By Erik Morrison
Cresting the top of our ascent we are greeted by a cool mountain breeze and with it the sounds of a natural mystic flowing through the air. Music and the sweet smell of BBQ flows across the tundra as we approach the high alpine tailgate. The starting point for our groups morning tour, the Gardner lookout was a tranquil little outpost overlooking the Beartooths. Four hours and a few thousand vert later we’ve returned to find it transformed, and most thankfully so. A sea of sunburnt smiles, old friends, notorious characters and familiar faces fill the lot. Old glory flies high atop a renovated school bus named Powder Bandit as it pulls in for another unscheduled stop for those seeking shuttle laps and colorful company. Sleds make rounds along the headwall trading hot laps for cold beers and karma, while others simply appear from the snowy side of a guardrail from tours unknown. This is Memorial Day in the Beartooths and the Gardner tailgate is a time honored tradition.
Skinning into camp we are welcomed by a friendly familiar face. Mr. Dave “Sudsy” Watson greets us with a platter of mimosas and motions for us to take a seat. Gladly we drop our gear, grab a glass and fall in with the rest of the crew. Posted up at the convergence of the skin track, tailgate party and Rout 212, the Venture and Spark R&D booth is the perfect spot to take it all in. Three solid days of shredding corn and demoing next year’s gear with friends, fans and the Spark R&D team has us ready for a more leisurely pace. Reclined and relaxed, we settle in to watch the show. From across the valley we spy a few from our tribe still eager for the shred. Chance Lenay, Frankie Devlin and a few others pick off some fresh lines amongst Gardner’s spicier offerings. We watch one by one as they make easy work of the cornice, rocks and arc turns out of sight to the basin below. A cheers is called to order by a voice amongst the crowd and the group instinctively follows suite, raising a glass to our friends, fallen comrades and the freedoms we enjoy.
Inspired by our friends and the moment, the stoke grows and the crew begins to catch a second wind. Snacks, water, sunscreen and off we go! Broad smiles, packs shouldered and thumbs out, we quickly catch a ride on the tailgate of a Chevy headed for Yellowstone. The cool wind sharpens our senses and we watch in quiet anticipation as the guardrail gives way to snowbanks that reach for the sky.
Wyatt eagerly waiting for Megan Bailey's drop.
Chance Lenay taking the 2017/18 Storm out for a rip.
Dave Watson hops the guardrail and into some steep roadside lines.
Hitchhiking up the road for another run.
Morning mimosas at camp.
Massive snowbanks on the way to the top of the pass.
A view of Beartooth Basin Ski Area.