Coming off the slopes of Maverick Mountain, a tiny family-owned ski resort in the heart of Southwestern Montana, feels like coming home. Maverick's lodge is more like a large cabin where the locals greet one another while strapping on skis with well-practiced hands. Ranchers ski in and ski out without changing out of their jeans and cowboy hats. After riding all morning I sat down in the lodge with my squad: Brandee and Caitlin from Montana's Office of Tourism, filmers Hennie and Adam, and fellow photographer Scott Borrero.
I chatted a few minutes with my new friends, and then I spotted him. Long hair, ski poles, smile as bright as the snow outside. I called out across the room: "Are you making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?"
He looked around to see who was talking to him and discovered my eager face. Almost too eager. He simply smiled and said, "Sure, do you want one?"
Did I want one. I came all the way to Montana for this moment.
I sauntered over, preening, "Yes please, thank you so much!" as I preceded to grab my new friend's peanut butter jar and stir it with the knife procured from his backpack. Before I knew it I had stirred creamy peanut butter all over the table and carpet. Every eye of Maverick Mountain Resort on me, I apologized profusely and tried to clean up as best I could, praying my new friend had a sense of humor. Thankfully, he did.
As we sat down together, both of us enjoying delicious pb&j's and laughing over my less-than-ideal first impression, I got to know a true Montana Local. A ski instructor and artist, Dan told me all about Maverick and what living in such a rural part of America was like. I was enraptured, as I always am, when I hang around people that have only heard of the places I've grown up, and vice versa.
I was asked recently how I can hop on planes by myself and travel so frequently, with no inhibitions and no fear. The answer can be summed up in this story. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the best part about traveling is the people you meet along the way. Whether it's locals who represent the culture you've come to experience or the people you end up traveling with, going to new places changes you. The funny thing about putting yourself out of your comfort zone is that it's where you tend to find yourself.
My magical morning at Maverick was made complete by an early morning snowcat ride to catch sunrise and lots of fresh powder; it was indicative of my five day stay in Montana as a whole. Memories were forged in rural prairie towns, natural hot springs, behind frozen waterfalls, and yes, on the slopes of some of the best ski resorts in Montana. Besides Maverick we also visited Lost Trail and Big Sky, each unique and special in their own way. The snow was good everywhere we went. Perhaps the best experience was a private snowcoach tour through Yellowstone National Park, where we were greeted with bison, Old Faithful, a shy little fox, a couple of bald eagles, coyotes and the ghost of one elusive bobcat. It was like riding Disneyland's Jungle Cruise, except all the animals were real.
The trip was one of the best I've taken, and I can't wait to come back and explore Montana in the summertime. They say a picture is worth a thousand words so read on: