Skip to main content

Beartooth Basin Recap

A Summer Blizzard, the Rise of the Next Generation and the Return of a Legend: Beartooth Basin event sees a bit of everything.

They say that the weather in Montana will make you tough. They’re not lying. With storms moving in and predicted to last for four or five days, the organizers of the 2* Beartooth Basin event scheduled for Saturday, June 16 rolled the dice and moved the event up one day, hoping to take advantage of a small weather window predicted for Friday morning. The gamble would – kinda – pay off.

In the meantime, the assorted hoard of athletes, spectators, ski bums and other motley members of the tribe could enjoy the unique charms of Red Lodge. The town, with its historic neighborhoods filled with restored Victorian homes and funky main street full of interesting shops, bars and restaurants proved to be entertaining and fun. A bar just outside of the city limits offered pig racing, the local taco shop served up tasty lunches and there was plenty of shopping and other entertainments on hand, including athlete mixers and VIP parties at Kinzley Photography, a gallery in a historic building that was filled with the visual excellence of local photographer Kevin Kinzley.

Spin to win! A snowboard competitor floats a nice three on the lower section of the Beartooth Basin Venue. (Kevin Kinzley Photo)

With the Red Lodge valley filled with clouds the morning of the rescheduled event, things didn’t look promising on Friday, but high in the Beartooth Mountains, the sun was shining and conditions were quickly softening as the athletes arrived at one of North America’s most interesting ski areas. Beartooth Basin is a summer-only operation on a steep, cliff-studded bowl that unfolds below a seasonal road (open only in summer). With simple facilities including a small trailer and food truck, the experience here is pure skiing and snowboarding: no fancy lodges, no aioli fries, no $20 burgers and nothing but high peaks, steep chutes and the snow below you to entertain.

The operation is overseen in part by Austin Hart and Justin Modroo, two lifelong skiers who supervise a staff of approximately 15 folks to keep two high speed poma lifts running (you ski from the road into the basin and take the lifts back up), sell the tickets (an affordable $45 per day) and manage snow safety and the other risks inherent in running a ski area far from civilization (there’s no cell phone coverage up there).

The event started off promisingly enough and quickly became a showcase of the next generation, with Montana local Holden Samuels throwing down the run to beat in the Men’s Snowboard category. The victory, in his first adult competition, followed on the heels of a 2nd place at the Freeride Junior World Championships in Kappl, Austria - proved that he’s part of the next wave of athletes who are poised to dominate at the FWQ level. Samuels was joined by Blake Moller (2nd) and Drew Dewolf (3rd) on the podium.

For the women riders, it was a blast from the past as 1996 Xtreme Verbier champion Julie Zell came out of retirement to take the win. At 50 years old and with nothing left to prove, Zell is a living legend, and her smile and stoke throughout the week was a testament to how a life in the mountains is a life well-lived and that you’re never too old to participate in the joys of freeride. Jackie Folkard joined Zell on the podium, which unfortunately didn’t include any other athletes due to several DNS by the other competitors in the category.

Stoked! The weather window allowed for some athletes to get their first points of the 2019 competition season. (Kevin Kinzley Photo)

For the women skiers, Tracy Chubb ended up taking the victory. The Bridger Bowl, Montana, athlete’s win sees her chalk up her first FWQ points for the 2019 season after a successful campaign in 2018 that saw her score a win at the Grand Targhee 2* comp and a highly respectable 2nd place at the Crystal Mountain 4* FWQ event. Clara Greb (2nd) and McKenzie Hart (3rd) rounded out the podium for the ladies.

Unfortunately before the bulk of the Men Ski category could be run, Mother Nature turned on the taps and the weather moved in. In most places a full-on blizzard in the middle of June would be out of the question. But here, surrounded by Montana’s highest mountains, it’s possible to see snow at any time of the year. Within moments, the visibility dropped to zero, ten centimeters of snow was on the ground and the high road over Beartooth Pass was in danger of closing. While event organizers would make another attempt to run the Men’s Ski category the next day, the feared road closure happened, and with access to the ski area shut down and the road expected to be shut for several days, the Men’s Ski division of the event was sadly unable to go forward.