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I debated whether or not to write about Big Sky, Montana. I feel sometimes I want to keep this wonderful place a secret. It’s not just me, our family and our friends here (locals and visitors) feel the same way. It’s down to earth, authentic, a genuine mountain village that has some of the best skiing in North America in the winter and great hiking & mountain biking in the summer. It’s a place where the billionaires (the highly exclusive Yellowstone Club is located one mountain over) mingle freely with the thousandaires. It’s not Aspen or St. Moritz; the apres-ski is more beer than bubbly and there isn’t a Moet bar on the mountainside; the hotels are not 5 starred and there is not a celebrity chef in residence in any of the dining establishments. So, what is there to keep a secret?
Big Sky is less than a 1 hour drive from Bozeman Yellowstone Airport (BZN). There are direct flights from Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, Newark, Minneapolis, Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, LA, Seattle, San Francisco and more. We are in our car and on our way to Big Sky in less than 10 minutes from wheels down. We have a garage next to the airport where we keep a Porsche Cayenne. This makes a big difference if you are just coming up for a long weekend. Many of the other of the major Western ski resort are an additional 2-3 hour drive after arrival.
Furthermore, the drive from Bozeman Yellowstone Airport (BZN) to Big Sky, along-side the Gallatin River and down through the canyon, is stunning. The Gallatin River flows alongside the road, sometimes on the left and at times moving over to your right. There are always fly-fisherman in the river, regardless of the time of year. In the summer there is white river rafting and kayaking. Above are mountains all around you and sheer rock faces only for the most advanced rock climbers. If you are lucky, you might see long horn sheep out graving by the side of the road.
As you turn off I 191 onto I 64 which takes you up to the ski resort, you can see the 11,166 ft Lone Mountain Peak in the distance and the excitement grows. I always feel like a kid a Christmas when we are almost there. The drive itself is spectacular and one of SSO’s favorites.
Winter or Summer: Both Equally Awesome
I can honestly say I love the Winter here as much as I do the Summer.
Big Sky Resort in Montana promotes itself as having the most acreage of skiable terrain in the US. Having skied multiple times at Big Sky and several of the other major resorts in the west, I believe the claim is more than true. With 5,800 acres of skiable terrain and 250+ runs (15% beginner, 25% intermediate, 42% advanced, & 18% expert) there is something for everyone, including our children who seem to be completely unaware of their mortality. Big Sky is simply massive which is interesting but what is far more relevant is the quality and variety of the terrain. Big Sky delivers on both quantity and quality across the three major base areas, Lone Mountain, Moonlight, and Spanish Peaks that combined to make up Big Sky Resort. However, the best thing about Big Sky is that there are basically no lift lines.
The main base area for Big Sky sits at the bottom of Lone Mountain. There are two major lifts that move you from the base to either the top of Andesite Mountain on the left or straight up to about the halfway point on Lone Mountain. From there you ski down to additional lifts for the bowl, the west face, the gondala which goes up to the peak, or transit across to the Moonlight area. To the right of the main base area lifts is an extensive beginner area with a number of moving carpets and a vintage double chairlift that will take you about a quarter of the way up the mountain in what seems to be about an hour.
The Ski Instructors are friendly, passionate and genuinely enjoy working with you whether it is to take you to the next level or just improve your technique. Trust me, they are good. They managed to teach me how to ski in just one season. I did not even know how to put on my boots; now I am skiing intermediate to advance terrain just 2 years later. OK, I have to admit, I did have a huge desire to learn so I could one day ski with our boys who are all great skiers.
Boyne Resorts (owners of Big Sky) have a badly needed 2025 Plan to upgrade the resort. Based on our experience, Big Sky’s biggest issues are a lift system that is antiquated, subject to frequent breakdowns, and highly sensitive to wind. The Boyne Management Team are neither responsive nor display much of a sense of urgency. In our experience, Boyne does not respond to feedback (email, comments sent via the website, or social media). Nothing seems to get done on time but there is an excuse (pick your choice between suppliers, weather, or labor) for every delay and issue. We have heard multiple comments about lift maintenance being much more reactive than proactive and it is not unheard of for a lift to be down for multiple days. For the 2018/2019 season there is one new eight seat chairlift going in at the base replacing a quad chair originally installed in 1991. The quad chair is being relocated to another area where it is replacing a double lift that dated back to when the resort originally opened in 1973. Whether both lifts are fully installed and operating when the ski season starts on Thanksgiving Day this year as planned is highly questionable. A few of the operators I talked to in July all predicted that they would not be ready until around Christmas. The 2025 Plan includes investing in additional badly needed state-of-the-art ski lifts opening up still more terrain, and a badly needed upgrade of the Mountain Village shopping mall which currently sports a dark late 80s feeling to it.
There are some good restaurants on the Mountain. My favorites are Everett’s 8800 with its huge outdoor deck with a fireplace & bar and the Black Kettle Soup Company at the bottom of the Bowl. The Black Kettle Soup Company is perfectly situated for a quick pop in for some home-made chili and a mid-morning rest. Normally we ski home for a late lunch as our place is right on the mountain. Sometimes we go back out for a few more runs and sometimes we just drop into the hot tub gazing up at Lone Peak. I love sitting in the hot tub when it is snowing, and your hair freezes in the cold snowy air. A glass of champagne never tasted as good as when enjoyed in the hot tub after a long hard day of skiing. The great thing is there is no need for an ice bucket– just plunk the bottle directly into the snow bank beside you.
While the skiing is outstanding, the hiking in Big Sky is incredible too. A lot of the terrain we ski in the winter, we hike in the summer. There are lakes that look like the Caribbean, turquoise blue water that is so clear you can see the bottom. The hikes up to Pioneer Falls on Ted Turner’s Ranch are like walking in an outdoor florist shop with wild flowers that change as you climb in elevation. Ousel Falls trail has to be one of the prettiest walks. It ends at a waterfall with an area to swim in – if you can brave the cold spring water! There are literally thousands of trailheads that range from easy to extreme. Something for everyone.
The Mountain Biking is truly incredible. They have built over 40 miles of trails ranging from beginner to expert. There are 2 ski lifts open to take your bikes and you up the mountain. Warning it is not for the faint hearted! There is also Ziplining which is a blast. You see the ski runs from a different perspective zipping 500 feet over them across the multiple lines. We even had a bear watching us from below one time.
The Fly Fishing in the area is supposed to be some of the best in the US. We have yet to go but will as I am still trying to get my head around standing in the freezing cold river for hours. The white water rafting, and kayaks seem like a more appealing way to enjoy the river to me; I’d rather be on top of the water than turning into an ice cube in it.
The Big Sky Farmer’s Market every Wednesday evening is not to be missed. The farm fresh eggs, vegetables, fruits, locally grown flowers, local food vendors (The Pokey Truck is my favorite); and the local artisans flaunting their ware. Everyone seems to have a dog and young kids. There is live music most weeks. It is down to earth, very authentic and beautiful.
All in, Big Sky is a great place to spend both Winter and Summer. There really is something for everyone. Its authentic, down to earth, and easy to get to. It’s a place that’s already has much to offer yet still has huge potential to grow.