By Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan | Photograph by Ryan Turner
If your taste in skiing leans toward the steep, exposed, and thrilling, then you know Big Sky Resort’s Dictator Chutes. This series of borderline extreme runs (Dictator 1, 2A, and 2B) on Lone Mountain’s south face plunge through above-treeline, rock-lined funnels that reliably hold fresh snow for days. Combined with the adjacent shots Lenin and Marx, the Dictator Chutes are classic Big Sky. “I like the Dictator Chutes because there’s a danger factor,” says Dave Stergar, a retired teacher from Helena who has put in 70-day-plus seasons for 30 years. “And Marx and Lenin are big, European-style runs. They’re wide and fast, and they get a touch of wind that can smooth them out like a pool table for alpine carving. I would be up there all the time if I had my way.”
What’s with all the political monikers? According to Dr. Jeff Strickler’s The Skiers’ Guide to the Biggest Skiing in America, the Dictator Chutes got their name from the Cold War-era skiers who bootpacked up to this zone in the days before the Lone Peak Tram opened in 1995. The chutes were next to the daunting Castro’s run—it resembles the Cuban leader’s profile—so they thought the sketchy gullies also “had to be really bad dudes,” or “dictators.” The same backcountry skiers reportedly christened Marx and Lenin.
Fidel Castro was a communist revolutionary who ruled over Cuba for decades. But Karl Marx was an eggheaded political scientist, not a dictator. Likewise, Vladimir Lenin was a Marxist and Communist who presided over the brand-new USSR, but he was no dictator either, although his successor Joseph Stalin sure fit the bill. Skiers must decide for themselves whether any of the namesakes qualify as really bad dudes.
After the Tram was completed, top brass at the resort tried to rename Marx and Lenin as Thunder and Lightning. Yawn. The locals wouldn’t hear of it, and the original names stuck.
In 2014, Stergar jokingly called Dictator 2B “Putin Chute” after the Russian president. The name later spread as an April Fool’s joke. It was convincing enough to fool several publications including The Telegraph in the U.K. into reporting the story.
They look intimidating and you certainly shoudn’t fall here, but the ramps are pretty navigable once you’ve skied them a few times. From the top of the Lone Peak Tram, enter via the Yeti Traverse or Otter Slide to the mouth of Lenin. Then continue traversing to your right to the Dictator Chutes—which are separated by vertical bands of rock—and pick your line. Deep snowpack? Ski straight down to Sunlight Bowl from the bottom of the Chutes. If not, traverse back over to Lenin to finish the run. Hop on the Duck Walk run to loop back around to the Tram.