Overview of Big Sky Resort, Montana
Written by Greg and Heather Burke
Montana is not on everyone's ski bucket list, but it's growing. Most people think of Montana for fly-fishing, bison chasing, bighorn sheep-spotting, ranches and road trips to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Part of us wants to keep the secret of how sensational the skiing is at Big Sky. It is truly one of our favorite western ski destinations.
Fly to Bozeman, a cool cowboy town with a great outdoorsy vibe. Big Sky is a 45-minute drive up a canyon along the beautiful Gallatin River. Perhaps the remoteness is what makes Big Sky Montana such an intriguing ski destination – for years a pretty big secret amongst skiers. They call it the last, best place. The scenery also puts Big Sky at the top of our must ski list. Now that Big Sky, part of Boyne Resorts, teamed up with neighboring private Yellowstone Club, and purchased Moonlight Basin and Spanish Peaks Resort, it truly offers some of the Biggest Skiing in America with 5,800 acres and 34 lifts! Now skiers are discovering Big Sky.
This southern Montana ski resort, near Yellowstone National Park, opened in 1973 - a vision of news anchor Chet Huntley with Chrysler backing. While Huntley was no skier, he saw Big Sky's potential of this stunningly beautiful Montana mountain range, particularly 11,166-foot Lone Peak that resembles the dramatic Matterhorn of Zermatt. Big Sky 2025 plan includes 12 new lifts, to provide the most advanced, highest lift serviced vertical above 4500'.
The Summit Hotel on the mountain at Big Sky is the best place to stay – location and luxury (the most expensive building in Montana 1999), super convenient to the ski lifts, ski school and Big Sky's Mountain Village restaurants and shops, plus the Summit has a spa and a huge outdoor hot tub with a view of the slopes. You will also find the best bellman at the Summit, cowboy clad bellhops lug your gear to your elegant western-themed suite, grab transportation for and open doors for you at every turn. The luxurious Summit lobbies feature cowhide couches and leather chairs, a grand piano and soaring antler and iron chandeliers. Upper floors have beautiful two and three bedroom condos with great views of the ski slopes and Spanish Peaks.
While Big Sky's resort village is compact and limited in its offerings, Big Sky’s skiing is huge. With 5,800 acres of skiing and 34 lifts, there is more than enough space for our week of adventure, and amazing views as far as Wyoming’s Grand Tetons to keep you visually stimulated and over 300 named trails plus glades and snow fields, and amazingly steep backcountry style expert skiing in bounds, off the 11,166' Lone Peak tram and Headwaters chair on the Moonlight face.
We love our alpine adrenaline accolades, Big Sky has the second longest vertical in North America at 4,350-feet, (short of Aspen’s Snowmass), and the Lone Peak Tram is a unique 15-passenger cable car to the pointy beacon of Big Sky where the air is thin, and ski options include spacious bowls off the backside, nearly perpendicular Dictator Chutes Castro, Marx, Lenin chutes down the south face, or the infamous Big Couloir straight down the mighty face whispered among ski fanatics as simply “The Big. A new Bowl 6 Bubble chair, six passengers with heated leather seats, will serve the Bowl with three new groomed runs, for those that want to ski in the shadows of the formidable Lone Peak.
The ride up Big Sky's tram is nail-biting but super scenic as you survey the steep options to ski from the summit, you can also ride back down in safety as a pedestrian for the sight seeing and no skiing. Disney’s tower of terror has nothing on this ascent, an elevator shaft up a craggy snow-capped corridor. The easiest way down is to ski Liberty Bowl - more challenging is Otter Slides to the Dictators, The Gullies, or the North Summit Snowfield to Moonlight. Nothing on Lone Peak is groomed, its expert terrain, au natural, yet monitored by Big Sky ski patrol from their top shack where you sign out for skiing the Big Couloir and North Summit Snow fields, avalanche gear recommended.
Another thrill is the aptly named Challenger chair (a new triple with conveyor loading for 2016), where the core locals “hang.” Don’t be intimidated by all this extreme talk, Big Sky was nicknamed “Blue Square,” before the addition of these aforementioned lifts in recent years. We found plenty of gentle cruisers served by high-speed Swift Current, Ram Charger, Southern Comfort and Thunder Wolf. Big Sky also offers a top notch ski school, private lessons and all-day ski camps for the kids - ask about Big Sky kids ski and stay free deals.
We met ski movie maker Warren Miller at Big Sky. When I gathered my courage to speak to the famous filmmaker, I managed a two-word question, “Why Montana?” Miller replied in his iconoclast voice, “I was finding Colorado was just getting too crowded for skiing. Montana is where I like to ski now.” He's now retired next door at Yellowstone Club.
With all this Big Sky skiing, plus elevations of 11,166-feet, we suggest taking a day off the slopes to take in the phenomenal sites of Yellowstone is a must. Daily snow coaches leave the resort for full day tours. Three million annual tourists visit Yellowstone in the summer, a small fraction explores the park in winter. We found Yellowstone Park spectacular blanketed in snow, providing easier tracking of wildlife (and dramatically reduced pesky humans about). From the comforts of our snow coach van, we spotted big horn sheep, elk, bison (the proper name for buffalo in North America), coyotes, and eagles. Our lunch stop was well timed to Old Faithful’s exciting eruption, we also saw dozens of steaming geysers, aqua colored thermals, and the quirky bubbling mud pots.
If you prefer, you can snowmobile Yellowstone, but don’t expect to buzz around solo on your sled. Snowmobiles are herded single file behind a guide and governed to pokey speeds along the Park roads. Only the wild animals roam freely, nature’s justice.
After a day of tram laps at Big Sky or bison counting, we recommend bison eating at Buck’s T-4, the best restaurant at Big Sky - a classic ranch serving delicious local beef, game and delicious sides in a cozy log atmosphere. Also for a ski in ski out lunch, Everett's 8800, named for Boyne Resorts founder and the elevation, is a super scenic alpine chic restaurant on the mountain. See our reviews of where to dine at Big Sky.
While Montana’s outdoors is wild and rugged, the nightlife is tame. Send the kids to the pool or Kids’ Club, and saddle up to après ski at The Carabiner Bar in the Summit Hotel or the Moonlight Lodge - both have local music most nights.
John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, “Montana has the kind of mountains I’d create if mountains were on my agenda.” If Steinbeck had been a skier, I think a ski vacation at Big Sky would have been on his agenda. One more thing, the sky really is big and blue.
Besides gorgeous countryside, Big Sky offers an awesome variety of terrain for all skiing levels--from beginner to the extreme advanced skier. Lift lines are usually pretty short and the resorts around the mountain offer easy access and great dining.
staying at the Huntley was as close as a ski in and out plus the lodge was great a little far to travel though