Close to Lone: Skiing Montana's Big Sky is a Slice of Powder Heaven
Published: Monday, December 5, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2011 17:12
The Southern Comfort Quad connects to the Deep South trail – a super easy beginners run that all skiers should venture on to. It runs adjacent to the Yellowstone Club, one of the most exclusive developments in the US, and home to the only private community ski resort in the country.
Yellowstone Club homes are stunningly massive and belong to some of the world's wealthiest outdoor enthusiasts, including media mogul Ted Turner.
My wife and I skied in and around Andesite for most of that first morning, before heading back to where we had dinner the night before – The Peaks – for a beer and a quick bite.
Any concern about what kind of attitudes we'd encounter at Big Sky were easily laid to rest our first night, when we dined at The Peaks.
The Peaks is undoubtedly fancy – based on its offerings anyway: filets mignon, exotic seafood and shellfish and a capable wine and beer list grace its menu. Missing from the crowd, though, we're the overdone ski bunnies and the smarmy guys with whom they lock arms.
Even though the Peaks is among Big Sky's nicest restaurants – and the food is exquisite, don't get me wrong – you're just as likely to find someone in a bad Christmas sweater and jeans as you are some casual formal wear.
The Peaks is hushed and dim at night; the perfect place for some good conversation and good beer – we hit some in-state brews including a few offerings from Big Sky Brewing out of Missoula, Montana (which is available in the Phoenix metro) and some Bitter Root beers from Hamilton, Montana (which are not).
It was at The Peaks that our hosts Chad Jones and Greer Schott filled us on some of the history of Big Sky, such as its climate and the laid-back vibe that goes with it.
The family-owned resort, the vision of NBC newsman Chet Huntley, was first opened in 1973 and purchased by the Boyne family in 1976. It remained relatively small until the late 1980s, when it underwent a massive renovation – a renovation that has, more or less, continued until today.
In 1995, the resort really gained the attention of the international skiing community when it opened the Lone Peak Tram. The 15-person Tram takes skiers to the top of Lone Peak – a massive, angular behemoth that juts out 2,300 feet above Andesite Mountain. It dominates the landscape; and the runs off it make for some of the most jaw-dropping, lift-accessible skiing on the continent.
But the resort is more than just a winter playground. Big Sky also hosts scores of summer tourists, who come for nearby recreational fishing, mountain biking and the resort's proximity to Yellowstone National Park.
The summers are short, but beautiful, Schott and Jones say, with long days and dusk lasting until 10 p.m. in late June and early July. Winters are long – perfect for a ski resort. In fact, there are only four months in which the average minimum temperature is greater than 32 degrees Fahrenheit in the village of Big Sky – May, June, July and August.
Indeed, if there's one thing to watch for during the depths of winter in Big Sky, it's the cold – and the wind. Last February, typically the coldest month in Big Sky, the National Weather Service's weather station there recorded a temperature of -27.
The weather is often moderate, but on our second day in Big Sky, we experience blistering sub-zero cold temperatures and wind. It was, for me, the coldest weather I have ever personally experienced; and removing my gloves for more than a few seconds to try to take some pictures resulted in almost instant pain.
But that's what make they make ski clothes for, right?
After lunch, we cruised around the slopes a little bit more, but my wife – who was with me on the trip – decided relaxation was in order. We headed to Whiskey Jack's, a resort bar serving up Southwestern cuisine and a whole host of beers, tequilas and liquor.
The drinks were fine but we were looking for a little more local experience, so we took the free shuttle down to the meadow – what locals call the Big Sky village – and went to Lone Peak Brewery.
Lone Peak is a cozy space that was packed to the gills on this February night; warm and inviting, the way a mountain bar should be.
We ordered several of the specials, including several plates with bison, and the house specialty beer of the month, the Lone Peak Bourbon Stout. Clocking in at 10-percent alcohol by volume, it proved to be both relaxing and warming. I had three. My wife had two.
Both of us fell asleep on the bus ride home.
Up and Down
The following morning began with breakfast at the Huntley Lodge. We again met up with our host, Greer, who said we would finally make the journey to Lone Peak.
Go to Lone Peak? We hadn't even seen it yet in two-plus days at the resort. Snow and clouds had obscured the top of the resort since our arrival.
But on this day there were breaks in the clouds – and finally we got a glimpse of it, rising dramatically above everything else in sight. We shot up the Swift Current High Speed Quad, cruised across a little catwalk over to the Lone Peak Triple and rode to the top of The Bowl.