Big Sky, Montana: Where the appreciation of skiing has no bounds
When I’m skiing, something I always try to do at the top of the mountain—no matter its size or stature—is take a moment of appreciation. I appreciate my surroundings. I appreciate the fact that I’m part of this culture. I appreciate the fact that I’m healthy. And I appreciate the fact that I’m alive.
Attaining this moment is sometimes easier said than done. When it’s raining, foggy and cold, for example, I find it harder to really step back and locate any positivity. But when I was at Big Sky Resort recently, standing atop 11,166-foot Lone Mountain and taking in some of the most amazing mountains on Earth during a textbook bluebird day, the moment of appreciation came to me before I even started searching for it.
Being all the way up there instilled a sense of fear and happiness, all at once. On the one hand, holding onto the viewing point’s metal railings (pictured above) provided me with some jitters—the good kind of jitters, which humbled me and helped me realize this mountain is no joke. On the other hand, knowing I was about to shred 4,350 vertical feet of leg-burning terrain over and over resulted in a child-like, ear-to-ear grin, that would remain on my face for the reminder of the day.
Crushing the steep, challenging terrain of Lone Mountain had our whole crew hootin’ and hollerin’. Remnants of past storms provided for soft, forgiving snow and perfect lighting allowed us to turn our collective speedometer all the way up. It became quickly evident why this is one of the most talked-about places to ski in the U.S.—expanded upon by the 10 facts about the tram, below.
10 things to know about the Lone Peak Tram
by Emily Stifler Wolfe
1. Construction began on June 4, 1995 and the Tram opened to the public on December 23, 1995 for the 1995-96 season.
2. When the Tram first opened, it tripled the amount of expert terrain at Big Sky and expanded the mountain by fifty percent–adding over 1,200 acres.
3. Construction required 3,000 helicopter flights to haul workers, equipment and materials to the summit.
4. The inside of the two tram cabins was originally painted pink to have a calming effect on passengers.
5. The Tram delivers passengers to an elevation of 11,150 feet and they can easily walk to the summit of Lone Mountain at 11,166 feet.
6. The Tram travels 2,828 feet and covers 1,450 feet of vertical in four minutes.
7. Both Tram cars received new windows, exterior artwork and durable linings in 2007.
8. It’s a six-mile descent from the top of the Tram to the Mountain Village via Liberty Bowl.
9. The Lone Peak Tram allows hardcore skiers to ski 4,350 vertical feet in one run.
10. The Tram can transport up to 120 people per hour.
For the rest of the day, we ventured throughout other parts of Big Sky’s whopping 5,800 acres, including Spirit Mountain, Andesite Mountain and Moonlight Basin. Each zone offers its own unique terrain and character; whether you’re weaving through trees or letting it rip down a wide-open face, everything is oh-so-good. And by the time the sun was setting on the expansive Montanan land below us, I realized the moment of appreciation barely even applies at a place like this. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., I was full of pure gratitude and will surely be returning for more as soon as time allows.
(More photos and beta on Big Sky, below.)
10 Must-Dos at Big Sky Resort
by Emily Stifler Wolfe
1. LONE PEAK
Imagine a storybook mountain. Snow paints its volcano-esque figure, trees blanket the lower flanks and a couloir cuts straight off the summit. This is 11,166-foot Lone Peak. Lucky for you, a tram runs to the top. From there, pick your poison; there’s 4,350 vertical feet of skiing in every direction. Signature descents include Liberty, Lenin, Dictators, Marx, Gullies, the North Summit Snowfield and the Big Couloir.
2. POWDER SEEKER
The triple chair installed when Big Sky first opened in 1973 is no longer. In its place is the most technologically-advanced chairlift built this year in the United States. Dubbed the Powder Seeker, the high-speed, six-seat detachable ride has heated seats, head rests and wind-blocking bubble covers. Three minutes to delivery at 9,812 feet, windburn sold separately.
3. THE HEADWATERS
Home to multiple freeride competitions, Headwaters Ridge hosts more than a dozen double black diamond chutes that will satisfy your adrenaline itch. Like narrow spots and jump turns? Hit up Jack Creek, right below the patrol cache. The ridge hike can be technical, so strap your skis to your pack in case you need your hands.
4. HEADWATERS GRILLE
Located in the Madison Base Area, the mellow vibe of the Headwaters Grille makes it the best spot to refuel after hiking the Headwaters Ridge. On the menu are Montana Wagyu burgers from a ranch in the Madison Valley just west of Big Sky. On your way back out, stop by Uncle Dan’s cookie shack and grab a giant homemade chocolate chip cookie to eat on the lift ride back up.
When the original Challenger double lift was built in 1988, it accessed some of the raddest in-bounds terrain in the country. Twenty eight years later, it still does. The new version—a triple with a conveyor load, built in summer 2016—cuts the ride time down from 14 minutes to nine. Get some.
6. SWIFTY 2.0
Located at the Big Sky base area, this intermediate terrain park is the spot to throw your tricks for a crowd. Almost as wide as it is long, it’s got jump lines, mini pipes and jibs of every shape, according to Big Sky Terrain Park Manager Adam West.
7. FORBIDDEN FOREST
Also new this year, Forbidden Forest is a 15-acre glade between Lower Morningstar and Magic Meadows. Three cheers for tree skiing and for going where you’re not supposed to.
8. ELK PARK RIDGE
Lay your edges into the corduroy and crank up the volume. With a perfect pitch, Elk Park Ridge is one of the top 10 groomers in the country, hands down. Don’t miss it.
9. EVERETT’S 8800
Set atop Andesite Mountain with a massive deck overlooking the peak, Everett’s is all about wide-open views and yummy cocktails. Sink into one of the fireside couches and soak it in. But don’t forget, you’ve still got to ski down… straight to Scissorbills Saloon.
10. SCISSORBILLS SALOON
There’s a certain satisfaction you get when skiing straight to the bar, and at Big Sky, Scissorbills is your ticket. Slide in from Andesite and choose from a full selection of liquor, wine and local microbrews. “People love Scissorbills after skiing because of the relaxed atmosphere,” says owner Keith Kuhns. “We are the lone bar that is independently owned in the Mountain Village. We just have happy skiers winding down after a hard day on the hill.” That’s why it’s no surprise that the simple PBR tallboy is the locals’ drink of choice.