Big Sky, Big Skiing, and a Little Bit of Engineering

Solo 1manventure here, when Zach went with his engineering team to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Aerospace Engineering conference in Big Sky, Montana from March 2-9, 2013. (Switching to first-person now) Technically, this trip was purely academic. We went to saturate our brains with all sorts of nerdy things, and give a talk about our Capstone Design project we worked on at the University of Colorado. In reality, we had lift tickets, I brought three pairs of skis, and the conference provided free beer and wine pretty much every day. So despite all the pretty damn cool talks we saw, there was plenty of awesome to be experienced outside of the conference room.

A bit of background here. My project is called DayStar, and together with 8 other students, I helped to build a prototype daytime star tracker for high altitude balloons during the 2012 school year. My job was to design the electronics around a pretty damn sweet CMOS sensor, or basically to build a high performance camera from scratch. The project dropped down to just 4 people over the summer, where we got the thing ready for a test flight in September 2012. Since then, we’ve been analyzing data, writing papers, and conference surfing to talk about it. More info here! Anyways, first stop of the adventure was Jackson Hole, WY. I’ve never seen the Tetons before, and holy crap, are they cool! Mostly covered in clouds throughout the trip, it was hard to get a good view of them, but I got a few shots I liked.

And of course, no trip of mine is complete without a few HDR’d 4Runner shots.

We spent two nights in Jackson, and surprise of all surprises, we found an awesome Thai restaurant/brewery (cool combo right?!) downtown called Thai Me Up. Don’t feel the need to plug food places much, but this place was ridiculously good. Drinks knocked my socks off, and the food will melt your face. I like to drink Tobasco as a refresher, and this was hard at points. Just crazy good. If ever in JH, hit it up. Next day, for some reason, my nerd-mates had som inexplicable drive to go out to the frozen lake and make an ice rink by kicking snow off the ice. Well whatever works I guess.

Eventually I joined in, but only after a few more Teton shots. I really liked this vantage, not the classic and cliche (for a reason) Ansel Adams views.

Enough Wyoming, time to move on the bustling metropolis that is Big Sky, Montana. The drive on ID 22 was actually pretty sweet! Cool rolling hills and snowy endlessness on a fast and curvy highway. Very fun. Now my usual stomping grounds are the Colorado Rockies. They’re no little foothills, but aside from the San Juans and some parts of the Gore Range, I don’t think anything really matches the hugeness that is Big Sky. That mountain is insane! Spectacular huge view the entire time. There is nothing like taking 2 lifts and looking up at another daunting mountain face. Its just nuts! Gotta dig seeing a tram disappear into the storm a thousand feet overhead as you’re about to drop into a big mountain bowl, still above treeline.

Most of the mountain is pretty tame, but a few of the lifts do take you to some awesomely steep terrain. And the best part about Big Sky skiing? Its your mountain! Don’t need to get up at 5 to catch one or two powder runs before it gets tracked out, you can just go whenever you want and ski it! We got there two days after snow, and still found epic stashes of snow. Definitely not Vail skiing! Got one of my favorite powder skiing shots I’ve had, all without it even snowing for a few days prior to the shot.

And some more shots of just damn happy skiers (and one bitter lonely snowboarder).

And when the clouds did lift, its a gorgeous place to ski. Huge peaks everywhere

When we finally did make it up to the peak, we were in a raging blizzard on the top of everything. Crazy cold, I had huge mustache-sicles within minutes.

Here’s a (somewhat long) GoPro video from the descent. Honestly most of it is just headache-inducing skiing. Just skip to 5:40 ish to get a sense of the visibility. Got it? Its ZERO. The GoPro view is exactly what I was seeing. Absolutely nothing. The sky and the mountain blend into one. As it was our first run down, I had no idea if we were heading to some of the closed boundary cliffs of doom, rock fields, or what. It was awesome! As was the ascent into the abyss, seeing no-fall lines in between absolutely no-ski lines as you rose into the clouds was just so stokifying.

This video is pretty quick, just a awesome little fail when I decided to jump off a little dinky cliff. Just landed too far forward and tumbled awesomely. Can’t blame me, it was my second time skiing in about a year! Our boss was there, and is a ski race coach. Thought I was going to get air lifted out of there after the helicoptering and my skis didn’t come off. Luckily that’s not the case.

Oh yeah, the academic part. We actually did give a talk, and even found time to sit down with a great mountain view and get caught up on the work and homework we were missing. It does help though to be here with our boss! Cause he was ditching too! Haha. And note the awesome gray vest suit I was sporting below. Until this, my best piece of clothing was a collared polo I found under the fridge in the garage of one of my rental houses. Had to wash it twice, but it was actually the cornerstone of my fancy dress attire. So I was pretty stoked about the fly threads I finally got to wear.

There you have it! Nerd vacation at its finest!

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4 thoughts on “Big Sky, Big Skiing, and a Little Bit of Engineering

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