Firsthand Report: Big Fun, Big Snow, and Big Adventure at Big Sky, Montana 5
Author thumbnail By Connie Lawn, DCSki Columnist

All I can say is wow! This is some of the best skiing I have had in my life, and I have been blessed to sample many resorts! My husband Charles agrees with this assessment. The runs are varied, wide, and magnificently groomed. There are ample blue cruisers, along with some of the steepest and most challenging double diamonds I have seen. My news colleague, Chet Huntly, was a wise man when he started to develop Big Sky in 1968. Unfortunately, he died the week of its formal inauguration in 1974, but he understood his dream had come to fruition.

The beauty of the area is haunting. One legend says, “Old Man Winter and Mother Nature had a torrid affair - this mountain is their love child.” Big Sky is open, friendly, and not too crowded. This is cowboy country, but even the tourists are nice.

This is what Lone Mountain looked like in the morning. “We couldn’t get up to the tram in the morning because the winds were too high to ride the triple chair to get to it,” writes Charles Sneiderman. “They run the trams in winds over 30mph but not the fixed grip chair to get to it.” Photo provided by Chad Jones.

The only lift line that took a long time was the one to the Tram, which takes you to the top of Lone Mountain, at 11,166 feet. The wind can be ferocious up there, but the view is sweeping and dramatic. We looked around, as pre-planned, marveled at the engineering, and rode the Tram back down. The natives and experts claim they jump down those chutes and trails several times a day - more power to them! Even some of the trail names are enough to put me off.

I was concerned about two things regarding Big Sky, but my worries were soon eased. I thought it would be bitter cold, because it is so far north. In fact, it often shares the same type of weather patterns as Colorado and Utah. For our two days, we were lucky to have sunshine and temperatures which ranged from 8 degrees in the morning to about 20. The sun was strong, and I got a bit of a tan. Certainly, there was no suffering here. The week before had been bitter cold, and filled with snow. I understand it was also that way in the rest of the West, and not as bad as our ice storm and bitter cold in the East and Midwest.

My other worry was the transportation. It can be easier and cheaper to fly to Utah or Colorado than to Bozeman, Montana, the airport about an hour away. We got widely varying quotes - from $200 to Utah, to $1200 or more to Bozeman. However, it is possible to find flights from DC to Bozeman for under $400 on Frontier and Northwest. I flew to Salt Lake City from BWI for under $200 roundtrip on Delta. (Charles had to drive though an ice storm at rush hour to get us to BWI). We had a smooth flight to Salt Lake City, stayed at the Airport Motel, and the next day rented a vehicle and drove about 6 hours to Big Sky. Four wheel drive is really essential for that country. I-15 is quick and easy for the first 200 miles, but US-20 from Twin Falls, Idaho to West Yellowstone, Montana, although relatively straight and well maintained, is in a cloud basin all winter. We were actually relieved when it turned to light snow as we entered Yellowstone (where we had our honeymoon in 2000), and US-191 north toward Big Sky, although snow covered, was plowed to form protective snow berms on both sides of the road. North of the Bridger Range along the Gallatin River the land is more cold and dry so the pavement was easy to see.

Photo provided by Chad Jones / Big Sky.

We reached the Whitewater Inn (formerly a Comfort Inn) at the entrance of Big Sky by sunset. It is an excellent value with free wifi, cable TV, indoor swimming pool, water slide, hot tub, exercise room and free continental breakfast. The rooms are standard motel but well furnished and maintained. Some of the resort workers from around the world stay there at special rates, so there is a nice international atmosphere. Most of the guest workers come from South Africa, Jamaica, and South America. In the morning, two large moose were outside our window, munching on bushes! A free shuttle bus that takes you right to the base of Big Sky as well as to the off mountain shops and restaurants stops at the hotel hourly, but, it is packed like DC Metro at rush hour.

I do not recommend the transportation choices we made for everyone. I always tell people to get package deals whenever they can. Big Sky marketing, the airlines, or the ski clubs, organize great packages - take them! If you are lucky, you can get reasonable flights into Bozeman, take a bus from the airport and stay at the Summit or Huntley Lodges next to the lifts, and get tickets and rental equipment as part of the package. The bigger the group, the better it is. A group of about 30 arrived from Florida on Saturday, and they had arranged the best tour I had seen. It even included a snowmobile tour of parts of Yellowstone. Another way to get rental deals is through the real estate center at Big Sky Properties; Kirsten King offers an enticing lodging and lift deal if you come to see properties. Like every place in the country, the economy is scary, but it is a buyer’s market. Again, best advice is not to be a “lone wolf” when you visit Big Sky - go with a group and have fun!

Charles Sneiderman, left, with Chad Jones, marketing director at Big Sky with Lone Peak in the background. Photo provided by Connie Lawn.

Now, onto the skiing and snowboarding. Special thanks to Chad Jones, the fascinating and very sharp Marketing and Special Events Coordinator. He is originally from West Virginia, and learned to ski at Canaan, so he understands the needs of the visitors from the East, as well as the rest of the country. He took time from a busy schedule to tour the mountain with us Friday and Saturday. Chad is a graceful snowboarder, and glided through the trees and sides of the trails, while we made our way through the groomed middle (Charles could only ski one day - he had a conference on Friday). Thanks to Chad, we saw much more of the mountain then we would have on our own. The lifts we took included Ram Charger, Southern Comfort, Swift Current and the Lone Mountain Chair and Tram. Some of the best runs, for me, were Deep South, Safari, Mr. K, and a lot of others whose name I did not catch. The snow was groomed and packed. Once I got an unpleasant surprise by going off to deep snow, which looked so light and fluffy. But, it was heavy and crusted. I fell, and dug in deeper each time I tried to get up. Charles struggled to climb up to me, and a lovely ski patroller came by and got me out. I felt like an animal freed from a trap. Once back on packed, groomed trails, I just flew down. But, I really need to learn how to handle heavy snow. And, I must build up my body strength. I do not fall often, because it is so exhausting to get up after!

“We did get up to the tram in the afternoon when the winds died down,” Charles writes. “We rode the tram but did not ski down because all the trails down were double blacks. There is an easy trail to get down from the base of the tram; it is labeled blue, but really could be green if groomed (which it was). The view from the top was a 360 but I didn’t go off the platform because I had no skis on my boots and it was icy and steep right off the platform. Chad says you can see the Tetons from the platform in clear weather.” Photo provided by Chad Jones.

I want to put in a word about equipment - rent if you can. I have said that for years. It is the most up to date, and you do not have to pay the extra weight charges to haul the equipment on a plane. The Big Sky rental boots and skis were from Head, and they were just right. Not too heavy, and they did a good job of holding the snow.

Big Sky is really a huge resort. Combined with its neighbor, Moonlight Basin, there are 5,500 acres. They say this makes it the biggest in the United States, but Vail and Breckenridge are also huge. Whistler-Blackcomb may be the biggest in North America. But, with all these areas, you have so much variety, you are not hurting for space. Big Sky lists 14% of its terrain for beginners, 26% for intermediates, 40% for advanced, and 20% for expert. One of the key advantages of Big Sky is the lack of crowds - at times, Charles and I had these magnificent trails to ourselves. With an average of 2,000 skiers a day, this allows for more than an acre per skier or snowboarder! It is worth the extra travel to find that.

Photo provided by Chad Jones.

We were pleased to see there are many adaptive ski and snowboard programs at Big Sky. They are coordinated by the Eagle Mount Adaptive Ski volunteers, and their instructor count grows each year. There is also an effort to attract military service personnel and wounded warriors to Big Sky, and there are special discounts for those who served, or who require adaptive help. We met some of the group resting between runs at the luxurious lounge of the Summit Hotel, near the Peaks restaurant (where we had a fine meal). The lounge offers soft chairs covered in cowhide, and there is a large mink blanket on the couch. You can wrap it around you to warm up after a cold run, but don’t ski off with it!

There are so many events to enjoy, and runs to take, that I have just begun to scratch the surface. Clearly, I have to visit Big Sky again and study further. But, next time, I will try to join a group or work harder to get better transportation.

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About Connie Lawn

When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.

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Reader Comments

ski diva
February 9, 2009
Yes, I've skied Big Sky and Moonlight and the Lone Peak pass is a great deal. You can ski between both mountains for like $100 bucks. No lines, means more runs. I love it. But what I really got kick out of was when I got off the mountain into the local community. I went, (yes, all by myself, a traveling woman along) down to the 320 Guest ranch for a sleigh ride and dinner. Oh my gosh, these folks are realy cowboys. I had so much fun, I didn't want to make the trip back up the mountain. Check this place out next time you're in Big SKy.
Connie Lawn
February 10, 2009
Thank you for writing, and for your great comments! What time of the year did you visit? Was it cold? Yours, Connie
February 10, 2009
Howdy Connie,
Great article and sorry you missed the Dummy Jump this weekend. You can check out the video on youtube. Also an FYI, its been snowing for the last few days and is getting really nice.
Kirsten King
February 14, 2009
Thanks Connie for your wonderful comments about Big Sky. It was fun having a chance to meet you on your visit. There are so many deals for the discerning traveler. From lodging to lift tickets, to incredible real estate deals. Feel free to contact me if I can be of help! Kirsten King- Big Sky Properties
March 2, 2009
I skied out there for a week back in 2002 before Moonlight Basin existed and Big Sky alone was enough terrain to keep someone busy for a week. It was some of the best skiing I've ever had. I've been trying to find a way to get back there every since. Thanks for the great writeup, it brought back some good memories.

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