By Lewis Kendall

Two cups of coffee and a few freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

That’s all it took for Rob Leipheimer to break the record for most laps of the tram at Big Sky Resort in a single day.

Once every seven and a half minutes, starting with the first car at 9:15 a.m. and ending with the final ride at 3:06 p.m., Leipheimer loaded into the tram and was whisked 1,450 vertical feet to the top of Lone Peak.

It was Valentine’s Day, a Wednesday, and Leipheimer’s 80th day on skis this season. The visibility was poor but the snow, as it has been most of the year, was soft and forgiving.

The first few runs were what Leipheimer likes to call “hot laps” — cruising from the top of Marx to the First Gully above the bowl and then across to Cron’s, flushing him out right back where he started. If he timed it right, Leipheimer beat his tram car back to the station. Crowds were thin, and only a couple times did he have to wait in line.

“I started thinking, ‘Wow, this is going to be a day when we’re going to do tram laps all day long,’” he said.

By around 1 p.m., Leipheimer had recorded 25 laps, just shy of his personal record of 27 set a couple seasons back. He hadn’t stopped for so much as a drink of water or a bathroom break, but the 50-year-old was feeling strong. The tram operators and ski patrollers, many of whom had been watching Leipheimer since the morning, started tallying laps with him, cheering him on and tossing him cookies baked in a small oven hidden under the station.

“They knew what was up,” Leipheimer said. “It became this, ‘Well, I think I’m going to break the record.’”

That record, 31 laps, was set by Leipheimer’s friend Luke Stratford back in 1998.

If there were others riding up with him in the tram’s circular cabin, Leipheimer would make idle chit-chat. If he was alone, Leipheimer put his skis on, shaving precious seconds from his transitions.

Speed has never been an issue for the Leipheimer family. Rob’s parents started the Outdoorsman, a ski and bike shop in his hometown of Butte. His mother has taught skiing for more than 50 years. And you may have heard of Rob’s brother, former professional cyclist Levi Leipheimer.

After growing up on Butte’s Beef Trail ski area, Rob first skied Big Sky when he was 12. He remembers the resort’s eggshell-style gondola and the then-quiet base area. And he remembers that fateful 1995 season when the resort installed the tram.

After graduating from Montana State University, Rob scored a job working for Rossignol, first in Italy, then Vermont and California. Eventually he returned to Montana, working for Nordica as a sales rep before taking over his parents’ business.

Seven years ago, he purchased a place in Big Sky and began splitting his time there, skiing in the winter and mountain biking in the summer. This season was his first living full-time in the shadow of Lone Peak.

The tram lap record wasn’t something Rob had his eye on. He had brought his touring gear, anticipating a day in the backcountry. The effort was, as he likes to say, unplanned.

“It’s never like you wake up that morning and say, ‘I’m going to beat that record,’” he said.

Yes, it was monotonous. Yes, he could barely ski the next day. But sometimes, the stars align just right, allowing a single skier to carve 35 laps — more than 50,000 vertical feet of inbounds terrain — in one day.

Other than a couple news stories, some high-fives and a congratulatory text from Stratford, Rob said the achievement hasn’t brought him universal fame. But that’s fine by him.

“It was fun, but it’s more of a novelty than anything,” he said. “I’m not out for my ego.”

Including backcountry, Rob has recorded 122 days on snow this season (likely more by the time you read this). But the older he gets, the more in love with the sport he falls. If he could ski every day of the year, he would.

And the record, impressive as it may be, is simply an expression of that love.

“Skiing has always been my life,” he said, “and it’s been a great life.”

Kendall can be reached at 406-582-2651 or He is on Twitter at @lewdak

Lewis Kendall covers business and the economy for the Chronicle.