Reviewed by Peter Oliver
Nov 06, 2008
"One of the friendliest and most beautiful places I've skied."
By 2010, Moonlight plans to lower its base by a quarter mile, giving the mountain more vertical than Big Sky.
Montana skiers love to thank the mysterious Bridger Bowl Cloud for the thigh-deep, popcorn-dry dumps that bestow cult status on this community-owned ski hill outside of Bozeman.
Sometimes we wonder whether Montana’s habit of using “big” as an adjective for everything is self-aggrandizement or compensation for some hidden inadequacy. In the case of Big Sky, however, it’s neither. One look at Lone Peak and “big” suddenly feels like a misrepresentation. “Massive” might be more accurate. If the scale doesn’t impress—and it will—then the Dictator chutes, the playground skiing around the Shedhorn chair, and every fall line off Challenger lift will. And don’t miss the resort’s signature line, Big Couloir. Considering the stats—1,200 vert on a 50-degree pitch—we’ll accept that use of “big” too.
Powder Day: Ride the Challenger Lift and stick to northeast-facing runs like Midnight and Moonlight, each about 1,000 vertical feet of 35-degree skiing. Evergreens and wind-ravaged deadwood provide visual reference in whiteout conditions on roomier slopes.
Three Days Later: The Tram. Period. Because of avy hazards, exposed, treeless Lone Peak might not open until the day after a storm. When it does, ski Marx and Castro’s if they’re filled in. Otherwise, head to fluff-holding Liberty Bowl.
The Riding: Stumpy and boulder-strewn, Snake Pit (off of the Thunder Wolf Quad) is a garden of mushroom-tuft hits on a powder day.
Must Hit: The Big Couloir. Sign out at the patrol shack and drop into the couloir’s 45-degree funnel entrance. Fall before it doglegs, and you’re a smear on the rocks.
The Stash: From the Challenger chair, head to wide-open Country Club, then into Cache Trees or Little Tree, 40-degree, garage-door-wide slots through—yep—trees.
Backcountry Access: Almost everything remotely skiable at Big Sky is inbounds. Locals hike a mile for turns at Beehive Basin, an area just past the resort with open faces, steep glades, and Lone Peak–like chutes.
Weather: In January, Montana cold means light, dry snow. In late March, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. it’s a corn-skiing dream. After that, it’s a frozen-coral nightmare.
Après: Bogner suits and ski instructors hit the Carabiner Lounge in the Summit Hotel. Beer drinkers loiter in the Alpine Lounge, a hole in the wall in the Mall, where ski flicks play nonstop and the wait for the pool table is usually short.
Fuel: Salads, baked goods, and java make the Sundog Cafe the lunch or breakfast choice. For dinner, head eight miles off-campus to Buck’s T-4 Lodge (406-995-4111), an all-in-one Montana roadhouse with a poolroom and chichi restaurant serving wild game and French wines.
Up All Night: Live bands and video poker make Dante’s Inferno the call, but late nights at Big Sky are mostly a Big Snooze. Plan on bringing your party, or crash in a chain motel (Days Inn or Comfort Inn) in Bozeman (bozemannet.com), a college town with a college nightlife pulse.
Digs: Bed down in the Huntley Lodge, where rooms start at $195. Next door, the glitzy Summit starts at $272. During high season, ask for the prime package—you could save up to 15 percent (bigskyresort.com).
Essential Gear: The Big Couloir isn’t the only place where ski patrol requires you to carry a beacon and shovel. Bring a beacon and make sure you know how to use it—and that your partner is comparably equipped.