An iconic photo of the late Curtis Guillford, former head of lift operations at Big Sky Resort, when he was starter of an All Lifts Race in the early days of the competition. PHOTO COURTESY OF 1995 DIRTBAG KING BILL HICKEY

Hail the dirtbag

Over 40 years of celebrating the gifts of Lone Peak

Intrinsic to the Big Sky Dirtbag culture is continuity. Beneath the crazy capes and crowns there exists a sense of homage for the wild ones who came before. Local lore is that Dirtbag Kings and Queens are selected for being the last ones to leave the party and the first ones to make tracks on the mountain.

“Every Dirtbag King and Queen has a special gift for the spirituality of the lifestyle. They represent the steep and the deep – the unbridled passion of life on the edge,” said 1994 Dirtbag King J.C. Knaub.

Dirtbag is used to “describe a highly motivated rider who puts skiing or snowboarding before all else,” said 2015 Dirtbag King Justin Netter. The fun loving community of Big Sky annually celebrates The Dirtbag Underground, the Dirtbag Ball, the All Lifts Race as well as the Pond Skim, which was canceled this year due to Covid-19 concerns. Needless to say, Big Sky’s skiing/ snowboarding community knows how to have a good time. Theirs is a legacy that goes back over 40 years, to the iconic days of Sammy “South Face Sammy” Wilson and Jean “Queen Jean” Palmer.

Dirtbag history is widely debated among Dirtbags. When there is very little written record of the skiing subculture, memories are ironed-out by use of old photographs and phone conversations until some sort of consensus can be found among royalty. Where did the moniker “Dirtbags” even come from? The idea of the name came from an ex-Vermont ski patroller who relocated to Big Sky, explained King Netter. Some say it has roots to a notoriously difficult race on the east coast where participants never received trophies upon completion, instead they received bags of dirt. Though there may never be unanimous agreement, it does show the underlying belief among Dirtbags: the effort itself is worth it. The camaraderie with each other and with the mountain allows them to carve out legendary memories.

When anything else can rarely tame them, except for time, they can see the next round of Dirtbag royalty crowned and reflect on their wild days of youth and abandon on the mountain – when it was just them on Lone Peak during a bluebird day in perfect powder and they found that sense of Zen in their turns.

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Cori Koenig, editor:
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