By Day 144, Bob and Sylvia Torter had skied nearly every day of Big Sky Resort’s winter season, and that’s despite a fractured ankle, a bout with pneumonia, and cancer treatment on the far side of the continent.
The couple, who’ve shared a zip code with the southwest Montana resort for two decades, focused on many a record in their 18 years of marriage, such as riding 11-day, 11,000-mile motorcycle rallies, and logging the most ski lessons of any couple ever at the 5,800-acre resort–some 300 hours worth. The latter, says Sylvia, a native of Argentina, “is because I had never experienced snow until I came to Montana.” So when they realized that their previous season’s 132 on-slopes days could be exceeded in a Leap Year, the Torters aimed for the Full Monty: 144 ski days–together–certainly a Big Sky record and possibly a national one for couples. “We’ve never skied separately in 18 seasons,” laughs Bob. “I had to miss two days this winter for scheduled medical appointments in Miami,” he adds, having served in the U.S. Marine Corps as an infantry squad leader near Khe Sanh, Vietnam. He now suffers from a rare cancer due to exposure to Agent Blue, arsenic used to poison rice. Those same years, resort founder and Montana native Chet Huntley co-anchored NBC news’ The Huntley-Brinkley Report and conceptualized Big Sky.
Meanwhile, Bob Torter earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, and Huntley reported on it all. On November 7th, Big Sky opened for a rare preseason day. Bob and Sylvia earned a boot up on their potential record, not to mention a lovely set of figure-8s in the 30 inches of fresh snow. So on the official Day 1, November 24th, the resort opened for the season, Torter’s second ski day. By Day 30, Big Sky’s Lone Peak Tram had opened, allowing the duo a four-minute, ear-popping ride up to 11,166 feet elevation and the edgy runs, Lenin and Marx, steep shots reportedly named because by the time riders survive the Dictator Chutes, they’ll be swearing American patriotism and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. “No ifs, ands, or buts,” says Bob. “Marx is our favorite run. I like to ski down the right side, and Sylvia likes the left.” When they met up a dozen turns later, they caught their collective breaths while absorbing views south and east into Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons and the Madison Range.
From there, the Torters have options, over 300 named runs, four mountains, 34 lifts and 9 square miles of lift-accessed runs on varying terrain, more than half of which is advanced and expert. With their Gold Unlimited Season Passes, the Torters access northern-facing runs on the former Moonlight Basin ski area terrain–one seamless Big Sky Resort since the 2013-2014 season. Nearly every turn has a view of the rugged Lee Metcalf Wilderness. Some days, they ski laps off Ramcharger, Thunder Wolf and Swift Current Lifts. And just for fun on Day 134, they tracked their vertical. “We did 28,500 vertical feet in four hours, 30.9 miles skiing,” says Bob. “That’s more vertical than a heli-ski day. We tried an iWatch app that uses GPS. We just did it for the heck of it, a good time. Our max speed was 41 mph!” By the time deepest snow piled up, some 400 inches annual snowfall, when the morning met guests with new flakes and ten degrees in the village, the Torter’s fridge was empty. “We had a lot of help from friends,” says Sylvia. Big Sky neighbors cheered their efforts “although they thought we were crazy,” adds Bob, about the ski-day record attempt, yet friends picked up groceries for the Torters, or other necessities in Bozeman, 45 miles north. “We love the people of Big Sky,” adds Bob. “Really, the effort to ski every day became a communal effort, from my doctor, Mark Diebert who replaced both my knees in 2014, to friends and neighbors and especially the resort staff. Big Sky General Manager Taylor Middleton wanted us to set a record that can’t be broken because this is a Leap Year and unless the resort opens earlier or later, the record is ours. No other married couple could do it.” “They are an inspiring couple,” says Middleton. “Not many couples ski together every day and certainly few septuagenarians like Bob keep pushing for new adventures.” By Day 130, the sun made ice crystals dance through sundogs of the alpine region, and Bob Dixon, Big Sky’s Ski Patrol leader urged the Torters to try one more ski run, the thin scar of snow, edged by ski-gobbling granite and impeded only by ego: The Big Couloir. “We are not extreme skiers,” says Bob. “We ski everything on the mountain except The Big Couloir,” the 50-degree, one-turn wide vertical crevasse under the Lone Peak Tram, where 15 sets of eyes watch from the up-bound tramcar as skiers drop into the no-fall zone. It has a hairy dogleg turn midway down, one of those runs where once a skier commits, there’s no turning back, no exit. “I’d rather swim in the Gallatin River in winter than ski The Big Couloir,” says Sylvia, Miss Argentina in 1987 and certainly no stranger to competition.
Bob could legitimately beg off thanks to his recovery from pneumonia a few weeks earlier, and the nagging ankle injury that had not yet been x-rayed to reveal the fracture. “I was almost glad I broke my ankle to put off The Big Couloir for another year,” smiles Bob. By Day 143, word had spread throughout the mountain community of 2,700 residents: This couple approached a record that surly no one else held at any resort. Meanwhile the resort itself was breaking a season record as well, seeing an 8 percent increase in skier visits over the previous year and setting a new all-time record over the previous high mark from the 2013/2014 season. “We pulled into the ‘Rock Star Parking Lot,’ and the lot attendants encouraged us to reach the 144 ski days,” says Bob. “By the last day of ski season, April 17th, 2016, on the resort’s 144th day (the longest in Montana and one of the longest for Rocky Mountain destinations), we were at 143 days together on the slopes. So the mountain, Taylor Middleton, and lift attendants and ski patrol opened the resort for one more day, April 18th. The entire mountain and just us to make the record,” Bob beams. They skied from one end of the resort to other, says Sylvia, riding Bighorn on the south, and zigging and zagging all the way to Lone Tree Lift on farthest north end. They rode Headwaters Lift and hiked over to Challenger Lift for a rip down the old favorite. “We skied basically everything we could in a day,” adds Bob. “There are just too many runs to ski them all, but we tried.” Next year? “Who knows,” the couple laughs as they pack away DPS Carbon-fiber skis and break out the hiking boots. “Perhaps The Big Couloir, or 40,000 vertical feet in a day. We’ll think of something.” “But we can’t ski more than all the days available, so we will need to do something different,” adds Bob.
“Taylor, Barb Rooney, Brian Wheeler, Ski Patrol Chief Bob Dixon, and our Day 144 Guide Mike Unruh, the Director of Mountain Operations, are an incomparable team. In truth though, we got at least as much pleasure from parking lot people and lift ticket checkers encouraging us onward as we did from the top team. It is the attitude of employees who make Big Sky Resort so special.” •