OBSERVATION:This review covers the Lone Peak Tram, which is accessed by only onepaid supplement.For information on the Big Sky experience with a regular ticket or pass, see our reviewHere.
GOOD TO KNOW
THE MOUNTAIN STATISTICS
Located near Yellowstone National Park in the heart of Montana's Rocky Mountains, Big Sky offers over 14,000 acres in one of the most remote locations of any North American resort. The mountain offers ample terrain for skiers of all abilities, but increased crowds in recent years have strained the mountain's infrastructure.
Big Sky snow is hard to beat. The resort has some of the best skiing in North America in an average season and holds its snow well thanks to consistently cold temperatures. The resort uses the snowmaking facility early in the season to ensure a strong snow base.
Big Sky's variety of terrain is also hard to beat. The resort offers plenty for skiers of all levels. Several mountainous areas -- including some at fairly high elevations -- offer beginner terrain, a rarity among major western ski resorts. While there are no green trails leading from Madison Base to Mountain Village, most beginners should be able to handle the blue Fast Lane Connector Trail. Advanced options abound too, with a mix of varied tracks, clearings and bowl races. There's a lot to like even for relatively intermediate skiers - steep, unprepared terrain abounds here. The resort also offers a variety of small to large freestyle features across 7 terrain parks, including one - the Cache - which consists entirely of natural features.
But where Big Sky really stands out is its extreme terrain. Lone Mountain's snowfields are unlike any other in the country; Going there, you'll find extremely challenging terrain wedged between exposed rock outcroppings. These slopes can get pretty steep and excruciatingly narrow at times, and if you take the wrong trail (or the right one, if you like), you'll end up walking over cliffs or boulders to get to the bottom.
For 2019-20, Big Sky has introduced the Triple Black Diamond rating for its most impressive races. This terrain is extremely dangerous or prone to avalanches and one wrong move could seriously injure you or worse. For this reason, Big Sky strongly recommends carrying an avalanche light and shovel on all these runs and requires it at Big Couloir, North Summit Snowfields and Upper A-Z Chutes. Access to the above three areas is limited and requires check-in and check-out with a ski patrolman. If you are caught breaking the rules in any of these areas, you will be banned from the resort for life. Be sure to invest in avalanche equipment when planning these runs. The resort conveniently offers a headlamp training area for those wanting to learn how to use this equipment properly.
Don't expect easy access to the Big Sky's triple black runs. The only direct triple black elevator service is the Lone Peak Tram, which carries just 15 people per trolley and has historically had queues of up to a few hours. For 2021-22, Big Sky has removed access to the Lone Peak Tram from base tickets and pass products, including passes from partners such as Ikon and Mountain Collective, and requires an additional add-on sold in daily increments. Those who choose the Lone Peak Tram add-on will enjoy the resort's toughest lift lines, highest drivable elevation, and most incredible views. Access to the Lone Peak Tram must be purchased at a variable daily fee, typically ranging from $30 to $100.
Due to the intense terrain and exposure, the Lone Peak Tram is subject to somewhat variable openings. But for the 2022-23 season, the add-on will only be triggered when passing through the tram gate, that is, anyone who wants to ride the tram but cannot for whatever reason will not have to pay any fee.
The resort's other black triples are located in the upper Cabeceiras area and are dangerously difficult to access. The route to these lines requires a windswept technical hike down a narrow path with a rock face on the left and a steep drop off on the right.
Elsewhere in the resort, elevator service is decent, but it lacks some dimensions. Big Sky's four bubble lifts, including the stunning and acclaimed Ramcharger eight-pack and the new Swift Current six-pack, offer comfortable seating and welcome isolation from the elements. Several other resort areas also offer high-speed elevator service. However, some large mountain sections and all residential areas maintain low-speed, tight-grip lift operations.
Big Sky doesn't always see the crowds that other Rocky Mountain resorts get thanks to its remote location. But there are very few redundancies in Big Sky's lift setup—and when there's a powder day or a busy weekend, the mountain struggles to handle the crowds. Alternatives to large elevators tend to be slow, remote or difficult to find, making them undesirable. Many ski area lifts do not have alternatives, which leads to bottlenecks. The worst culprit is the six-shoot chair -- this lift provides the only access from the entire Madison Base side back to the rest of the resort, and several trails from other lifts lead to it. To make matters worse, the elevator is subject to mechanical problems. In a ski resort this size, there should be more options.
Due in part to Big Sky's size and the relatively recent acquisitions of the formerly independent areas of Moonlight Basin and Spanish Peaks, avoiding the mountain can be difficult. Relatively flat crossings are required to get between major mountain areas. The paths to and from the Dakota and Shedhorn areas are essentially walkways. Signage is inconsistent - some signs provide clear information on how to get to notable lifts and trails, while others are poorly placed or omit important details. Many signs point to the resort's hilly village, but don't tell you which elevators are down there. This is even more confusing now that there are multiple base areas. Even worse, very few signs point to the base area of Madison Village, which is unintuitively located above the lifts that serve it and is inaccessible from most trails on this side of the mountain.
The facilities on the mountain also need some work. The resort offers a convenient mountain complex at the base of Mountain Village with several dining options, but other key facilities are awkwardly located, difficult to find, or impractical for skiing.
The resort has snack bars and restrooms on some of the main lifts; However, very few of them are marked on the hiking map. Some of the toilets are port-a-potty and sporadically closed.
Lone Mountain's rugged terrain gives Big Sky its unique appearance. But the resort offers other incredible views as well -- lower levels overlook gentler, tree-covered mountains, while upper levels have direct views of other snow-capped peaks with extreme features. Despite development on the grassroots, the resort has several secluded areas that feel completely cut off from the outside world. In addition to the incredible views of Lone Peak, the Shedhorn and Dakota areas offer views of the ultra-exclusive, members-only Yellowstone Club, giving most people the best impression they've ever had of this resort.
Big Sky offers several nice but expensive on-site lodging options. Options span the entire base of the mountain, ranging from hotels to exclusive condos and clubs like Spanish Peaks and Moonlight Lodge. Saddle Ridge and Powder Ridge condos are great options for large groups and great value when booked well in advance of the season. Any slightly cheaper alternative for smaller groups is at least a 10-minute drive up the mountain -- the relatively nearby town of Bozeman offers very cheap accommodation, but requires at least an hour's drive to get there and back on a good day.
Big Sky has good bars in the Mountain Village base area, but don't expect the extensive nightlife you'll find at some other Rocky Mountain resorts. There are many restaurants and small bars in the Meadow area, just a few miles from the resort.
Big Sky has some issues that might put some people off. But the resort got the basics right, with quality snow, enjoyable slopes for all skill levels, and some of the most extreme slopes you'll find. It's also worth noting that the resort plans to address many of its cable car options, public transport, and mountain facilities in the coming seasons.
The paid trolley add-on, however, brings Big Sky's 1-day admission cost to around $200-$300 for adults, with the damage increasing to $325 on peak days ($225 for a cable car ticket plus $100 for the tram). At the). This is absolutely absurd for any mountain, even one with terrain as unique as Lone Mountain. A single day of cable car access may be worth it for those who really want to climb Lone Mountain's summit, but competing mountains offer equally unique terrain for much lower entry costs.