Skiing can do so much for so many.
For instance, you really can't thank our military enough, but when you do it in a way that their spouses and children can appreciate it really hits home for our men and women in the service. That was the case from December 18-20 at Big Sky, where over 650 lift tickets were given to active military members and close to 200 were given to their family members, for Military Appreciation Weekend.
"Whatever time they can ever get, as a family, to come together and spend time doing something like this - it's pretty rare," Colonel Kendall Switzer, said of the event at Big Sky, which was in its eighth year. "Having this provides a dart on the wall at the same time every year at Big Sky. We can say, 'let's do that, we can make that work.' It allows us to capitalize on that and let everyone know early on so they can have the leeway to schedule the trip."
And schedule they did, with many of the members also taking advantage of discounted room rates and free breakfast buffet at Huntley Lodge.
From the throng of military folks cheering on the Montana Grizzlies in the FCS Championship game at Whiskey Jack's and other resort bars on Friday night, to youngsters dawning ski gear and getting their first ski lessons, the Montana military members had a big presense all weekend. Camoflauge gear was back in style at least for a few days.
Colonel Switzer, who is the Vice-Chief of the Joint Staff Montana National Guard, noted that Big Sky isn't just any resort.
"It always is special to come here," he said. "I mean, gee whiz, look at Lone Mountain. How can you beat this? This probably shows the best of Montana, so that's a blessing."
Of the three missions for the Montana military set forth by Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the trip to Big Sky directly satisfies two of them. 1) Fully prepare the men and women to fight wars overseas or in Montana; 2) While members are is deployed, take care of their families; and 3) Integrate the men and women back in with their units.
The event has been in place since December of 2002 and has grown each year thanks in part to being held at roughly the same time every ski season. It was the brainchild of group of Big Sky employees, including general manager Taylor Middleton, Meg O'Leary and Dick Fast, who is a retired Air Force officer and a teacher in the Big Sky ski school. Taylor and Mr. Fast were recognized in a ceremony on the outdoor deck above the Mountain Mall.
"Eight years ago we saw American forces deploying overseas, and especially Montana units deploying overseas," Middleton, who accepted a plaque from the Montana National Guard expressing its appreciation to Big Sky Resort, said. "We started thinking about how we could help. A lot of Montanans were asking that same question.
"It makes me feel good, because a lot of us didn't serve in the military, but we want to honor the military. This makes me feel warm and it makes me feel like I'm doing some small part toward that greater mission."
The weekend was special other ways, too.
The conditions were perfect and the diversity of skiers from the aforementioned military crew to others that came to Big Sky to take in the Best Worst Ski Movie Festival, which paid homage to some old, not-so-classic, ski movies. If you sat in one spot for just a few minutes you might find yourself doing a double-take when you saw someone zip by in some sort of military garb and seconds later an 80s-style neon outfit would be doing a double-daffy off a small jump.
Whatever the case Military Apprciation Weekend is growing into one of Big Sky's most popular and unique annual events.
Tom Stuber was a sports writer for the Helena Independent Record for 18 years and is now attempting to dedicate his writing time to the ski world. If you have comments, he can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org.