Big Sky Resort
Big Sky Resort is a real hidden gem. Despite averaging over 400 inches of snowfall each year, having a top elavation of 11166 feet (3403 metres), 4350 feet (1326 metres) of vertical and 3,812 acres of terrain covering three mountains with 150 named runs spanning 85 miles (137 kilometres), Big Sky is rarely mentioned in the same breath as the big resorts of Colorado, California and Utah. And that's the way those of us who ski here like it.
- 1 Location
- 2 Pros
- 3 Cons
- 4 Contacts
- 5 Planning
- 6 Resort Facilities
- 7 Ride Guide
- 8 Other
- 9 Resources
Southwestern Montana, approximately 46 miles south of Bozeman.
- Big Sky has something for everyone, from first day newbies to extreme big mountain skiers.
- Huge amount of terrain.
- Reliable snowfall
- Stunning scenery
- Proximity to Moonlight Basin, another ski area on the other side of Lone Peak
- There is absolutely nobody here! Lift lines are almost always non existent
- Great steeps on the Lone Peak Tram and Challenger especially
- Light, dry Montana powder
- Temperatures can plunge down to extreme lows
- Few bluebird days
- Perhaps a little too remote for some people
- Lifts are often prone to wind closures (particularly Shedhorn, Dakota Territory and Challenger)
- Apres ski can be a little dull for the party animals
Phone: Reservations - 800.548.4486
Fax: Administrative office - 406.995.5001
Postal: Big Sky Resort PO Box 160001 1 Lone Mountain Trail Big Sky, MT 59716
The best way to get to Big Sky is to fly into Gallatin Field airport near Bozeman and then transfer from there. Alaskan Airlines, United, Delta, Northwest and Allegiant all fly into Bozeman from cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit and San Francisco. The Big Sky website suggests using  for discounted airfares.
Direct flights with United Airlines are available from LA during the ski season but only on Saturdays.
Karst Stage offers bus transfers directly from the airport to the doorstep of your accommodation in Big Sky. I can highly recommend them. Reservations are required and can be made online at . Service is friendly and convenient and you don't need to worry about making the sometimes sketchy drive through the Gallatin Canyon. The drive generally takes around an hour.
There are many options for accommodation in the base area and Mountain Village which are all close to the lifts. Check the resort website for details.
Big Sky is not Vail or Whistler. Accommodations are available, but there is not a huge amount of selection. The following are all located near the slopes, although they are not all near the main lifts.
HOTELS: The Huntley Lodge & Summit at Big Sky, both great locations
CONDOMINIUMS: Arrowhead, Beaverhead, Big Horn, Cedar Creek, Powder Ridge, Saddleridge, Skycrest, Snowcrest, Stillwater .
Staying in the Meadow Village or in the Canyon is an option, particularly if you want to save a little bit of dough. You could stay in Bozeman if you really wanted to, but I don't think I'd recommend it. It is too far away and the drive through the canyon can occasionally be quite dangerous. Those crosses on the side of the road ain't there for no reason.
It is possible to buy either a Big Sky only ticket ($78/day) or the Lone Peak Pass ($93/day). The Lone Peak Pass entitles you to ski at neighbouring Moonlight Basin as well as Big Sky on the same ticket. Personally, I think you'd be mad to buy the Lone Peak Pass. There is honestly enough terrain at Big Sky to keep you busy for weeks, if not months. There's just no need to ski Moonlight as well in the same day. If you really want to check out Moonlight Basin as well, I'd suggest you just buy a ticket from them and ski over there for the entire day.
Big Sky has a good ski school which offers group and private lessons for all abilities. Adult group lessons are $67 for 2.5 hours, children's group lessons are the same price, but all day packages including lunch will set you back $142. Private lessons for 1-2 people will cost $230 for two hours in the afternoon, or $250 in the morning. 3 hours is $340PM/$360AM and full days will cost $550. Full day private lessons for families are available and cost $655. Remember that lessons can be discounted when packaged together with lodging, ski hire and lift tickets.
$35/day for a standard ski package, $44/day for a snowboard package and $50/day for a high performance ski package. 3 and 5 day packages provide discounts of 10% and 20% respectively. Demo skis are available for $50 a day but I was very disappointed with the limited range of skis on offer. Salomon, Head, K2 and Volkl are the only skis available and even then only in limited lengths and models.
It is worth checking out Lone Mountain Sports in the Arrowhead Mall as an alternative. Their range is much more extensive than the actual resort rental shop and I found their employees to be more helpful. Demos were only $29/day (but I was demoing last year's skis).
The Skyline Bus provides free transportation around the Mountain Village, around the Meadow Village and between the Canyon, Meadow Village and Mountain Village. Be sure to be ready on time though because buses normally only stop hourly. There is also a service to and from Bozeman three or four times a day.
There is free parking for skiers a short walk from the slopes. The resort also runs a gaper train (an F250 carrying two trailers to seat skiers) between the free skier parking lot and the Mountain Mall in the heart of the base area if you can't be bothered walking.
- Skiing and Snowboarding
- There is a defined snowshoe trail if that's your thing.
- Fly Fishing
- The Gallatin River and many of the area's other rivers are renowned for some of the best trout fishing in the country. There are dozens of guiding companies who can hook you up for a day's fishing.
- Cross Country Skiing
- Lone Mountain Ranch was recently voted America's number one resort for cross country skiing. It is only a few miles from the slopes of Big Sky. Please note, your Big Sky lift ticket does not entitle you to ski at Lone Mountain Ranch, you need to buy a separate pass from them.
- In the spring months, the Gallatin River roars. There are some class 5 and 6 rapids in areas.
- Yellowstone National Park is only about an hour's drive from Big Sky. Winter tours are available with guiding companies, as well as snowmobiling in some areas of the park. The Boiling River is supposed to be a highlight.
My experience in this area is very limited. However, I can tell you this. WokKee Mountain Kitchen on Ousel Falls Road in the Meadow Village is the shiznit. Great food, big servings, low prices. Takeaway style, but very, very good. The Blue Moon Bakery has some tasty treats and the Lone Peak Brewery has some local brews to check out.
There are a couple of very worthy restuarants within a 15 minute drive. Lone Mountain Ranch is excellent for fine dinning, also worth visiting is Buck's T4 restuarant. They have a shuttle bus that will pick you up from the resort.
Bars & Entertainment
The Bambu Bar and the Black Bear are good places to go and have a few drinks. Chet's is distinctly upper class, but if you want to go and play poker with some millionaires (I'm not joking... I've played with Hollywood writers, real estate moguls and World Poker Tour players there) then check out Joe's Poker Table at Chet's in the Huntley Building. It runs every night except Sundays until late.
Not that many options. Big Sky Sports, The Board Room and Lone Mountain Sports are your places to go for gear on mountain (the bootfitting service I received at Big Sky Sports was very average though). There is a small convenience store, some souvenir type shops, plus a jeweller and a fur shop in the Mountain Mall. A little upper class, you might say. The Meadow Village has Grizzly Outfitters and Gallatin Alpine Sports for gear, the Hungry Moose market for groceries and a bite to eat, the Country Market for a wider range of groceries and a few more shops that sell useless souvenirs and other assorted crap.
They'll be fine in ski school during the day, then there's the family fun zone at night to check out. There's a tube park and a small terrain park serviced by the magic carpet lift that are lit up most nights if the kids are keen on that.
The magic carpets are great for complete newbies, the Explorer services some gentle green runs for improvers and Southern Comfort accesses some long, wide open beginner runs which are great to practise on. Southern Comfort in particular also gives newbies a chance to try a little bit of powder if they please since the groomers tend to leave some of the trails untouched on the sides. Swift Current accesses Mr K, which is great for the beginner looking to take the next step as there are some slightly trickier spots.
The lower parts of Lone Peak Mountain has long nice blue cruisers. One worth mentioning is Calamity Jane. But the best ones are found on Andesite Mountain. Big Horn, Madison Avenue, Elk Park Ridge off the Thunder Wolf High Speed Quad, or Ambush and Silver Knife off the Ramcharger High Speed Quad are all excellent to work on one's technique. The snow tends to get softer in the afternoon. Most of these runs have bumps on one side, but nothing major. Big Horn is the one that encounters the most favor among intermediate runs. Its steepest section are in the 20-25 degree range and even experts can enjoy some fast carving on it. A few tree runs accessible to advanced intermediates do exist: look for Blue Room, Low Dog, Colter's Hell to the right of Silver Knife, or Ambush Glades to the right of Ambush. They are not easy to spot and therefore they see very few skiers. Be sure you can ski in bumps and ungroomed condition a little bit before venturing among the trees. True enough they are not the tightest you can find, but they are hard and demand your respect nevertheless.
Expert and Off Piste
There's so much here, you rarely need to hike to any terrain. You can hike to the A-Z Chutes from the top of Challenger for some steep and deep inbounds.
The runs off the tram on Lone Peak Mountain are definitely all challenging and are rated either double- black or black. Big Couloir is the signature run. The pitch is a sustained 42 degrees and it is approximately 350meters vertical. Technically, this run is considered out-of-bound and before you drop in you have to sign in with the ski patrol, have an avalanche receiver, a shovel, and a partner. Its difficulty is more in the length than in the pitch, really. As couloirs go, this is really wide. The steepest route down Lone Peak is Castro's Shoulders at about 50 degrees. The Dictator Chutes are nevertheless all very steep and you need to deal with the problem of exposed rocks or rocks deceivably covered by thin layers of snow. The easiest way down has to be Liberty Bowl, which you can view as a solid black diamond or an easy double black diamond, whatever makes you feel more comfortable, but the fact is that it is approximately 35 degrees steep (a little more at the top a little less at the bottom), very long, and most of the time covered with bumps. The way out of Liberty Bowl is through Screaming Left, steeper than Liberty Bowl itself, but less than 100 meters long. Other terrain for expert skiers is available on the North Side off Challenger Lift. Long and steep pitches are available on Little Rock Tongue and Big Rock Tongue. Little Tree and Zucchini Patch are mid-narrow chutes with trees, but a little bit less steep than the previous two runs. Worth mentioning are also the A-Z chutes: some are rated as double black, some just as single black diamond. The difficulty level is determined by the entry and the width of the single chutes. However, there is often marginal snow and they are seldomly used. And, in addition, you will have to hike to get to them. Some are perhaps easier to reach from the top of Lone Peak, some likely from the Challenger Lift. None of them is very long. The one closest to the Big Couloir are the most difficult and also the most likely to present a large number of exposed rocks. Good black diamond terrain can also be found on the smaller Andesite Mountain off Lone Moose Triple. A few runs (Bobcat, Lone Moose, and Grizzly Bear) are definitely steep and somewhat bumpy. Not many skiers found there to build large bumps. Buffalo Jump is also worth a try. It is a short run off Sweet Lift Line. Wall, off Lone Peak Triple could be a nice experience on the single black diamond level. It is not too difficult and the most demanding section is the Turkey Traverse immediately to the right of Lone Peak Triple Chair which is rated a black diamond itself. In my opinion, the best option is to ski Wall at the end of the Turkey Traverse dropping in between two large rocks, but watch out for possible exposed small rocks. Bavarian Forest is definitely a plus for those who love to ski in trees.
Out of Bounds
There are some ridges beyond the ropes over at Dakota Territory which are fun and with some organisation and some locals, a trip to nearby Beehive Basin gives some nice skiing outside the resort. Take extreme care whenever going out of bounds in this area as avalanche danger is very, very high. Always carry gear and ski in a group, or at least with a partner.
Go to Lone Mountain Ranch, only a few miles away. They have an extensive system of groomed trails and were voted America's number one cross country resort destination. Again, remember you will need to buy a separate pass to ski there.
Parks & Pipes
The only superpipe in the area is at Big Sky on the Ambush run (from the Ramcharger chair). Looks pretty big to me. Ambush is also home to a series of big air jumps. There are beginner parks at the magic carpet, plus under Pony Express and Explorer. There is a park under Swift Current for the more adventurous with some reasonable kickers and bigger features.
I would recommend Mad Wolf and Crazy Raven, which can be accessed from Thunder Wolf over on Andesite. But bumps are stooopid.
Pretty much anywhere. Seriously, if you can't find powder at Big Sky, you're not even trying. The trees at Shedhorn, Dakota Territory and Lone Moose are your best bets. I have found some great stashes up to a week after the last snowfall.
Lone Moose is your number one destination if the wind picks up and the snow dumps. There are some great trees in that area and Bobcat is a nice black run.
No designated areas I don't think. There's snow everywhere so whereever you please.
Big Sky doesn't get the insane neck deep dumps that you get in California and Utah. Rather, it snows a little bit most days. 2-3 days a week you will generally have at least an inch of fresh. Boot deep and knee deep powder days are fairly common. Winds can interfere with lift operations, Shedhorn, Dakota Territory and Challenger are particularly prone to frustrating wind holds. The Lone Peak Triple and Tram are sometimes also vulnerable. Many days are cloudy, meaning flat light conditions are often encountered. The bowl beneath the Lone Peak Triple is renowned for low visibility as a result of the light conditions. Bring your bright goggle lenses. Temperatures can on occasion get to extreme lows, and skiing in single digits is quite common. During a cold snap, -20 to -30 is possible, with wind chill at the peak reaching even lower. The good news is that most seasons only have 1-3 cold snaps, each lasting 2-3 days. The bad news is that if this coincides with your vacation, you may encounter conditions that are just not skiable. Balaclavas, neckwarmers and facemasks are often essentials. The consistently cool/cold temperatures keep the snow in great condition, even on south facing slopes.
- Big Sky Resort Website