Skiing The Buttcrack Chute in Middle Basin
Location: Middle Basin, Spanish Peaks, Madison Range, Big Sky, MT
Trailhead: Beehive Basin Parking Area – 7900 ft
Distance: +/- 6.5 miles round trip
Time: 4-5 hours
Top Elevation: 10240 ft
Vertical: 3050 ft
USGS Maps: Lone Mountain, Gallatin Peak
It’s April in SW Montana and winter is finally back after an unwelcome hiatus. In this most recent storm cycle we got 8 to 12 inches of fresh with only a little bit of wind and cold temps. Today was bluebird and Chris Corona and I decided to go for a nice walk in the Spanish Peaks to ski the Buttcrack Chute in Middle Basin.
The Buttcrack Chute is a classic ski descent in the Spanish Peaks. Middle Basin ends in a high alpine bowl with a clean snowy line through steep rock walls that drops back down to the floor of the basin. Basically, it’s an easy access, fun descent that combines a mix of terrain – tree skiing, alpine bowls, and tight chutes. The Buttcrack is highly visible from Big Sky’s Town Center as you look toward the alpine. It’s a line that gets skied regularly and yet it tempts me every time I walk the dog. Plu, it’s always a fun adventure.
Chris Corona and I left the Beehive Basin parking lot at 7900 feet around 8am. It’s always a good day when the parking area is nearly empty and you get to break trail down the Beehive Super Highway. With the light hitting the high alpine, we smiled and made good time.
We quickly cruised the 1500 feet up to the Beehive-Middle Ridge. We walked down the ridge until we found a fun shot to drop down to the Middle Basin floor. After a quick transition, we were greeted with stable pow turns for about 400 vertical to the valley below.
With skins back on the skis, we plodded along through the fresh snow toward the Buttcrack Chute. The last time I went this direction we tagged the Bat Ears Couloir – an area classic. As we reached the bottom of the Buttcrack Chute, we chose to approach the summit via the looker’s right side. There is a mellow route this way that works through the alpine terrain to the head of Middle Basin. Many people attempt to take the Beehive-Middle ridge all the way, but I’ve found this quite time consuming and sketchy.
From the top of Middle Basin, the views are drool worthy. Lone Peak, home of Big Sky Resort, looks fat with new snow. Beehive Peak beckons with a fresh blanket of white. Big Sky Town Center hides far below. Beehive Meadows looks tempting for low angle meadow skipping. Gallatin Peak towers over the Spanish Peaks. Mount Wilson looks inviting. And of course, their are other cool lines staring you right in the face. Part of skiing the Buttcrack Chute is enjoying the views of SW Montana.
The summit of Middle Basin sits at 10240 feet. We reached our destination in just under 3 hours, 2500 vertical feet, and 2 transitions. Chris and I soaked in the views and slowly switched over to ski mode as big mountain-loving grins spread across our faces. Today was a good day. And it’s only getting better because now it’s time to ski.
We skied the lower angled powder fields down to the Buttcrack Chute. The alpine terrain is about 30 degrees. When we got to the Buttcrack Chute we did a quick ski cut – keeping a close eye on the loaded, steep rollover. The chute was untouched and fresh tracks awaited me. The chute is about a snowcat track wide and has a few steep turns – with a touch of sluff management, it skied great. The entire line from summit to valley floor is approximately 800 feet.
After celebrating our line, we trudged back down Middle Basin – slipping and sliding back down the fresh skin track. We quickly switched back to uphill mode and made steady progress up toward the Beehive-Middle Basin ridge.
We ended up on the ridge near the Going To The Bar Chute – a familiar exit strategy back to Beehive Basin and the car. The temps had increased quite a bit and the snow was warming. We noted a bit of cracking and played it safe down through the trees and down the ridge.
Once down to the floor of Beehive Basin, we party skied through the meadows and jumped on the Beehive Super highway. It was fast and smooth sailing back to the Beehive Parking area.
All in all, the day took 4.25 hours, covered 3000 feet, and we covered 6.5 miles. Another great day out and about in the Spanish Peaks.
For more info on the Buttcrack Chute and other fun lines in SW Montana, be sure to pick up Ben Werner’s Backcountry Skiing Bozeman and Big Sky.
View Route on Hillmap.
Additional photos from skiing the Buttcrack Chute in the Madison Range of Montana:
The Buttcrack Chute was skied on April 7, 2015.