Postcard from Big Sky 5
By JC, Cub Reporter

I’ve been lucky enough to have just spent a week skiing at Big Sky, Montana. Very lucky indeed.

Big Sky is located about an hour and a quarter south of Bozeman, Montana whose airport has the charm that only a small airport can muster; I took a Northwest Airlines (now Delta) flight to reach it. I was traveling as part of a large group, so my transportation from Bozeman was a coach run by Karst Stage. The bus was like new and comfortable, the driver prompt, accommodating (he took us by a grocery store), very friendly, informative, and energetic loading and unloading. (I can’t resist throwing in this tip as a lover of all things sweet: if you stop at one of the ubiquitous Albertsons groceries, pick up a package of their “cowboy cookies” for the perfect apres-ski or on-slope sugar high.)

The Big Sky resort encompasses much of Lone Mountain and Andesite Mountain. Lone Mountain is a striking peak that will keep calling to your camera and can be skied right from its summit of 11,166 feet. The resort boasts 3,812 acres, more than 150 named runs, the longest of which is 6 miles, a skiable rise of 4,360 feet, and 16 lifts (in addition to the 5 surface lifts), including a tram to the peak. In addition, adjacent resorts couple into Big Sky and you can ski between them (though you need to pay additional charges if you wish to use their lifts).

Some size comparisons for perspective: Big Sky: 3,812 acres, Breckenridge: 2,358 acres, Vail: 5,289 acres, Mammoth: 3,500 acres, Whitetail: 120 acres.

Big Sky is a great place to ski. First, the terrain is expansive, beautiful, and varied. The mountain is laid out sensibly and can be traversed without poling nightmares and the lifts are thoughtfully positioned and more than adequate. The resort states the distribution of terrain to be 14% beginner, 26% intermediate, 40% advanced, and 20% expert. All green and blue runs are groomed regularly. There are many great blue cruisers for warmup and to get the speed out of your system. Since the black runs are never groomed, there are plenty of bump runs. Coming off of Lone Mountain’s peak and the Challenger lift are runs that were too scary for me.

Second, the ratio of space to people is amazing. I never had to wait in a lift line. Many runs I took were deserted; rarely did I feel crowded, and that would usually pass in a minute. The terrain parks of jumps, rails, pipes, and so on were underused. There was a relaxed feeling about the whole place.

The one criticism I can level at Big Sky is this: if you are looking for warmth, food, or bathrooms without returning to the base, you might well be disappointed. There are only two places above the base for heat and food: a cute and welcome yurt in the remote Shedhorn lift area, and the Pinnacle restaurant atop Andesite Mountain, the latter of which will cost you $20 for lunch in a misplaced sit-down environment that denies general access to the much-appreciated fireplace. (The outside fire does not make up for it.) This little rant is not as bad as it sounds, since this mountain invites frequent and natural return to the base where facilities are usually plentiful, except on the south side of Andesite Mountain.

There are actually multiple “base” locations. The main base is in a central position and is the site of the Mountain Village, which offers the usual assortment of eating establishments, equipment facilities, and shops. There are base locations on the south side of Andesite with no facilities whatsoever, and there are some base locations on the north end of the resort, which are common with the adjacent Moonlight Basin ski area, and offer heat, food, and bathrooms.

The skiing conditions during my week were OK, but could have been better. (I’m not complaining - I had a great time!) The claimed base was approximately 35 to 55 inches, but rocks were occasional hazards on non-groomed terrain and made me pass up many black runs. The last snow had been 4 days before my first ski day, and off-piste skiing on the sunward slopes was not pleasant. During my last day, a few inches were added, which were quite welcome, and it was snowing when I left. Now that I am home finishing this report, Big Sky reports 15 to 20 inches of new snow in the last 48 hours. Sigh….

For the joy of bombing along, I liked blue runs Elk Park Ridge and Big Horn off of the Thunder Wolf lift and Calamity Jane and Lobo fed by the Swift Current lift. Perhaps my favorite runs were Wounded Knee and Congo, two bump runs in glades on the northern side of Andesite Mountain.

I usually don’t go on about my lodging, but this time, I’m making an exception: I can’t say enough good things about The Lodge at Big Sky. The Lodge (http://www.lodgeatbigsky.com/) is a hotel of 90 suites that is a few minutes walk to the lifts (and has a shuttle bus that makes the trip instantaneous). The rooms are spacious, appear to be new (though I think they are about 8 years old), have high ceilings, are furnished with useful furniture, and are comfortable. Wi-Fi is available in the Great Room and wired internet access is available in each suite: all free of charge and with no stupid intermediate web page.

The hotel has an indoor pool, inside and outside hot tubs, two ping-pong tables, a pool table, an exercise machine room, laundry facilities, meeting rooms, and so on. A free breakfast bar awaits you in the morning and, for $9 to $12, you can have the dinner buffet, which changes each evening.

But there are 3 things that make this place very special. First, the Great Room, taking the place of the pallid lobby found in lesser establishments, is a glorious arts-and-crafts-influenced space full of comfortable couches and chairs, a big fire, an enormous two-story window facing Lone Mountain, games, good lighting for reading, and cozy corners for snuggling. I found myself there relaxing after skiing nearly every day. Second, the staff is amazing: genuinely friendly, helpful, laid back in a positive way - the sort of people you’d like to invite to a party and trust to take care of your house when you’re away. But the biggest surprise is this tall collegiate-looking guy who’s always driving the shuttle and handing you your skis, womping up a fire on the patio for s’mores, making up group entertainment in the Great Room, or gleefully racing around the patio on two-wheel boards with “other” kids. That guy would be 46 year old Jeff Quackenbush, owner of The Lodge, and the best host of a commercial establishment that I can recall.

I admit that a significant component of my vacations is food, so the lunch report is important to me. You must have at least one lunch at The Timbers Deli, housed in the Moonlight lodge, just above the bottom of Iron Horse lift (take Saddle Ridge Access to get there). I highly recommend their hot sandwich called The Mighty Quinn ($8.99) chased by a freshly baked cookie. A bit further down, at the base of the Pony Express lift, is the Border Cafe. I enjoyed their curried chicken salad on ciabatta bread ($6.95). Both of these places are actually part of Moonlight Basin ski area, but are shared with Big Sky, as are the two lifts that leave from them. Both are also good places to warm up, rest, or make a bathroom stop.

At the main Mountain Village, there are several places to eat. A nice surprise is that the deli sandwiches served in the cafeteria in the upstairs of the mall are available hot. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like much, but I was taken with their turkey with pepper jack on wheat served hot. (They don’t just heat it; they make it on the grill to start with.)

If the people I met in the airport, hotel, restaurants, shops, and at the resort are a representative sample, the Montana residents are an exceptionally nice bunch. Not just courteous, but sincere and energetically helpful. Big Sky is a great reason to go to Montana; the people there make the experience that much more of a treat.

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Reader Comments

Connie Lawn
January 25, 2010
I also love Big Sky, and gave it rave reviews last year!
What was the temperature?
You should be proud of your writing and photos. Why not tell us your full name and age? Yours, Connie
The Colonel
January 25, 2010
Your writing is down to earth and so enlightening. You really make me want to go to Big Sky, something that here-to-fore has always been on a way back burner.
Thanks for the report!
The Colonel
KevR
January 28, 2010
A couple of yrs ago I managed a trip, the big wins at big sky are the remote feel and beautifully stunning surrounding countryside. Who knows what further adventure could had there in the national forest and surrounding area.
The snow that year was good but perhaps not superb, it covered well but a slight warm up left it somewhat less ideal. I never skied anything too hard, never went up the tram even (for reasons I won't go into) -- everything else was fun though and I do recall a short run called the "stump farm" which was aptly named.
I think I was more struck by the awe and beauty of the place than anything else. More advanced skiers, well I've heard mixed things from folks that's it more of intermediate mountain -- that could be -- but if you put that aside, the views alone are worth the trip. I'd go back.
Danielle
February 15, 2010
I've been to Big Sky twice in the past four years, and you are right, it is an awesome place! My favorite run was Crazy Horse with it's varying ups and downs and double fall lines.

I must say that a trip report for my first trip there would have sounded much like yours (with the addition of the 3 feet of snow we received while I was there and how much fun I had making a run from the top of Lone Peak!) However, on my second trip to Bozeman, I spent two days riding at Moonlight Basin, and two at Big Sky. Moonlight Basin is AMAZING!!! As you mentioned, their food is excellent, but the riding is even better. The tree runs are all over the mountain. I rode for three hours and only saw one skier in the same trees as me. We found fresh tracks throughout the whole day in varying tree runs. So, if you like to ride pow in the trees, Moonlight is a MUST!
JC
April 2, 2010
Danielle, thanks for your tip. I really didn't know what I'd get going over to Moonlight. Next time, I'll spend some time there, too.

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