Firsthand Report: A Visit to Big Sky 1
By Jonathan Cohen, Guest Contributor

What ski resort has the acreage of Vail without the crowds? If you answered “Big Sky,” you probably cheated by looking at the title of this piece. Yes, Big Sky. While I’m not in a position to verify the claim that Big Sky has more skiable terrain than Vail, I can certainly attest to the lack of crowds and the fact that it lives up to its name.

I’ve just completed a week-long visit to Big Sky, my third in ten years. I loved it the first time and, if possible, I love it even more now. With luck, I’ll be returning many times more.

A view of Lone Mountain from Andesite Mountain. Photo by Jonathan Cohen.

Big Sky is located in Montana, about an hour and a half drive south from the Bozeman airport and close to the northwest corner of Yellowstone. It’s a relaxed place, peopled by genuine, friendly souls who know that they live someplace special but don’t feel the need to flaunt it.

As I said, Big Sky lives up to its name. It claims 5,750 skiable acres, a 4,350-foot rise, 250 named runs, 22 chair lifts (and 7 surface lifts), 9 terrain parks, and lots of snow. As I write this, they report a base of 57 inches mid-mountain and 85 inches upper-mountain. There was good coverage on- and off-piste throughout my week. And it snowed on and off nearly every day, giving us a fresh layer of powder at unexpected intervals. While the previous week had been unusually cold, the weather while I was there had highs in the 20s and lows in the teens. The cold temperatures had maintained the snow at its fluffy best in the trees.

Ah, yes, the trees. Big Sky has some of the best tree skiing anywhere. As the week goes on, one finds more and more lovely glades. My favorites were Congo and its extension Congo Line. But even off the same lift and on the same face are Madagascar (another favorite), Wounded Knee (a nice run despite the name), Ambush Glades, and others whose names I didn’t discover. See my attached video for a relaxed trip through a Big Sky glade.

Here’s an important point: Big Sky is not crowded. I rode up with a woman from Connecticut who is raising her young family in Montana. She said her children have never seen a lift line. While I was at Big Sky, neither did I.

A picture of the awe-inspiring peak of Lone Mountain, taken by the author on an earlier visit. Photo by Jonathan Cohen.

At the base is the expected collection of eating establishments, ski shops, and other spending opportunities. Most of these are concentrated in the Mountain Mall. I enjoyed eating at Whiskey Jacks and at Hummers, both in the Mall. The former has more of a club atmosphere and sometimes features live music. Not to be missed in the Mountain Mall is The Hungry Moose, a great little grocery store and deli offering fresh-made sandwiches, salads, and nice desserts, including an absolutely killer Toffee Bar that you must sample. The Mall also includes J.P. Woolies, where you can find a gift for your significant other, and several other shops typical of ski resorts. The base also offers other higher-end restaurants: The Cabin and Andiamo, both recommended. Additional eating places are in the hotels at the base.

Eating on the hill is not as plentiful as one would guess, and is perhaps the only complaint I have about Big Sky. But I very much enjoyed the Black Kettle Burrito shack just to the right of the top of the Swift Current lift. The shack is warm, has great food, friendly service, and offers stool seating for about a dozen. I loved the pork burrito with corn salsa (twice!). My one experience with the base cafeteria on the top floor of the Mountain Mall did not encourage me to return.

View of the common room in The Lodge at Big Sky. The common room also offers a picture window with a great mountain view. Photo by Jonathan Cohen.

I stayed in The Lodge at Big Sky, where I’d stayed the previous time. I love it. The staff is wonderful, the rooms are nice and spacious, the location is good, WiFi is ubiquitous and free (without stupid passwords) and the spacious common room is very special: Done in craftsman style, it is full of comfy couches and stuffed chairs, features a fireplace that is always going, offers a large TV in one corner, has outlets, tables, and a homey feeling. It is also the site of each morning’s free breakfast and the bar. Elsewhere in The Lodge are the inside and outside hot tubs, the pool, and the ping-pong room. The Lodge is a 5-minute walk to the slopes, but you can take the free shuttle if you’d rather not. I should also mention that the general manager, Kari Belstra, is a real delight, directing the staff, driving the shuttle, reading minds, and making everyone happy. You couldn’t ask for a better host.

While Big Sky was my only trip this winter, I finished my week satisfied with the ski season and delighted that I was fortunate enough to visit this Montana treasure. Again.

The author freely admits to being a lousy skier, but this video from his helmet cam shows what it is like to float down the glades in Big Sky. Like most glades, Congo and Congo Line are moderately-pitched bump runs with trees on them, making them much more fun than open bump runs, as they give the feeling of adventure. They are also more easy to navigate in flat light than open runs. Video by Jonathan Cohen.
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Reader Comments

itdoesntmatter
February 22, 2014
Member since 01/17/2007
115 posts

Nice trip report.  Perhaps I should consider it one year.  How hard is it to get there? 

Ski and Tell

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