Putting the ‘Ski’ back in Ski Tour

I’m home in one piece, but part of me remains in the magical western US, where the Stringdusters just wrapped up our annual Ski Tour. Huge thanks to all the amazing people who came to see us. It was 3 weeks of pure bliss–14 packed shows and 6 days of epic skiing in 12 mountain towns across 5 states with an endless crew of Duster friends and family. What is it about these ski towns, where people effortlessly live the good life and considerations of the future never seem to extend beyond the next big dump of snow? It’s magic, the perfect place for our band to do what we do best: capture the inspiration of the High Country lifestyle to create a musical experience that celebrates life and our connection to each other and the world around us.

We rolled west from Charlottesville to New Mexico, kicking off with shows in Taos and Durango. Next up was Telluride–time to make our first turns of the trip. They’re still awaiting the heavy snow, but we got out under blue skies and had two great sold out shows at the Sheridan Opera House with Elephant Revival, a totally unique acoustic band from CO. Crested Butte was a full on blizzard, getting around 16 inches of new snow while we were were there. By the time we called it quits for apres ski beers, faces were frozen in the perma-grin position. You know you had a great day when the locals are bailing on work to ski after a late night at the Arts Center (thanks Kat Cooke!). Beaver Creek had good snow and we got out for most of the day despite some heavy winds, running laps on Larkspur until the van was leaving for Boulder. We played there the next night, at the Fox with Pert Near Sandstone and in Breckenridge the following night with Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers at 320 South, both great bands. The front range musical frenzy was really on display–some of the most fun fans anywhere, deeply appreciative of good music, filling up the room long before show time. We were lucky enough to be with Nicki (and Tim, Deren and Dave) for over a week. Their music is great and their vibe is unbeatable–can’t wait to do it again.

Next up was Snowmass (first time back to the first place I ever skied, age 5!) and it was really good. They got dumped on leading up to our visit, and after a packed out show at PAC 3 in Carbondale the night before (great new room!), we hit the hill early with a few new friends. Local Casey Piscura rode with us until the bitter end, taking us to all kinds of spots we would have never found alone. He got the inside line from ski patrol that they were going to open Hanging Valley Wall for the first time all year and we were there. After a short bootpacked hike we got first tracks through the woods. There are no words. Long, fun day that wrapped up with a good 4 hour session at the bar watching the Giants advance to the Super Bowl with my Duster brethren.

We rolled into Jackson, WY late night with no ski connection but they had TONS of new snow and bluebird skies the next morning. We were eager to get out. I contacted everyone I knew and sure enough we were hitching a ride to the mountain with our new friend Bobby Collins by 9 AM, on the gondola an hour later, about to enjoy another great day. Matt Donovan was also along, showing us around this winter playground. Jackson had about 5 feet of new snow in the previous week, and it showed. What an insane mountain–gnarly, cliffed-out terrain everywhere, surrounded by an endless landscape of backcountry possibilities. Travis and I hiked the headwall after only a couple runs, traversing past Casper Bowl to a zone called Crags, and what a beautiful site it was! Knee deep powder everywhere, even deeper in places, and only a couple people strapping in after the long hike out the ridge. It was another run for the ages, and the rest of the day was just pure joy, exploring this amazing place with cool local crew and two old friends. We rolled back into town with a few minutes to spare before soundcheck, and by the time we hit the stage the Pink Garter Theatre was a sold out frenzy of activity. Fun! I could close my eyes and imagine pillows of fresh snow, open my eyes and see fans partying down, loving life. Very unforgettable day.

Last but certainly not least was Big Sky, MT. We’ve been playing Big Sky for years, at their annual Big Grass festival, so this mountain is the one we know best. We played two shows at the Filler in Bozeman (Flatt Cheddar–great local opener!), which gave us a chance to organize the first Duster family ski, and it was such a highlight. On Friday night I told everyone to meet at noon on Saturday at the top of the Ramcharger lift. Sure enough, we had a an amazing crew of fans who were up for it. Between 15-25 of us rode together for the rest of the day, including our official guide, Jimbo, head of the volunteer ski patrol (thanks Jimbo–you are the man, seriously). For hours we ranged across the mountain, making turns and riding the lift with new friends. Jimbo reserved the last tram of the day for our group, and those who remained made our way to the very summit at about 3:15, piling in 17 strong, suddenly alone at the top as the sun finally emerged. Liberty bowl was loaded with great snow. We had a group of new friends united by music and the great outdoors. Perfect way to wrap it all up.

Big thanks to everyone who joined us on Ski Tour 2012, our best tour as a band in so many ways. We’re committed to our music and all the hard work that makes a band go, but also to all the good living that can be done along the way. This trip brought those things together like never before. The magic of the mountains finds its way onto the stage, and the musical experience feels much bigger when you are sharing more than just music. Thanks again to everyone who was a part of it. Can’t wait to get back out there….

A few more pics (thanks to honorary Duster Ed Coyle for the action shots):




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