Big Sky: The biggest skiing in America

10 must-dos when you visit the world-famous Montana resort

Big Sky: The biggest skiing in America

10 must-dos when you visit the world-famous Montana resort

You crest into Lenin, and exposure drops away beneath your ski tips. It’s 1,500 vertical feet down to the moraine. One wrong move, and that’s where you’ll end up.

This is Big Sky. Nowhere else in the Lower 48 does a chairlift access such exposed, big-mountain terrain. And it’s topped with an annual 400 inches of the soft white stuff you so covet.

The slope below is blanketed. This morning’s report showed just a few inches, but on Lone Peak, favorable winds have whipped the snow into the richest alpine crème fraîche. Powder whisks past your thighs as you arc big turns on the skiers’ right prow. In your periphery, the Madison and Gallatin ranges shoot southward toward Yellowstone. By the run-out, your legs are screaming.

Wrapping around the mountain, you head for Challenger. The new triple chair lifts you 1,645 vertical feet in nine minutes—six less than its predecessor. Unloading, you slice through craggy whitebark pines, then rage down 17 Green beneath the chair, hollering for joy non-stop until you’re swinging your legs off Challenger again. You catch your breath.

Next up is the Headwaters hike, but take it slow— the air is thin at 10,000 feet, and the knife-edge ridge plummets away on either side. After a 30-minute scramble, you consider joining the resident mountain goat herd, but drop into Second Fork instead. Milking careful turns, you navigate the narrow rock walls of the Elbow Room and gush into the fan.

Headwaters Grille is open for lunch, you think, but you swoop into Lone Tree for some quickie tree runs. It’s starting to snow, and there’s no better place for storm skiing. Maybe you’ll grab one of those Wagyu burgers after the next lap…

Fifty miles south of Bozeman and 18 miles north of Yellowstone National Park, Big Sky Resort is known for massive terrain, huge vert and a lack of crowds. Big Sky also boasts a longer season than many other western resorts; it’s open from Thanksgiving through mid-April. Put it on the docket for winter ’17 and don’t miss these 10 must-dos while you’re there.

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. (Read more about the iconic Lone Peak Tram when you flip the page.)

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.

5. CHALLENGER
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.

Left Photo: Glenniss Indreland  |  Right Photo: Jeff Engerbretson

WHERE TO STAY IN BIG SKY:

VILLAGE CENTER CONDOS — Ski-in, ski-out and only 50 yards to the nearest chairlift, these condos have a private slopeside hot tub and swimming pool. Plus, the condos are located on the main pedestrian walkway of the Mountain Village for easy cruising and dining.

HUNTLEY LODGE — Situated right across from the Explorer Chairlift, here you’ll enjoy the spa, pool, hot tub, Chet’s Lounge and amphitheater (showing nightly movies) all under one roof.

WHERE TO EAT IN BIG SKY:

EVERETT’S 8800 — Everett’s dinner menu is switching from fixed to a’la carte this winter. It’s an elegant and rustic restaurant that serves American Alpine cuisine at the top of Andesite Mountain, featuring spectacular views of Lone Peak from an expansive deck and dining area. It’s named after Everett Kircher who brought Big Sky Resort into the Boyne Resorts family in 1976, and the elevation on which it stands: 8,800 feet.

For a more casual experience, head to Montana Jack, which serves burgers and craft beers.

Photo: Michel Tallichet

Big Sky’s Lone Peak Tram transports you up a sheer vertical face to the top of Lone Mountain. From there, you’ll enjoy 360-degree views of three states (Montana, Wyoming and Idaho), two national parks (Yellowstone and Grand Teton), as well as many distant mountain ranges. And the best part: Ski off the top in any direction and you’ll find some of the most technical inbounds terrain in North America. Take The Big Couloir, for example: A true Rocky Mountain couloir with big ol’ cliffs on both sides, it requires not just a beacon, shovel and probe, but skiers must also sign out at the patrol shack atop Lone Mountain before descending. Don’t let that intimidate you, though; there’s no hiking required and patrol routinely conducts
avalanche control. The wide-open, 50-degree slope beneath the choke is worth every ounce of effort.

Skiers come from all around the world just to ride the Lone Peak Tram; if you have yet to experience it for yourself, don’t just add it to the bucket list… book a trip already.

10 things to know about the Lone Peak Tram

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.

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