Why Serious Skiers Need to Visit Big Sky, Montana
Who needs nightlife when your days are spent tackling terrain like this?
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Montana, 50 miles south of Bozeman on the northwestern edge of Yellowstone, Big Sky serves up 5,800 acres of some of the biggest and burliest inbounds terrain in the United States—the kind where you have to sign in with ski patrol and bring a beacon, shovel, and probe. With hairball steeps, insane backcountry access, and more than 30 feet of Montana cold smoke each year, Big Sky delivers. What the small, purpose-built village at the base of the mountain lacks in charm, the skiing makes up for in spades.
If you’re looking for sheer convenience, stay slopeside at one of the many resort-owned properties. If it’s a little flavor you’re after, try Buck’s T-4 Lodge down in Gallatin Canyon. About a 15-minute drive from the resort, Buck’s is an old Montana roadhouse and former dancehall converted into a hotel and restaurant known for its wild game (try the New Zealand red deer). Save big with its ski and lodging packages.
In 2013, Big Sky bought its neighbor, Moonlight Basin, and now offers the largest amount of terrain on one ticket in the United States. That’s on top of delivering one of the biggest vertical drops in the country at more than 4,350 feet. Needless to say, there is a lot of very good skiing to be had.
Warm up with mellow tree runs on Andesite Mountain before making your way over to the Lone Peak tram, which accesses some of the most extreme inbounds terrain in the States. Marvel at the 360-degree views. Slicing down right under the tram and serving up a 1,400-vertical-foot descent, a 50-degree sustained pitch, and a hairy entrance, the Big Couloir is Big Sky’s marquee line. To ski it, you must sign in at the patrol shack at the top of the tram, go with a partner, and carry a beacon, shovel, and probe.
On the Moonlight Basin side, the Headwaters is a ridge accessed by a 20-to-30-minute hike from the top of the Headwaters lift. Tons of steep, gnarly chutes drop off from it, many featuring gullies, cliffs, and mandatory drops, all of which funnel about 2,000 feet down into Stillwater Bowl. A qualification round for the Subaru Freeride Series is often held here; after a lap in the Headwaters, you’ll understand why.
But Big Sky’s backcountry access is what sets it apart. Like the resort, it’s immense. Duck out the backcountry gates at the top of the Lone Peak tram, or forgo the resort altogether and head to Beehive Basin, a classic Big Sky ski tour that delivers varied terrain accessed from the Beehive Basin trailhead, about a 15-minute drive past the resort.
Start the day with a breakfast sandwich at the Blue Moon Bakery, where the bagels and bread are made fresh in house. Grab a Benny, a bagel loaded with eggs, cheese, and Black Forest ham, and you’ll be fueled up and ready to hit the mountain.
Purveyor of choice wieners, Yeti Dogs has legions of fans in Big Sky and beyond—you can’t go far in Montana without seeing one its stickers plastered onto a fender or lift tower. Located in the Mountain Village base area, Yeti is perfect for an easy lunch. Be sure to try the Yeti sauce—and to wrap one dog in foil to munch on later.
Down in the canyon, the Gallatin Riverhouse Grill has seen many incarnations over the years, but these days, it’s dishing up all-star barbecue, specialty cocktails, and live music. Situated along the Gallatin River in a giant log cabin–like structure, the vibe is pure Montana—saloon meets roadhouse filled with rednecks, cowboys, and hippie ski bums all looking to have a rowdy time.
Head to Scissorbills Saloon, Big Sky’s locally owned après joint. You can literally ski into its back door from Andesite Mountain. Post up there for Montana craft brews, burgers, and live music.
Located right next to each other in the Blue Mall, Milkie’s and the Broken Spoke anchor Big Sky’s nightlife. People jump between the two all night long. Warm up at Milkie’s with cheap pitchers of beer, pool, and slices of brick-oven pizza. When it’s time to turn up the dial, head next door to the Broken Spoke, which often has live music, DJs, and dancing. It’s pretty much the only “club” in Big Sky, so if you’re looking to get down, this is your spot.
Yellowstone in the winter is a nature lover’s dream, and there’s almost no better way to see it than by snowmobile. Closed to vehicular traffic in the winter, Yellowstone delivers 17 million acres of pristine wilderness, which, come winter, you’ll largely have to yourself. Sign up for a snowmobile tour with Backcountry Adventures, owned by Jerry Johnson, the former mayor of West Yellowstone, and visit Old Faithful while cruising by elk, bighorn sheep, and bison.