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In Beartooth, hard Wyoming winters bring summer skiing

July 5, 2017

POWELL, Wyo. (AP) — With a 30-inch base in the last week of June, the owners of the Beartooth Basin Summer Ski Area may look like genius entrepreneurs this year. The parking lot is overflowing with happy ski bums, and the vibe is good.

But the owners of one of the biggest thrills in a state of constant adrenaline rushes don’t do it for the money.

“We do it because we have a passion for skiing,” co-owner Justin Modroo said. “We’d be happy to break even.”

The rugged area — located just inside Wyoming’s northern border in the Shoshone National Forest — is not a place to learn to ski. There’s only one way to go — straight down. Just looking over the icy edge is too much for many. But for those who want steep, this is the place you want to be.

“It’ll put your stomach in your throat. The terrain is what keeps the people coming back,” Modroo said.

Powell High School alum Nathan Danforth has been to the mountaintop, over and over again. He celebrated summer solstice on the hill, skiing his last run as the sun was setting behind the Beartooth range, elevation 10,000 feet.

“It’s warm, the sun is shining and the days are longer. It’s awesome,” Danforth said between runs.

It’s the first season in three years that there’s been enough snow to open. The five owners have been hoping for a year like this, especially after doing expensive maintenance projects last year without income. The entire enterprise is a huge risk.

“I’d be a guru if I could predict the weather,” co-owner Kurt Hallock said, adding, “But the crowds this year have been very encouraging.”

Hallock, originally from Red Lodge, Montana, used to sell sandwiches at the site when it first opened in 1964. He then became a certified ski instructor who taught skiing in Red Lodge, Sun Valley, Idaho, and Portillo, Chile, before heading back to school to become a lawyer in California. He returns regularly to ski the area and attend to business.

“It’s a great spot to ski. We’re attempting to make it more user friendly for intermediate skiers,” Hallock said.

They can’t open unless there’s snow. And if there is snow, they can’t open until the Beartooth Highway (U.S. 212) is cleared. And the summit is just a mile from the Montana border, so getting the road cleared involves two state agencies that have different motivations, according to Modroo.

Modroo is used to risks. He has spent most of his adult life as a pro skier, ranked in the top 20 in the World Freeskiing Tour several times (including a sixth-place finish) and finishing in the top five of the U.S. Freeskiing Tour three times. At the same time, he became a geophysicist specializing in precious metals — a job almost as cyclical as big snow.

“When it all goes bad, I might end up being a tour guide for the summer,” Modroo said.

But he still ends up in the same place when it snows.

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Information from: Powell (Wyo.) Tribune, http://www.powelltribune.com

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