One of the benefits of being a ski writer is that you get revisiting rights. And use them.
- Saw Squaw in 2000? What’s it like in 2018?
- Skied Smugglers’ Notch in the nineties? How’s it changed now?
- Aspen then vs. Aspen today. What’s the same and what’s new?
Change is at the heart of skiing. Straight skis? Straight to the trash. Tucker Sno-Cats back in the day; giant PistenBullies last night. That slow double quad’s morphed into a detachable six-seater. With heated seats. The boot-trammeled base lodge whose menu consisted of burnt burgers and gluggy chili, now sports an exclusive dining nook with crab legs and steak tartar. Ours is not a static sport.
But of all the places a ski writer skis, none has changed more than Big Sky Montana. Every time I visit, I have to reorient: Didn’t this used to be …? Wasn’t that a …? And weren’t these trails part of another resort called …?
The answer to all of the above is a resounding yes. Big Sky was founded on change, and change has been one of its three mantras ever since. The other two? Growth and improvement. Here’s the BCT, the Big-Change Timeline.
- 1968: National television news host Chet Huntly decides his home state needs a real ski resort. He names it Big Sky after Montana’s nickname, “Big Sky Country.”
- 1973: Big Sky’s bullwheels start turning.
- 1976: Three years after Huntly’s death, Boyne USA buys Big Sky.
- 1990: The opening of a hotel and conference center transform the once sleepy base village.
- 1995: The new Lone Peak Tram gives Big Sky bragging rights as the country’s greatest vertical drop.
- 2005: Big Sky takes over neighbor Moonlight Basin operations, creating what the resort deems, “Biggest Skiing in America.”
- 2009: President Obama drops by for a visit.
- 2013: Big Sky and Moonlight Basin “unify to form the largest ski resort in the United States with over 5,800 acres and 4,350 feet of vertical.”
So, yeah, change is in the DNA. And it continues to this day. Coming up, the Ramcharger 8 will be the first lift of its type in the world — a high-speed, heated seats, weather bubbled eight-seater chairlift. It’s but one of 36 lifts that cover the resort’s 5,800 skiable acres that climb from the 6,800-foot base to the view-of-the-world 11,166 top elevation.
The changes that most floored me on my last visit to Big Sky were all tied up with growth and improvement. The base village felt ten times bigger than in the past. The trails — now more than 300 of them — stretched from peak to peak to endless peak. And everything, from the lifts to the rooms to the food to the fun, was bigger and better than before.
With those fast lifts and blessed absence of lift lines — the locals’ favorite phrase? “We ain’t Colorado!” — you can bounce between mountains, between skill levels, between groomed and ungroomed, smoothed and bumped for as long as your thighs can stand it.
And when you need a fuel break, the on-mountain dining is a far cry from day-old chili. Everett’s 8800, the on-mountain restaurant at 8,800 feet, puts on both a first-tracks gourmet breakfast and a lunch menu that would feel right at home in the French Alps.
Down in the Village, Chet’s is the newly renovated family restaurant. Andiamo Italian Grille serves wild boar, broccolini, veal saltimbocca — it feels and tastes more Tuscan than Montanan. After dinner, perhaps a drink at the Carabiner or Scissorbills Saloon. Then, up early for more alpine skiing.
Should you grow weary from all this, just down the road is another Montana icon, Lone Mountain Ranch. No alpine here — Lone Mountain is a Nordic resort, with 85 kilometers of groomed trails through the dappled, deer-friendly Montana forest. There’s also snowshoeing, dog sledding, horse-drawn sleigh rides and cowboy entertainment. It’s a different world from the chairlifts of Big Sky, and if you’re so inclined, as am I, by all means, enjoy both. The two resorts work well with one another so you can play well at both.
There’s one other thing about Big Sky. Last winter they had their best season in years. And they wallowed in that plethora of powder while other parts of the country were begging for snow. Locals praised Ullr for their unexpected good fortune.
No one can really predict where white will fall, but if this winter’s a repeat of last, you can add that to Big Sky’s DNA of change.