Big Sky Resort Ski and Terrain
Written by Greg and Heather Burke
Montana is like the final frontier for skiers. If you haven’t skied the Big Sky state, you’re missing the big picture. Let me paint it for you: far fewer crowds than most Colorado or Utah resorts, magnificent 11,000’ mountains, superb scenery, and serious snow.
We have skied Big Sky's vast beautiful high alpine terrain. It's amazing. Big Sky is relatively easy to reach, an hour from the beautiful Bozeman airport up to a swerving scenic canyon road that follows the splendid Gallatin River. Big Sky now owns the northern exposure of Moonlight Basin (previously its own ski resort), making it some of the biggest skiing in America with over 5,800 acres and 34 lifts, plus the formerly private ski trails and lifts of Spanish Peaks which Boyne purchased in 2013 with Yellowstone Club's owner - CrossHarbor Capital.
Big Sky’s vertical is 4,350’, second only to Snowmass at Aspen. Skiing from the top of Lone Peak all the way to the Mountain Village is a six-mile run taking you from steep snow fields like Liberty Bowl and the Dictator Chutes to powder fields, glades, groomers, even a natural halfpipe along your way.
With 5,800-acres encompassing seven different aspects, and 300 named trails from wide-open runs to extreme NFT (no fall terrain), Big Sky has truly something for everyone. I love the groomers on Andesite and the steeps off Lone Peak. My husband likes Challenger’s natural glades and steeps, our daughter loves the Cache terrain park off Swifty and Moonlight's groomed Icehouse. Our son loves the bump runs on Thunder Wolf and the Dictator Chutes off the Tram.
Big Sky is big on families, kids 10 and under ski and stays free. Après ski activities for families are bustling at Base Camp. You can tube, snowshoe, bungee jump, zip line or send the kids to Kids’ Club for fun and games while you enjoy adult après ski at the cowboy style Carabiner Bar with Moose Drool beer. We ziplined one afternoon, high above the ski slopes soaring 1,500’ past the high-speed quads and over the village. For a day off the slopes (not a bad idea with such big mountain, high elevation skiing), tour Yellowstone National Park by snow coach or snowmobile to see bison and beautiful geysers.
Big Sky's Summit Hotel is four-star, slope-side, with sumptuous western décor and an outdoor heated pool and spa, steps from the Big Sky village - perfectly located for first tracks and last call.
Riding up to 11,166’ on the 15-passenger Lone Peak Tram, you can’t help but be impressed by the Grand Teton views, and the vision of John Kircher, of the Boyne Resort family. In 1993, he helicopter skied off this pinnacle and planned a tram to take skiers to the top. The Tram opened in 1995, a feat of engineering that has made this big mountain terrain accessible by lift, unlike anything else in the country. Skiing Big Sky’s Lone Peak is like heli-skiing without the pricey heli-ski vacation or skiing off-piste in the Alps. For winter 2016-17, Big Sky debuts a new Bowl6 - six passenger chair with heated leather seats in the Bowl, and a new Dopplemayr Triple serving the Challenger terrain with a conveyor loading system to speed up access to this local's favorite stash.
Big Sky skis off of seven aspects and three separate mountains, the largest of which is Lone Peak. On its north side is Moonlight Basin, all part of your Big Sky ticket, encompassing more terrain than Vail at 5,512-acres, though eclipsed by Park City's 7,300.
Moonlight Basin was one of the newest ski resorts in America, opened in 2003 on family owned ranch land, now part of Big Sky's ski terrain. The Moonlight area still feels like a private resort where you can score powder stashes and perfect cord all day long. David Letterman “moonlights” here; apparently, he prefers this ski terrain over the posh private runs at neighboring exclusive Yellowstone Club and Spanish Peaks.
Whether you stay at Big Sky or lodge at Moonlight Basin in a private mountainside cabin, you can ski back and forth at will, savor soft untouched snow, and maybe see some wildlife – my husband skied by a fox during our first tracks. I was awed by the vast wilderness dotted with occasional majestic rocky mountain homes and the Moonlight Lodge with its grand fireplace (so big there are mountain goats climbing up the rocks). The Moonlight Lodge is a great place for a scenic ski in ski out lunch or drinks at the bar.
The Moonlight Basin, Northern Exposure of Big Sky, has more skiing than meets the eye from great cruisers off the super speedy Six-Shooter lift, to glades and steeps on Lone Tree, and hair-raising chutes and powder bowls off the Headwaters chair lift that climbs Lone Peak's north flank.
Do yourself a big favor and plan a ski trip to Big Sky, and a stop at Bridger Bowl for a ski day too (14 miles from Bozeman). The scenery, the snow, the acres of terrain, grand western lodging, and the friendly Montanans really make it worth while. So giddy up and go.