It’s on in Big Sky Country!

It’s on in Big Sky Country!

Winter in the Rockies is off to a raging start, courtesy of La Nina. She is positioned off the Pacific coast with a howitzer of pow bombs aimed directly at the Madison Range of Southwest Montana. The Madisons are burly monarchs, perhaps the most notable being Lone Peak, home of Big Sky Resort.

Big Sky fired the lifts last weekend with an opening that was nothing short of stellar – huge pow on a 50″+ upper mountain base. Even better, the region is currently in the grip of yet another Winter Weather Advisory, so it’s only a matter of time before the famous Lone Peak Tram starts up for the season.

Even better, it’s affordable to ski Big Sky. They are offering some great packages starting at $333/person for 3 nights of lodging at the Huntley + two days of skiing. Click HERE for the beta.

To up the stoke factor, here is a virtual tour of the mountain courtesy of the folks at Big Sky.

Big Sky Resort Teaser from bigskyresort on Vimeo.

Not convinced yet? Check out this Freeskier trip report from late last season.

Words and Photos: Patrick Crawford

Seven years ago, last time I was at Big Sky, Dax Scheiffer, the PR manager, fell at the dog-leg of the Big Couloir and tumbled about 800 vertical feet out the bottom. As an employee giving a tour of the hill, Dax’s fall has become something of a legend around the mountain. While he has skied the Big countless times since, the patrol was still heckling him as we boarded the tram for our redemption trip to the Big. The running joke only got funnier when Dax admitted to patrol that I was the journalist he was touring around when he fell years ago.

We checked in with patrol, and got our tee time for the Big — patrol only lets people ski the couloir in groups of two every 15 minutes — and spun a few laps in the Gullies, a steep face with several little parallel gullies for a warm up. Even during spring break season, there was no wait for the Tram, so we spun three 1,400 vertical-foot laps waiting for our turn.

Finally our tee time at the Big arrived, and we skittered to the top of the 1,500 vertical-foot monster, which is about 50 degrees for the first few turns, then slackens to mid-40s and widens as it descends. The rocky, hard-packed drop-in is the crux, and the Big is long and steep enough that I’m not embarrassed to admit that I sacrificed style to get into the thing in one piece.

The view from the top of the Big Couloir.

A little sideslipping around some exposed rocks, and I was suddenly atop a seemingly endless line of open, chalky, steep skiing all the way out. The Big isn’t the hardest ski in the world, but it’s so incredibly long that you ski till your legs get rubbery, and you’re only halfway down.

I pulled out at the safe zone at the dogleg and grabbed my camera just as Dax dropped in. He skied down toward me, still on his feet, skis still on, as he passed the spot where he fell last time we were here. We traded a laugh and a quick high-five as he came to the dogleg, then he skied it out, safe and sound.

Redemption, seven years in the making.

Dax skiing it clean.


The skiing Big Sky feels like a confluence of some of the best aspects of the Alps and the Rockies.

Big Sky’s Lone Peak and the Headwaters at Moonlight offer massive lift-serviced vertical with minimal babysitting. Expect long, steep chutes, sometimes above big cliffs; bootpacks that’ll have you puckered and gripping the rocks as snowballs skitter down below your feet; 50-degree lines with sketchy entrances and tight chokes; and 1,000+ vertical-foot bowls with consistently steep pitches.

Signing in at the patrol

You must sign out with patrol to ski much of Big Sky’s steepest stuff, and you must carry your full backcountry safety set-up. Patrol limits access to much of the goods — the Big Couloir is limited to two-person groups every 15 minutes, and North Summit Snowfields, which drop into neighboring Moonlight Basin ski area, is limited to groups of four every 10 minutes.

All combined — high-consequence, alpine terrain; a take-care-of-yourself attitude; and lift access to almost all of the goods — and you get a distinctly Euro vibe. But Big Sky/Moonlight offers one truly American angle: the best of the area’s terrain is in-bounds and patrolled. It seems a miracle that the resorts can keep any of it open to the public, but somehow they can and do.


Big Sky in an impressive area by any measure, but it also borders Moonlight Basin, and the resorts offer a shared ticket. Big Sky/Moonlight’s combined 5,520 acres make it the biggest ski area in the United States, and from the top of Lone Peak to the base of Moonlight is some 4,350 vertical feet. The North Summit Snowfields, a true alpine epic off the top of Lone Peak into Moonlight, offer almost 3,000 verts of sustained, steep skiing.

Big Couloir redemption accomplished, we returned to the Tram and dropped off the backside into Moonlight. With local Ben Brosseau showing us the ropes, we ripped down the long, sustained pitches of North Summit Snowfields, which exceeded even the ample hype the Big Sky crew had been giving it.

Ben shredding North Summit Snowfields.

From the Moonlight base, we worked our way back up to the Headwaters chair, and embarked on a half-hour hike across the top of the Headwaters to Three Forks. The first 20 minutes were a simple boot pack, but as we crossed the top of Three Forks, the trail got tighter, more exposed and slippery. A slightly misplaced step, and you’d send rocks and snowballs cascading down the slopes below. Finally we got to the furthest point out, the third fork, and after a sketchball entrance, dug into a long descent that was over 50-degrees at the top, and funneled into a rad winding couloir called the Elbow.

Moonlight’s headwaters, with Three Forks all the way at the right


We were cashed after a day of tram laps, couloirs and a Headwater hike, so we rolled back to Whiskey Jack’s at the Big Sky base. A towering plate of nachos, pints from Big Sky’s own Lone Peak brewery and a guy playing acoustic renditions of “Sex and Candy” and Better than Ezra’s “Good” made for a relaxing and humorous après session.

Thanks to our gracious host, we scored an amazing Italian feast at Andiamo’s in the village, but there are plenty of more economical dining options in the village, and especially a few miles down the road at a little development called Meadow Village, where all the locals live.

Nightlife is definitely a bit younger and more typical ski-town-style in the Meadows, where we threw down some beers at Choppers and late night drinks and slices of ‘za at Uncle Milky’s.


My legs were hurting when I awoke the second morning, but Freeskier/Snowboard sales guy and Jackson local Jason Smith is unstoppable. He convinced me to start the morning with a return trip to the Big Couloir, before we decided to spend the day exploring the massive amount of terrain that isn’t the super-gnar off the tram.

Big Sky/Moonlight’s 5,520 acres ski as big as they sound, largely because they wrap almost 360-degrees around a massive peak and some shoulders dropping off its sides. You rarely find yourself traversing, although the one time we did, we were amazed by how far it is around the base of this massive mountain.

Not to mention that Dax estimated we were sharing 5,500 acres with no more than 2,000 people. That’s almost 3 acres per person, and this is during spring break.

We headed south off the Tram in Liberty Bowl for some 2,000 vertical feet of sustained pitch that would be powder nirvana on the right day, but it was just one of endless options. Adjacent to Liberty are the Dictator Chutes, Marx and Lenin, all of which are massive expanses of steep terrain. Lower down you can ride epic glades in the Bavarian Forest. Or you can bounce to the other side of the mountain, and hit the trees and steeps Challenger, which would would be the best zone at many resorts, then venture to the Headwaters, where the terrain that you can access without the bootpack is insane.

No crowds and a mind-blowing amount of terrain would make Big Sky/Moonlight top notch alone. But add in the amazing, scary steeps that patrol maintains, and you end up with a resort that offers some of the best and most diverse patrolled terrain anywhere. The lack of nightlife and base-area vibe aren’t too big an issue, because you’ll be so tired you can’t indulge anyway.

POV of the Big Couloir


Big Sky Resort
Moonlight Basin
Lift tickets: $79/Big Sky; $94 combined

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