Each time we told friends we were going to Big Sky, Montana, we got the same response.
“You can’t ski it all. It’s a huge a mountain.”
Some friends told us that we couldn’t ski it all in a week. Others predicted it would take at least a month.
My son and I had two days. While we definitely knew we couldn’t ski it all, we were going to give it our best shot.
The Biggest Skiing in America
Big Sky’s stats will blow you away: 5,800 skiable acres and 4,350 feet of vertical drop. There are 298 runs, 6 terrain parks, 7 surface lifts and 22 chairlifts.
Blessed with a landscape of big mountains and yes, a big sky, the resort spreads across four peaks: Flatiron Mountain, Spirit Mountain, Andesite Mountain and Lone Peak.
Located halfway between Bozeman and the western entrance to Yellowstone National Park, Big Sky’s isolation is its greatest blessing. While locals love the mountain, there just aren’t that many locals, which means no traffic jams and no lift lines.
Some resorts calculate skiers per acre, Big Sky calculates acres per skier. And outside of the busiest holidays, that number is two — as in two acres for each skier.
When you’re taking in so much territory, it’s good to have a plan. As with any resort, start with the trail map and get oriented.
Big Sky has two base areas, Mountain Village and Madison. We started at Mountain Village, where there are three lifts and a set of magic carpets.
One of these lifts, the Explorer Double, serves beginner slopes and a beginner terrain park. The base area is set up perfectly for learning, with steady progression across the magic carpets, culminating for beginners at this chairlift. Although only 15% of the mountain’s terrain is rated green, that 15% works out to be about 870 acres — larger than many resorts. Other fun runs for beginners are found off of the Derringer Quad at the Madison base and off the Swift Current Express.
Something For Everyone on Andesite Mountain
Intermediate skiers will find fun terrain spread across all four mountains (almost 1,400 acres worth).
On our first morning, we went out with a local friend. Starting on Ramcharger, a high speed quad that runs to the top of Andesite Mountain, we followed a blue run to Elk Park Ridge. Although it was already 9:30, the corduroy was untracked and buttery smooth. The runs were wide and we had the mountain to ourselves.
There are three high speed quads on Andesite Mountain, Ramcharger, Thunder Wolf and Southern Comfort. If you wanted to, you could probably ski for two solid days, riding just these lifts. Depending on the conditions, you can find wide open groomers, mogul runs, intermediate and advanced glades and even a few double black shots.
With only two days, we didn’t do Andesite Mountain justice, as we wanted to see as much of the resort as possible. At one point, we skied past Thunder Wolf to get to the Lone Moose Triple on Flatiron Mountain.
This is one lonely lift. Going to the lift, we saw no one. Riding the lift we saw no one. Instead, we saw something amazing: fresh snow, virtually untracked, several days after a storm.
Flatiron Mountain has two advanced, two beginner and one intermediate run. You have to want to get here, but when there’s powder and everyone else is ripping up Lone Peak and Andesite, this could be the place to come, especially with younger kids and less confident skiers.
From Lone Moose, we veered left and took Southern Comfort up the backside of Andesite Mountain.
The runs off of Southern Comfort catch afternoon sun and are a perfect playground for intermediate skiers. Don’t miss, and don’t let your kids miss, Freemont’s Forest, a green, banked run, perfect for building confidence and inspiring smiles.
Lone Mountain Love
Dominating the skyline, cone-shaped Lone Mountain represents the essence of Big Sky.
From the top of Lone Mountain, visitors can see over Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, along with parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. The skiing from the summit is steep and heads-up. It’s the type of terrain suited for single-file skiing, lest you shower your downslope partners with snowballs and crud.
Even with good coverage, conditions change constantly depending upon the wind and sun. You want to stay light on your feet and agile.
Every four minutes, the Lone Peak Tram deposits fourteen skiers and snowboarders at the top. And while you may find a lift line for the tram (possibly the only lift line at Big Sky), it’s worth the wait.
The marquee run from the top is the Big Couloir, a Chamonix-style chute with mandatory turns and choke points. Beacons and shovels (and the knowledge to use them) are required.
And while the Big Couloir is not always open, there are plenty of other challenging descents. Starting on steep Otter Slide, we traversed to the Gullies and practiced billy-goating along with tight turns. Other fun routes include Marx, a relatively wide and cliff free double black, and Liberty, the only single black route down.
While the Lone Peak summit is a must-do (and a joy for people who love steeps), it’s not the only technical terrain on the mountain.
If you like steeps, but don’t want to stand in line, check out Headwaters. For steeps with trees, Lone Tree Triple has plenty of shorter shots, with a few small cliffs if you’re into jumping.
Both of these lifts are in the former Moonlight Basin area, and while much of the terrain here is advanced or expert, there are some beautiful groomed blue runs off of the Lone Tree Triple and Six Shooter high speed quad.
Back on the front side, we found more steep terrain, along with some nicely gladed trees, off of the Lone Peak Triple (not to be confused with Lone Tree) and the Challenger Double (an alternative way to get to Headwaters).
And still, this wasn’t all.
The South Face
If you could look down upon Lone Mountain from above and imagine the peak as a full circle, you would find Big Sky ski runs covering about 300 of 360 degrees.
The South Face rests on the furthest edge of this circle as you swing around the backside, heading skier’s right from the Swift Current quad.
You can get to the South Face via the summit of Lone Mountain through Liberty Bowl, or by skiing from the top of Swift Current to the Shedhorn Double chair. From here, you take Shedhorn up to Sunlight Bowl, and then down onto more traditional blue and black runs.
The other lift in this area, the Dakota Triple serves up some outstanding tree runs. Lapping this lift a few times on a Saturday afternoon, we saw the most people we’d seen in two days — about 10 other skiers and riders.
That’s the Big Sky experience.
When You Go…
If you’re flying, you’ll land in Bozeman and drive about 70 minutes to the resort.
Once you’ve arrived, you’ll find everything you need, either in Mountain Village or in Meadow Village, just a few miles down the road.
The Big Sky website has options for hotels, condos, cabins, and homes of all levels. And, if you’re staying at the Huntley Lodge or Shoshone Hotel, there’s free, slopeside ski storage (and storage on the patio for Summit hotel guests).
The Snowsports School offers lessons for all levels, slopeside daycare for kids from 6 months to 8 years, and a late afternoon Kids Club for children 10 and younger.
As with the skiing, it would take a week or two, or more, to experience everything at Big Sky.
The Biggest Skiing in America has spas, shopping, tubing, dog sledding, climbing walls, zip lines and more. Based on our experience, the restaurants serve the Biggest Meals in America (try the delicious and unique lunch options at Carabiner and Everett’s 8800 — book ahead on Open Table).
The best way to learn more is the First Time Visitor’s Guide on the Big Sky website. Here you’ll find lodging, daycare, spa, travel and events information. There are also sample itineraries for couples and families and information about free Mountain Host tours each day at 10:45 a.m.and 1:00 p.m.
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