How Big Sky, Montana, Became One of America’s Best Places to Ski — and Why 2024 Is the Year to Go

“You have to go to Big Sky” is a refrain I’ve often heard from fellow skiers. At a time when snowboarding evokes images of long lift lines and crowded slopes, Big Sky trades on a credibility for solitude and space. Located in between the city of Bozeman and Yellowstone National Park, the 5,850-acre Montana resort has an average of one acre for every skier; allegedly, you can ski throughout the day without seeing the exact same run two times. It’s the third-largest ski resort in North America after Whistler Blackcomb, in British Columbia, and Park City Resort, in Utah.

Diehards know what actually puts the big in Big Sky. For a U.S. ski resort, Big Sky has an unique prevalence of this type of sophisticated terrain.
I found out as an adult, mostly by throwing myself at scary slopes and snowboarding down in survival mode, so I don’t rattle too quickly when I’m at a resort. The week before I leave for Montana, I see a video of a skier on “The Big,” as residents call it. Adding to the sense of seriousness is a post accompanying the video, which notifies me that, to ski the Big, one must not just sign out for a time slot with ski patrol however also go with a partner and wear an avalanche beacon.

Dan and I show up on a brilliantly sunny March afternoon at the Montage Big Sky, a luxury ski-in, ski-out hotel that opened in December 2021. He asks if we’re skiing today– if so, he’ll leave our gear outside for us. It’s 2:15 p.m. “You should go,” he urges.
Big Sky is in the middle of a change. For years, it was off many people’s radars, being somewhat tough to get to and using great skiing but not much else. Over the previous 10 years, however, more direct flights to Bozeman have actually been included, including from New York and San Francisco; the resort has joined the Ikon Pass (which packages admission to more than 50 ski resorts around the globe); and lodging has ended up being progressively luxe with the revival of the Yellowstone Club (a personal residential resort) and the opening of the Montage. A One & Only is also set to show up in winter season 2025 in Moonlight Basin, just north of Big Sky. The town center has actually grown up, too, into a hip outpost that uses pho and mezcal mixed drinks.
Housing expenses have actually skyrocketed well beyond the reach of numerous Big Sky employees, and locals worry that the location will lose its character as more wealth floods in. And anyhow, people do not go to Big Sky to hang out in town: here, it’s still about the snowboarding. “Big Sky is an adult playground,” says Kara Blodgett, co-owner of the restaurant and bottle shop Rocks Tasting Room & Liquor Store, which deals in Montana-made alcohol and beer.
In that spirit, I could say more about remaining at a ski hotel where spaces begin at $1,500 a night. The Montage is surrounded by primarily novice runs. To get to the expert stuff, we satisfy our guide, Shannon Held, who’s been a trainer at Big Sky for 18 years, and together we head to the main town.
We load into a high-speed lift with heated leather seats so plush that Dan jokes we’re at an IMAX. Whatever at Big Sky feels new, due to the fact that a lot of it is. The resort is close to finishing up an enormous, decade-long improvement plan called Big Sky 2025 that includes a revamped base area, 11 additional chairlifts, and the brand-new cable car for the 2023– 24 season. As the chair rises, we get our first up-close take a look at the golden cliffs of Lone Peak, a rippling, muscular mountain that looks plucked right out of the Alps. For the next couple hours, Shannon, who has the ruddy cheeks and undentable cheer of a veteran trainer, takes us through a progression of bump runs on its flanks. She’s sparing with feedback, giving us simply little suggestions: flex our ankles more, and invest a millisecond longer on each turn.
After a lunch of grilled cheese and prosciutto sandwiches with truffle fries at Everett’s 8800, one of the resort’s on-mountain restaurants, we go to the Headwaters, another zone with expert-level high snowboarding. As we ride the two-person chair to the top, I view skiers navigate the wind-buffed slope, breaking off chunks of snow that waterfall down the mountain and tinkle like bells. From the chair ahead, Shannon and another skier shout at him to get his skis below him to stop his fall, however as he bounces over a bump, one ski breaks loose, then another.

Approximately this minute, I hadn’t thought of how sheer this slope is, now I’m scared. We’re about to ski Cold Spring, a trail often used as a test run for the Big Couloir. I do a fast head check– I utilized to race mountain bicycle, and sometimes, before riding scary sections, I would remind myself of comparable routes I ‘d conquered before. I called it my psychological Rolodex of experience. I don’t have a deep Rolodex for skiing, however thanks to racing, I do have one for overcoming nerves, so I know I need to breathe, press the image of the moving kid out of my head, and focus on performing great strategy. It works: as I begin down, I feel remarkably in control. When I reach the bottom, Shannon smiles and informs me, “Good snowboarding.”
Throughout the day, we sprinkle challenging runs with wide-open groomed trails and playful routes between the trees. Normally I delve into challenging surface before I can overthink it, however with Shannon assisting, we pause at the top of each steep run to go over lines and snow conditions. This is a brand-new, and more disciplined, approach, and it requires me to focus and move with intent. In time I find it more fulfilling– nailing each descent feels like hitting a carefully targeted bull’s- eye. Shannon’s ideas show to be revelatory on high bumps, too. The movement feels easier, less boxing match and more waltz, so light on my feet I hardly acknowledge my shadow.
That night, after a complete day of skiing, we’re rotated up the mountain by snowcat to the Montana Dinner Yurt, where a guitarist using a trucker hat plays in a corner and flannel-clad servers invite us with French onion soup, pink filet mignon, and Toblerone fondue for dessert. When we go back to our room at the Montage, both the fireplace and a humidifier (a thoughtful touch) are running.
A bit of tradition: in 1976, Big Sky, which had run for just 3 years as a small resort, was acquired by Everett Kircher, the founder of a portfolio of ski locations called Boyne Resorts. Kircher installed his kid John as general manager. The younger Kircher dreamed of constructing a lift on Lone Peak. Lots of told him it would be too complex, and Dad wouldn’t authorize it. However Dad was based in Michigan, so one day John just– oops– purchased a cable car.
Unlike a gondola, which has several cabins that fluctuate the mountain constantly in a loop, aerial cable cars have simply a couple of bigger cabins that shuttle bus backward and forward. The initial tram that John set up was already an accomplishment of lift engineering. When it opens for the 2023– 24 winter season, the brand-new Lone Peak cable car will be both faster and bigger, taking a trip 600 more feet in roughly the same quantity of time while increasing capacity from 15 to 75 passengers per cabin.
As we ascend, the mountain face is in some cases simply a couple of feet outside the window. A female, spying a set of ski tracks, remarks, “That appears dangerous”; and a trainer quips, “Everything up here is harmful.”
A skier descending a downhill run
At the start of the day, Shannon stated we would be skiing the Big, however on a trial run on Gully 1– which has a nearly similar orientation– we find snow the consistency of Styrofoam. Not ideal. In hopes of discovering much better conditions, we decide to pivot to the North Summit Snowfield, another triple-black diamond that drops precipitously over a cliff band.
At the top, we walk into a wooden shack where a patroller is assigning time slots. Like the Big Couloir, the North Summit Snowfield needs visitors to ski with a partner, wear an avalanche beacon, and sign out with ski patrol. That last action manages the variety of individuals on the slope and likewise allows staff to conduct a frank conversation. The patroller notifies us that the traverse to the beginning point is all difficult ice– “bulletproof,” he calls it– and motivates us to revitalize ourselves on our self-arresting skills. As we click in to our skis, I try to tamp down my apprehension.
The traverse is as advertised; while I’m waiting for my turn, a skier loses his purchase and blows past Dan. It rattles me. I dig my edges into the slope for peace of mind. When it’s my turn, I describe the Rolodex (which has a couple of new cards from the other day), take a deep breath, and drop in. The skiing is daunting, each turn demanding a restored commitment. I turn and turn, striking hard and chattery snow on the left, in the sun, and soft powder on the right, in the shade. Throughout the day, I’ve been enjoying how Shannon cuts large, rounded, identical turns, like she’s drawing an electrical coil down the mountain. Textbook. I attempt to imitate her and focus on good type. About two-thirds of the way down, my legs are starting to burn, but I keep moving.
This is the appeal of steep snowboarding. “As you change how you see the hill,” Dan Egan, an extreme-skiing leader who runs centers at Big Sky, tells me later, “it will change the method you see your life.”

On our final morning, we take benefit of the resort’s early gain access to add-on, which enables skiers onto the lift at 8 a.m. rather of 9, to squeeze in some extra runs before our shuttle bus to the airport. A few runs in, we share a chair with a gray-haired man who’s been skiing Big Sky for 17 years. His life’s aspiration was to be a ski bottom, but he ended up ending up being a lawyer rather.

By my last run the sun is high, and the snow sparkles in the air like I’m moving through a glitter bomb. Snowboarding can be a way to push your limitations, or it can be the most indulgent thing you do.

Where to Stay
Montage Big Sky: This 139-room resort– which can set up year-round trips of close-by Yellowstone National Park– is the epitome of Western high-end.

The Summit Hotel: At the foot of Lone Peak, this sleek slopeside hotel puts you in the center of the action.

Where to Eat
Everett’s 8800: Refuel after an early morning of snowboarding at this mountaintop gastropub.

Montana Dinner Yurt: Backcountry dining at its most indulgent, with a side of candlelight and live music.

The Rocks Tasting Room & Liquor Store: Head into town for bison-and-mushroom flatbread or a bowl of pho, plus Montana-made spirits.

What to Do
Huge Sky Mountain Sports School: Explore the resort’s most tough surface with a private guide.

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