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Big Sky Snow Skiing

1/20/2000

SHOW ME WHERE THIS IS

The first month that Bob Laney, Kimberly (then Laney, now Naegelen) and Leslie (then Dancy, now Greer) was with the McElwee Firm, in January 2000, the Firm sprang for an all expense paid ski trip to Big Sky, MT. I thought, I could get used to this! Is this a great law firm or what? (Then) partner (now solo attorney) Chris Lane had settled a big decedent’s estate case and earned a large fee. Rather than have it all go to profit, Billy McElwee and Chris agreed to spend some of it in recreation for the attorneys and their families. Karen McElwee chose Big Sky because it was near where she was raised and it had great family appeal.

Our group was a large crowd of about eight attorneys and about ten spouses and children. Bright and early one morning we flew out of Charlotte. After arriving at the Montana airport we rode a shuttle bus to the Big Sky resort. We stayed in a hotel right beside the slope. Most of us could check the snow conditions right outside our windows.

Scott, spouse of lawyer associate Beth, was the best skier in our crowd. Several times he rode the highest lift to the top of Lone Mountain and skied down the double black diamond slope. One time he took Billy’s daughter Mary Catherine’s husband Brian Mendenhall with him to the top of Lone Mountain. Brian was over his head and had such a big fall that the called it a yard sale – his gear was scattered all over the slope. Fortunately, nobody was injured.

Another lift, the next-to-highest, went to the upper east slope of Lone Mountain. This lift had huge exposure – between some of the towers it stretched what seemed like a hundred feet above the ground. It must have been an old lift because it did not have a safety lap bar. Every time I rode it the winds pushed it around in the ski and scared the stuffing out of me. I found the lift to be worse than the single black diamond slope. On one of those high mountain runs I was in several feet of powder snow when my ski bindings broke. I had to search for about 10 minutes in the deep snow to find the part and put it back together with my Leatherman tool.

It snowed on us several times that week. I loved getting into the new powder and feeling the creamy smooth sensation of skiing on a foot of frosted air.

Billy excelled in skiing at high speeds nearly straight down the groomed slopes. He did not have much use for fresh powder or moguls, but he did not need to traverse back and forth to slow down. Billy left a wake of snow like the jet stream of an airplane. Karen and Will were also excellent skiers and spent a fair amount of time with Billy. Will’s wife Lani and Kimberly were somewhat newer skiers and needed to be encouraged to stay on the slopes for very long. I personally liked to take the mid-level lifts, blues and greens, and traverse the slopes, snooping in the trees, looking for pockets of powder and unskied snow.

Near the end of the trip I found a snowshoe trail that started at the lodge and wandered out of bounds, up a small mountain, to the southwest of the main slopes. My equipment was randonee skis. That meant the binding toe was hinged and the binding heel could be clamped down for downhill skiing, or unclamped for walking uphill. To give the ski traction for going uphill, I had skins, or pieces of fabric that attached to the bottom of the ski. At the top of the mountain the skins were removed to expose the slick bottoms of the skis for normal downhill skiing.

One morning I packed a lunch and took off up the snowshoe trail. The trail had not been used since it last snowed and was covered by several feet of fresh powder. After a couple hours I made it to the top of the hill and had a great view of Lone Mountain to the northeast. I carefully removed my skis and daypack and sat down to lunch. I say “carefully” because the deep, soft snow made it hard to keep my balance, and if I dropped something, I might not be able to find it. The run back down the trail to the lodge was a fun exercise in making swooping first track turns in fresh powder.

It was a great trip. Many thanks to Billy and Karen for making all the arrangements. Maybe if I can settle a big enough case we can do it again.


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