Dec 04, 2008
"One of the friendliest and most beautiful places I've skied."
It’s not just the sky that’s big; it’s the mountain. There’s the rapidly expanding, hyper-modern village. There’s 11,166-foot Lone Mountain, soaring more than 4,000 feet above the base. There are 50-degree chutes, exposed faces, and miles of low-tuck, high-speed cruisers.
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.
One of the younger ski resorts in the country, Moonlight Basin opened on the north side of Montana’s Lone Mountain (Big Sky occupies the eastern side) in 2003. Locals considered the area the stepchild of Big Sky until 2005, when the two resorts finally made nice and announced a joint lift-ticket program ($89 for the combined ticket; $51 for Moonlight only) that offered access to seriously rowdy terrain like the North Summit Snowfield and Headwaters. By 2010, Moonlight plans to lower its base by a quarter mile, giving the mountain more vertical than Big Sky.
POWDER DAY: On far skier’s left of Headwaters, attempt the 53-degree Three Forks on a powder day—the chutes are only about six feet wide and ordinarily scraped bulletproof.
THREE DAYS LATER: Upslope wind-loading keeps shady Headwaters chalky long after a storm. When you’ve had enough steeps, head for the thick glades off the Lone Tree lift, like Broken Heart and Shaftway.
PARK AND PIPE: Because Moonlight abstains from snowmaking, the kickers in the Zero Gravity Terrain Park only get big midwinter. Early season, jibbers focus on the park’s 50 rails and boxes.
BACKCOUNTRY ACCESS: Of the two backcountry gates into the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, pick the one off the summit of Lone Mountain for steep lines and easy return access. Traverse back to the base from locals’ favorites like Mullet and Hair Piece. Check forecasts at mtavalanche.com.
WEATHER: With a summit elevation of 11,150 feet, Moonlight receives light, cold snow—usually in a rapid-fire succession of six-inch storms. The mountain rarely gets hammered by more than two feet, but the wind-loading can make six inches feel like 16. Go in January to experience midseason snowpack.
APRÈS: Ski right to the deck of the Headwaters Grille in Madison Lodge and order nachos and a pint of malty Bozone Amber Ale, brewed in nearby Bozeman.
FUEL: The Border Café in the Pony Express Lodge serves up a greasy breakfast wrap chased with jet-fuel coffee from Bozeman’s Liquid Planet. Or try the egg, bacon, and cheese burrito in Headwaters Grille.
UP ALL NIGHT: Moonlight’s party scene lacks energy, so head over to neighboring Big Sky. Locals enjoy the dark and gloomy Black Bear Bar and Grill. Partyers prefer Bambu Bar and Asian Bistro, a sushi joint where dinner flows naturally into a get-down scene that goes till 2 A.M.
Digs: Stay slopeside at Moonlight by checking into one of the Cowboy Heaven Cabins with views of the Spanish Peaks (from $200 per night; moonlightbasin.com). —Grayson Schaffer