epic ski trip inspired by the Mountain Collective pass.  Maria and I left Wyoming behind, and drove to the wild state of Montana.  We felt like we would be needing a vacation after this ski vacation!  We checked into the most amazing motel called the Sapphire Motel in Bozeman.  I can’t believe how cool Bozeman is! We walked to the Bozeman Brewery, which was spot on, and we had great brews with views, and a meal at Mountains Walking Brewery!  Mountains Walking has a great vibe, and reminded me of Anchorage Brewing Company mixed with Glacier Brewhouse. Good beer and good food!  

The drive from Bozeman to Big Sky Resort is about an hour on a beautiful, winding road.  We happened to be there on Presidents Day weekend, so the resort was really busy.  There is a problem at Big Sky with getting from the mountain village to the ski bowl where the snow hasn’t all blown away.  The mountain planners really screwed up when they put the Ramcharger 8-seat chair lift going to Everett’s Restaurant, instead of the Swift 6-seat chair accessing the tram and Power Seeker lift.  Another problem is that there are a lot of exposed rocks all over the mountain.  You should not take your favorite skis to Big Sky.  So after a 20-minute lift line you get on the amazing heated bubble chair lift.  I hear if you go in the singles line it is a bit faster. This chair lift is so spectacular! You don’t even have to ski up to it, just stand on the magic carpet that loads you onto the lift.  The bubble is blue and the bar automatically lifts when you arrive to the top.  Amazing! 

The forecast predicted snow the next day. After gouging up my skis on rocks for a couple of runs that looked good, but were actually treacherous, I decided that I should paint really soon.  I chose a spot that I thought was great: it overlooked the tram and the Powder Seeker lift, and had a view of Lone Peak, and I was protected from wind. About halfway through the painting, ski patrol showed up. Ski patrol is really funny in Big Sky — the new uniform is all black with bright neon green plus symbols.  When driving around Montana you see similar symbols at cannabis dispensaries.  I joked with Maria that the ski patrol at Big Sky was actually weed patrol!  Ski patrol told me I was in an area where rocks sometimes slide off the mountain. This guy obviously was low on the totem pole, because he was wearing an old classic red uniform with a white cross. He asked me to move into a horrible windy area where I proceeded to almost ruin my painting with blowing snow that promptly melted on the surface of my painting. 

A bit windy at Lone Peak
Less than ideal painting conditions at Big Sky Resort

Annoyed with that painting experience, I packed up, and we took the Ramcharger chair lift to Everett’s Restaurant.  You have to wait to be seated, and we got seats at the bar.  The bartender was absolutely crazy!  It was busy, and he was the only guy making drinks, but DAMN, it was like being at a Gallagher show. Spraying ice, alcohol, and breaking glass left and right.  I was glad I wasn’t worried about my clothes, and that I had a beer in my hand, because it was not a relaxing experience. I ordered a ridiculously expensive Waygu beer burger, and Maria had the bison chili. The burger was enormous — we should have shared it. We escaped, and I put the remaining half of the burger into my pocket, and we skied a bit more before driving back to Bozeman. We went to a little brewery called Last Best Place. It was not busy and also not bad. 

The next day it was snowing on the mountain, so I was glad I had already painted.  I wanted to find the other on-mountain food lodge, so we skied over to the Shedhorn lift and then over to the Dakota 3 lift.  It was beginning to snow pretty hard and the Dakota area actually was pretty fun as long as you jumped over any super sketch rocks that were hidden behind every south-facing slope.  Maria and I found the Shedhorn Grill, which had a vibe of what skiing at Big Sky must have been like 20 years ago.  It was just a yurt with a wood stove in it, and a grill outside. Prices were much better here and I didn’t even feel like I was at the same resort.  The snow was really picking up, which made for bad visibility, but better skiing.  Maria wanted to go back to the powder bowl, so we made our way back to the busy side of the mountain.  Since visibility was bad, we had a much better time!  The lift line had disappeared. I think I skied the Powder Seeker 12 times in a row, which isn’t that much, since it is only 800 vertical feet. It was great, because it felt like skiing the Glacier Bowl at Alyeska.  

Maria told me we should get ahead of the weather and traffic getting back to Bozeman. So we left about an hour early.  We tailgated for about 15 minutes, and the snow was picking up even more.  Tailgating turned out to be a very bad idea, because as we drove out in the four new inches of snow we got stuck behind an accident, which caused a 2 hour delay while we waited for the road to be cleared.  Then the hour-long drive back to Bozeman took over 2 hours, since we could only drive 30 mph in the storm in the dark. The 2WD 4Runner was terrible in the fresh snow. It was squirrelly when accelerating, and breaking was also a problem.  Maria white-knuckled it back to the Sapphire Motel like a pro, but she wouldn’t drive to a brewery for dinner, so we walked across the street to a Mexican food truck. 

The next day was a problem, because the rental car return was not at the airport, and Bozeman was experiencing a snow-day.  We couldn’t get a cab or a Lyft/Uber to the airport.  Maria asked for a ride from a nice guy who was out buying feed for his chickens.  Our flight was delayed, making our layover in Seattle about 15 minutes long.  We have never sprinted that fast through an airport before. It was like that airport scene in Home Alone. We made it to our seats and then back to Anchorage. Three of our four bags miraculously were loaded onto our flight, and I picked up the large duffel bag the next morning.  I was so happy to be back in Anchorage and driving my 4WD, 4- studded-tire-shod, Chevy truck.  Phew! I had a great time, but I will think twice before I buy the Mountain Collective pass again.  It is hard to go on ski vacation! I hope you liked all the little paintings! Stay tuned for larger versions with….you guessed it beer! 

This painting is available at my Etsy shop. I’m selling it for the price of a lift ticket at Big Sky Resort.

Lone Peak at Big Sky Resort, 7″ x 5″, oil on panel.

Plein Air Painting at Ski Resorts, Part IV: Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Rocking down the highway! Maria and I made the longest leg of our journey in mild snow — seven and a half hours.  Did I tell you our all-wheel-drive rig turned out to be a rear-wheel-drive 4Runner with Texas plates?  I don’t know anything about Toyotas, except I know a lot of people love them.  When we got to Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Albuquerque, and the attendant was helping us pick out an AWD or 4WD vehicle, he suggested the 4Runner. It looked tough, and had a lot of clearance.  It didn’t occur to us that Toyota makes two-wheel-drive 4Runners. Well, I learned that it is common to sell RWD versions in Texas. Basically, it was a 4Runner-shaped minivan, worse though, because it wasn’t front-wheel-drive. We figured this out a couple days into our trip, and didn’t feel like wasting our time on vacation to exchange the vehicle.  The light snow wasn’t a big deal, but when the Google Maps directions took us on a dirt road over a mountain pass, I started to get the nervous sweats.  “No problem,” I told Maria, “This thing has decent tires, and probably has a good posi-track in the rear”.  Well, we made it fine, fishtailing up the dirt hills at 45mph on the dirt road in a 55 mph zone. 

Surprising enough, when we hit Wyoming the “highway” we were on became paved.  We drove into a pretty steady snowstorm right next to Yellowstone NP, and were enjoying watching the snowmobilers run along the side of the road.  I had already experienced the lack of traction the “2Runner” offered in the snowstorm back in Silverthorne, CO, so I was glad to see the road was still free of ice and snow.  The snow picked up as we hit the Hoback Ranches and had yet another mountain pass before Jackson.  We made it into the Jackson Super 8 and parked for the night hoping it would only snow in the mountains and not on the roads.

Our friend Melanie met up with us to go skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and we had high energy as we parked in the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) parking lot at no charge, because we had 3 passengers. When I told my friends I was going to be skiing at JHMR I received a lot of texts about The Corbett’s Couloir, and the Kings and Queens of Corbett’s event.  I watched the videos and decided if I were to drop into Corbett’s Couloir, I would want to have a much softer powder day. That run is crazy!  In order to access it you have to make a leap of faith, about 15ft in icy conditions and 5ft in soft powder conditions, just to access the narrow chute. A very cool coincidence is that the Kings and Queens of Corbett’s happened on our second day there!  We watched from the top of Tensleep Bowl, where a small crowd had formed to watch the Reb Bull sponsored event. There were no blue runs down from this view spot, only steep off-piste mogul-entrenched black diamond runs. It was clear some of the spectators were out of their comfort zone when descending, as they sat there at the top looking down with worried looks on their faces. The event was crazy!  Basically anything sponsored by Red Bull is something I will not even consider competing in.  I got a cool video of a skier doing some inverted aerials down the cliff infested couloir.  And later in the day I painted from inside the Rendezvous Lodge while I had an afternoon beer. It was very windy out, so I was happy to be behind window glass. I could see the competition from the window and also on a TV monitor, sporting a 15-second delay. It was lucky I did the painting at that time, because the blue skies faded to whiteout conditions before I completed the painting. I was able to put Corbett’s Couloir in the painting, so I felt like this painting was a success! We had mixed snow conditions for the two days we were skiing JHMR.  It was actually pretty great!  A couple of inches of snow covered up some of the icy patches.  Enough to make skiing a joy, but not enough to make me feel comfortable hucking cliffs. 

Pointing at Corbett’s Couloir
Painting at the bar, because it was so windy outside.

The town of Jackson is cute and awesome! We went to two different breweries: Melvin Brewing, which started in the back of a Thai food establishment, and the Roadhouse. Both were quite good!  The Super 8 was okay, and we were not too sad when we drove out of town towards Big Sky, MT.  I was happy because I still had two days of skiing left and Big Sky has the largest skiable terrain of all the mountains we were visiting on the trip. I felt like I had ridden everything in JHMR I was going to, with the way the conditions had been.  Very glad to not be injured, and stoked the trip was still underway! Our friend Melanie stayed and skied for a third day, and said she had a killer time on the mountain, and afterwards at the rough and tumble Million Dollar Cowboy Bar!     

This painting is available at my Etsy shop. I’m selling it for the price of a lift ticket at Jackson Hole.

Jackson Hole, 7″ x 5″, oil on panel.

Plein Air Painting at Ski Resorts, Part III: Aspen Mountain

Aspen is one of those places that holds a special place in American ski culture.  Movies like Aspen Extreme, and Dumb and Dumber have placed it in any skier’s back pocket as a must ski.  Aspen Snowmass Resort encompasses four mountains, all with their special amenities.  Snowmass is huge, and has a wide variety of terrain.  It has gondolas and high speed lifts galore. Snowmass is on point, and doesn’t fail to deliver a great skiing experience.  I think my favorite part about it is the wide open skiing boulevards that a hundred skiers can utilize all at once without even thinking about hitting each other.  We didn’t get to check out Buttermilk, but it offers easier terrain suited for beginner skiers, and also has a huge terrain park for young people who want to pull off a triple corkscrew, while capturing video with their mom’s iPhone.  Aspen Highlands is probably amazing on a powder day, with its long steep runs, and its famous Highland Bowl.  I didn’t get to go to Aspen Highlands because we only had two tickets, and I wanted to go to the world famous OG Aspen Mountain.  

The Monday after the Super Bowl, Maria and I crawled out of bed and made our way to reclaim our skis from the pro-shop in the village at Snowmass.  Maria had a full tune done, and I had ordered a hot wax treatment. After getting our skis out of hawk we went back down the hill to the parking lot and awaited a bus to take us to Aspen Mountain.  The bus driver was really grumpy!  I have been in so many ski busses, and normally the drivers love their jobs. One time I even had a bus driver give me a replacement loaner ski pole when I broke one of mine.  Not this one. It became comical, as she was yelling at passengers, other drivers, and it overall felt like a bit straight out of Saturday Night Live.  This bus made every stop at Snowmass,  Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and then through the town of Aspen. When we arrived at the base of Aspen Mountain, we jumped off a bit early as we didn’t want to bring on the wrath by asking where our stop was. I waited a good two minutes while she drove away before even thinking of crossing the road. I was sure she would run me over just out of spite.  

Aspen Mountain is a wonderful place to ski! On our gondola ride to the top, a local gentleman gave us a bird-eye tour. He told us the history of the area, where to ski and were we could have lunch.  Aspen Snowmass has done a great job with outdoor seating on mountain.  Vistas looking over Aspen Highlands and the Valley were matched with picnic tables and Adirondack chairs.  We shared an early day beer and ripped some corduroy. The grooming was immaculate. We were there on yet another Colorado bluebird “packed powder” day… AKA icy conditions.  I wasn’t there to get the best snow (although it would have been nice). It seems we have plenty of that back home here in Alaska.  I was there for ski culture, and that is what we found.  All the black diamonds needed a bit more snow. All I found on the off-piste slopes was mixed rocks and chest high moguls.  Maria and I went to the Sundeck Lodge for a cookie, and I executed my third little plein-air painting of the trip.  It was still a bit early for lunch, so I pretty much had the deck to myself to start out. Gorgeous views and wonderful sunny weather made painting this one a dream.  Maria got a free cookie for using her Aspen app on her phone, and munched half of it before heading out for a run, while I wrapped up my little piece.  Upon completion, I tried the cookie and packed up.  A trio of Canadian Jays, just like the ones we endure in McCarthy, came to visit.  I broke up the cookie and told the other people on the deck to “watch this.” Sure enough the hungry little buggers ate right from my hand. I impressed the onlookers more with my bird whispering skills than I did with my painting. 

Beautiful blue sky at Aspen Mountain!

I met Maria on my way out and she complained about the top lift taking forever to go 1/3 of the way up the hill.  We avoided it for the rest of the day and had a lovely lunch at Bonnie’s restaurant at mid-mountain. It reminded me of the Roundhouse at Sun Valley. I had a hearty soup.  It was Valentine’s Day, so we felt like we were on a date. We skied the rest of the mountain after lunch. I wanted to find a way up the mountain other than the gondola, which took a couple of runs, because I kept making wrong turns.  A good mountain guide on a new mountain can be really useful! 

I loved skiing at Aspen and Snowmass! I would not rule out a return visit, but next time I will stay longer than two days, so I can also ride Aspen Highlands, and hope for better snow! At least the visibility was excellent.  I was well aware of the giant moguls and rocks that were all over the place.  That evening we had a wonderful dinner at a cute little Thai restaurant in Basalt. We woke up the next morning to drive what seemed like a million miles past Yellowstone NP up to Jackson, Wyoming! Stay tuned next week for my plein-air painting, and mountain report of Jackson Hole.

Here is the little painting I painted on the mountain. You can purchase it at my Etsy shop for the price of a lift ticket at Aspen Mountain.

Aspen Mountain, painted en plein air (outside, on location). 7″x5″, oil on panel.

Plein Air Painting at Ski Resorts, Part II: Arapahoe Basin in Colorado

This is the second installment of a blog post series about plein air painting during our ski trip with the Mountain Collective pass.  The next resort I painted at after Taos Ski Valley was Arapahoe Basin.

The drive from Taos to Silverthorne, Colorado was about 4.5 hours. Not long after driving north, we hit the Colorado border.  We stopped for a selfie with the “Welcome to Colorado” sign, and Maria made some coffee by plugging in the Balbali water bottle to the outlet in the back of the 4Runner.  We love National Parks, so we decided to stop at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, which was only about a 30-minute detour. We asked the park ranger what we should do during our relatively short visit, and he suggested hiking on the sand dune.  So, naturally we hiked to the top of the tallest sand dune in North America, which was pretty fun, although our shoes got filled with sand multiple times.  Our only regret is not renting sand surf boards. Overall, a great NP adventure!

Descent from the sand dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park

Our destination was farther than we expected, and we ended up driving over a classic Colorado mountain pass in the dark, but we arrived safely in Silverthorne, and checked into the Luxury Inn and Suites.

In the morning we drove higher into the mountains, got our lift tickets, and hit the lifts. Driving to Arapahoe Basin, and parking was super simple. The parking lot is right at the base of the mountain, no need to take a shuttle. Lift lines were very manageable. A-Basin is a non-profit ski area, which reminded us of our beloved Arctic Valley Ski Area in Anchorage.  Unfortunately, conditions were not very good — windy and icy. We went all the way to the top, which is close to 13,000 ft, and definitely started to feel the lack of oxygen at that altitude. The sun was out and the views were tremendous!  We skied all over the mountain before stopping for lunch at Black Mountain Lodge. We shared a killer burger with waffle fries!

Then I decided to paint on the deck of the lodge right after lunch, while Maria made another run. I wrapped up the painting, and Maria showed me some fun runs she found, and we skied until closing, mostly around the double chair.  Michael Kirkpatrick, our favorite folk singer, was also skiing in the area, and drove from Winter Park to meet us for après ski at the bar, which had a band playing! We had a couple drinks, and went out to our rigs to check out each other’s skiing equipment.  Michael wants to buy some new gear, but his classic stuff seems to be in proper condition, and he said he had some good turns on the mountain after major knee surgery. I showed off my AT gear, which I should probably have left in Alaska, but I love my Black Diamond skis so much, I couldn’t go back to my old stuff.  Maria drove back to Silverthorne in a snowstorm, and we got back with no delays. The storm was intense, but luckily, we didn’t have to drive anywhere for dinner, because Baker’s Brewery was right next to our hotel. Poor Michael had to drive back to Fort Collins, and got caught in traffic on I-70, and didn’t get home until almost midnight! It snowed about two inches, but the winds were high, so the next morning we decided to head straight to Basalt, nearby Aspen/Snowmass.  I will talk about that next week!

Here is the little painting I painted on the mountain. You can purchase it at my Etsy shop for the price of a lift ticket at Arapahoe Basin.

Arapahoe Basin, painted en plein air (outside, on location). 7″x5″, oil on panel.
Selfie with Michael Kirkpatrick
Michael took this picture of me with my travel palette in the parking lot.

Plein Air Painting on Ski Resort Mountains in the USA

When I was 11 years old, I went on my first ski trip outside of Alaska.  My aunt and uncle loved going to Sun Valley in Ketchum, Idaho.  They went there for a veterinarian conference to pursue further education, and had sessions in the mornings, so they signed me up for ski school.  I had already been skiing in Alaska plenty of times, but the Sun Valley Ski School really developed my skills to a new level.  My aunt passed almost two years ago and I wanted to keep the ski trip tradition alive, so when a group of friends from high school were planning a trip to Jackson Hole, I immediately bought the Mountain Collective pass.  The pass provides lift tickets for 2 days at 23 mountains worldwide, and half price tickets for additional days at those mountains. Since Jackson Hole lift tickets are $200+ per day, I figured the pass would pay for itself if I went to one other ski area.  You have to buy this pass before the ski season starts, and there’s a limited number of passes available. I intended to ski at Jackson Hole and also at Taos Ski Valley, as I have always wanted to check out Taos.  A McCarthy neighbor spends winters in Taos, so I figured I could crash on his couch and ski a few free days either before, or after the guys’ trip.  Maria also wanted to go on the trip, but my friends were being weirdly sexist and said, no women allowed.  I called them out on it, but they were being pretty close-minded.  I don’t get it, but I also don’t have kids, and I think Maria is a pretty cool lady on top of that.  So, I figured I would just ski with her instead.  My schedule actually made it hard to meet them when they planned to go, so I decided to do my own thing  and started planning a ski trip with Maria.  It’s funny, but the guys never made it to Jackson Hole.  They all bailed. 

Our new ski trip plan was amazing!  Maria and I flew into Albuquerque, rented a car, drove to Taos, skied two days with friends who met us there, then drove to Colorado. Skied a day at Arapahoe Basin, then drove to Basalt, and skied one day at Snowmass and then another day at Aspen.  Drove for about eight hours to Jackson, WY and skied two days at Jackson Hole with another friend. Finally drive to Bozeman, Montana and skied two days at Big Sky Resort, before dropping off our rental car and flying back to Anchorage, Alaska. 

I brought my plein air painting kit with me on the plane.  I always label the paint as “Clown Cosmetics” just to mess with TSA. The first ski day in Taos we met up with our friends: Ian, Lucas, and Denise.  We skied tough and went all over the mountain, including up to Kachina Peak at 12,500 ft altitude.  We had beers and bratwurst at the Bavarian Restaurant on-mountain dining lodge. It was a great day with friends on the mountain!  We had a nice dinner at ACEQ, right next door to the SnowMansion Taos Adventure Lodge where we were staying in Arroyo Secco — a small community about 15 minutes from the ski village.  

A beer break at the Bavarian Restaurant
Prayer flags and a memorial at the summit of Kachina Peak (12,481ft)

The next morning I mixed up some paint and transferred it to my small on-mountain palette. The yellow tube had a hole in it from rough baggage handling and I was battling to keep our room paint-free.  I carried a small backpack on the mountain and skied hard until about 1:30pm.  I broke off from the group and went to a place I found that was great for painting. About 45 minutes of frenzied, outdoor, cold-fingered painting later, I packed it up and met Maria and Denise back at the Bavarian. On route to meeting them, I toured the whole mountain, since I made a wrong turn after painting.  We all went back to Lucas’s amazing cabin about a mile from the village for Aprés Ski. He had some excellent Bosque Brewing IPA and an interesting home-brewed stout. I enjoyed them both, then we went up to the ski village for pizza and beers. The village is really new and pretty cool, but the pizza was a grease bomb, so we told Lucas he could have all the  leftovers. 

Here is the little painting I made right on the mountain at Taos Ski Valley, of Kachina Peak. The size is 7″x5″, oil on birch panel. You can purchase it at my Etsy shop. I’m selling it for the price of a lift ticket at the ski area, which is $90.

Plein Air painting of Kachina Peak at Taos Ski Valley, painted on the mountain. 7″x5″, oil on panel.

Stay tuned next week for the following segment in the exciting adventures of plein air painting on ski resort mountains in the USA, when I talk about painting at Arapahoe Basin in Colorado!