Words and Photos by Rachael Hodson
There is a reason that Big Sky, Montana has been dubbed "The Biggest Skiing in America." This isn't just some hyped up advertising campaign by some overpaid PR team in New York City. This is legitimate business. Big Sky is huge! Lone Peak dominates all views. Over 3,800 skiable acres (5,500 if you buy a combined pass with Moonlight Basin) and 4,350 vertical feet makes this a mountain that could swallow you up and spit you out months later. Some say this mountain is not ready for "prime time" but if you live here or ski here you know that's just a lame attempt to keep the crowds at bay. The scenery is legendary and the terrain doesn't disappoint. It is beyond big; it is steep and it will get your heart pounding. But don't be fooled because Big Sky also delivers in the gentlest of ways—whether it’s wide-open groomers or a convenient and professional ski school.
Getting There: Big Sky can easily be accessed by the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in Bozeman, Montana. With the prices in the village significantly less than some of the Rockies’ glitzier resorts, you can afford the extra dollars that it might cost you to hop on a jet and descend deep into Montana's Gallatin Mountain country.
Bozeman is worth more than a drive by. Check out the Museum of the Rockies and come face to face with one of the best dinosaur exhibits in the world. The walk thru interactive maze is a hit with kids and the planetarium is sure to inspire. Soak the jet lag away with a dip in Bozeman's hot springs. With numerous pools at different temperatures, you can immerse yourself in complete relaxation.
Stay: Our excitement mounted as we pulled into our lush accommodations at the Summit at Big Sky. Our corner unit condo was spacious and comfortable with wicked views of the next day's exploits. Our two boys tracked down the giant indoor/outdoor spa in no time and left us to enjoy our sweet digs…in peace.
The village at Big Sky is not daunting and makes a trip here cozy. Most of the hotels, shops, restaurants and ski school are within walking distance. The Summit is ski-in, ski-out, the concierge extremely helpful, and the ambiance sublime. However, the best part of staying here is the Summit’s complimentary breakfast buffet. It was hard to avoid overindulging on bacon, fruit, potatoes, pastries, sausage, pancakes and omelets. Schlepping to the slopes at The Summit is nonexistent and if you have small children, taking breaks or lunch in the comfort of your room is the icing on the cake. (Actually, the icing on the cake is the free children's tickets that come with your stay.)
Eat: For our last night in Montana, we ordered pizza in from Andiamo for the kids and had a lovely experience out (alone). Andiamo's calamari was some of the best I've had, but don't leave without trying their Crazy Mountain Alfredo. Original Picasso sketches adorn the bathroom stalls so make sure you drink up so you can check them out. If you ask my younger son, he would cast his vote for the Huckleberry ribs at Chet's Bar & Grill and my older son, well, he would just as soon ski till he drops and grab a quick burrito at 9,200 feet. Black Kettle provides the best view on the mountain but you're not warming up here…think fast food window on top-of-the world. Also noteworthy, dinner at the local's saloon, Scissorbills, was surprisingly a family affair. The burgers were delish and the prices a bargain.
Ski: The dominating presence of Lone Peak overwhelms every vista and the couloirs and A-Z chutes are the reason that many big mountain skiers move here. You need a beacon, shovel and probe to ski these lines. There are many other worthy runs to conquer if extreme is your thing. Drop your children off at the convenient ski school and head up to Dictator, Marx and Lennon Chutes…a great place to test your cojones. You can ski 3,650 vertical feet in one non-stop run from the top of Lone Peak Tram. Experts should check out Liberty bowl and the glades of Bavarian Forest, located in the Dakota Territory. I would need pages to thoroughly delve into the enormity and diversity of the terrain at Big Sky, but the beginner and intermediate slopes is what really threw me into a spin. I was expecting the over-the-top steep and deep, but I wasn't expecting to see run upon run of wide open, mellow groomers—easy enough for beginners but the kind that you fantasize about laying your skis over and arcing at mach 10. I spent an entire afternoon flying down the empty runs off the Timber Wolf and Southern Comfort Lifts.
The terrain parks will keep your teens happy and natural gullies and half pipes will thrill your younger kids. The ski school here is professional, friendly and best of all, affordable. Although my kids like to explore with their mom, I still needed a break for one afternoon. My younger son tried to kabosh his day in ski school, but afterwards begged to go back…that says it all.
After skiing, you can take the kids to the tube hill and test your bravery on the zip line found at the base area.
All restaurants and accommodations can be found at www.bigskyresort.com