Historically, Big Sky has been known for not being known—that is, it’s remained (mostly) undiscovered. The mountain resort community (population 3,098) is located in southwest Montana, just off a winding two-lane canyon road between West Yellowstone (the northwest entrance to Yellowstone National Park) and bustling Bozeman. The pandemic-related fallout of 2020 definitely changed the landscape, as the previously slow-growing fun hamlet experienced a huge boom. A host of resort developments has sprung up to meet this growth, most of it in the luxury realm.
The draw is clear: Those who make the trip here are rewarded with jaw dropping in-bounds ski terrain at Big Sky Resort, breathtaking scenery, plentiful wildlife sightings and endless year-round outdoor recreation.
The winter days are short in Montana, the nights are long and the monotone winter landscape can lull visitors into lazy indoor lounging—though it’s advised to get outside no matter how low the thermometer drops. There’s more than enough to do during daylight hours and plenty of established and new restaurants and shops when the sun sets in the early afternoon.
The easiest way to get here is to fly into Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport (BZN). Nine major carriers fly direct into the airport including, most recently, Southwest with service from Denver and Las Vegas. Big Sky is an hour drive south on Highway 191, a narrow, heavily-trafficked, two-lane road that winds along the Gallatin River. In the winter, the road can be a white-knuckle driving experience, so plan for that as well as booking a four-wheel-drive car or reserving an airport shuttle with Karst Stage.
Where To Stay
There are two distinct lodging areas in Big Sky, either in Meadow Village or slopeside at Big Sky Resort.
If you’re interested in staying closer to the action (relatively speaking), the new Wilson Hotel is centrally located near restaurants, shopping and activities in Big Sky town center. The hotel features a heated pool, a mountain shuttle, and is within walking distance of the movie theater, as well as numerous restaurants and shops.
Big Sky Resort manages the majority of lodging at the mountain including the Huntley Lodge and Summit Hotel. Both hotels are undergoing room renovations ahead of winter 2020-21 with an updated mountain luxury aesthetic. The Huntley includes a slopeside buffet breakfast, a heated slopeside pool and a theater with nightly showings including current ski and snowboard films.
The adjacent Summit Hotel (lobby pictured above) is a swankier slopeside option with 213 rooms, condos and, of course, penthouses.
An even more luxurious option is set to open ahead of the 2021 ski season—the new Montage Big Sky (rendering above), featuring 150 guest rooms and an 11,000-square-foot spa. The Montage is located in the exclusive Spanish Peaks enclave, and features private slopeside access to Big Sky Resort. If you haven’t already caught on, Big Sky is on a luxury trajectory fueled by the members-only, millionaires’ Yellowstone Club.
Check into your hotel, rent skis or snowboard equipment, drink a bunch of water and get acclimated to Big Sky’s 7,200-foot elevation.
7:30 a.m. Today we hit the slopes. Get caffeinated at Caliber Coffee in Big Sky Town Center. In addition to excellent lattes and coffee, this locally-owned roaster also offers grab-and-go breakfast burritos.
9 a.m. – noon Hit the lifts at Big Sky Resort, featuring the biggest skiing in the Rockies, on one of the most stunning peak profiles outside of the European alps.
The resort is partnered with both the Ikon and Mountain Collective pass programs; otherwise purchase your day lift ticket in advance online for the best pricing. Kick off your morning with a ride up the Ramcharger 8, Big Sky Resort’s newest eight-seater lift accessing Andesite, a lower-elevation mountain featuring long wide-open, uncrowded groomers and nicely-spaced tree runs. Beginners might opt to sign up for a lesson through the Mountain Sports School and enjoy a day on the mellower slopes of Mister K. This is the terrain where New Orleans Saints RB Alvin Kamara mastered snowboarding on day one…and went viral in the process.
Noon – 12:30 p.m. After exploring Andesite, head to the new Vista Hall, an upscale cafeteria-style dining area in the main base area lodge. Choose from traditional burgers and fries, to artisan stone-fired pizza, to sushi or ramen bowls. Save the table-service for après ski, there’s still a lot of terrain to cover out there—5,800 acres and more than 245 trails to be exact.
12:30 – 4 p.m. It’s go time again! Next stop is Lone Peak. Head up the Swift Current lift to the new Powder Seeker bowl chair. Take in the views of Big Couloir descending from the peak—this is Big Sky’s answer to Jackson Hole’s iconic Corbet’s Couloir. And yes, you can ride it if you have avalanche safety gear, and sign out with the ski patrol at the top of the tram.
Regardless of your objectives for the afternoon, no visit to Big Sky is complete without a trip up the tram. On a clear day, the routes down are fairly decipherable; on a low-visibility day, don’t even consider it without a local guide. The tram is open to all guests for scenic rides, so take a ride to the top and back down.
If you’ve got the urge to explore, continue from the tram base around the north side of the mountain to Moonlight Basin, a less-visited secondary resort (it used to be a standalone resort before being absorbed into Big Sky Resort). Enjoy groomers all to yourself or tackle the steep chutes of the Moonlight Headwall—terrain so extreme that it was chosen as a site for the 2021 Freeride World Tour qualifiers.
4 – 5:30 p.m. What a day! Time to unwind at Scissorbills for après ski. Dive into a huge plate of nachos and enjoy the live music at this locally owned, “old Big Sky” saloon. It’s tucked away slopeside on the third floor of the Arrowhead Mall, ask around in the resort base area and you’ll find it.
5:30 – 7 p.m. If you’re not staying slopeside, head back to your lodging utilizing the free Skyline bus service. Kick off your ski or snowboard boots, soak those bones and grab a quick nap.
7 – 8:30 p.m. We’re in Montana, so obviously we’re having authentic Thai food for dinner at the Lotus Pad. Just believe me when I say that nothing tastes as good as a big bowl of spicy curry or a plate of drunken noodles after a day on the slopes. The restaurant, located in the Big Sky Town Center, offers a full bar including four different styles of mules—I can recommend them all.
8:30-9:30 p.m. Is it snowing or are the bright stars shining through the crystal clear, sub-zero skies? Either way, now is a great time to take a few laps around Big Sky’s new, free ice skating rink in Big Sky Town Center.
The lighted rink offers open skating daily. Bring your own skates or rent a pair from East Slope Outdoors across the street from the rink.
9:30 p.m. Call it a night or get in on the growing Big Sky nightlife scene. The new Tips Up Bar featuring abundant ski décor is a great choice for nightly live music on the “living room stage,” shuffleboard, corn hole, arcade games and a casino. You might end up making friends with hardcore local skiers or maybe some Yellowstone Clubbers looking to hang among the locals. If that guy at the end of the bar looks like Justin Timberlake or Tom Brady, it probably is.
8 – 9 a.m. Start your day off right at the Blue Moon Bakery. This little establishment cranks out delicious and affordable bagel sandwiches and fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, along with coffee and lattes.
9 a.m. – noon While Big Sky’s reputation was built on downhill skiing, it’s also a top Nordic ski destination thanks to the 85 kilometers of groomed trails at Lone Mountain Ranch.
Forty bucks will get you a full-day trail access, plus rentals. The historic ranch itself is a magical setting deep in the woods, with quaint cabins and horses treading through the snowy pasture. You can opt to book a two hour group lesson or just pocket a trail map and shuffle along the beginner and intermediate trails including the Silverbow Loop with mountain views and plenty of opportunities for moose sightings (yikes!).
Noon – 1 p.m. Congratulations, you must be starving. Fortunately you only need to click out of your skis and amble into the Horn & Cantle saloon at Lone Mountain Ranch. Pony up to the bar or settle into a high top by the windows.
Everything about the décor and setting is Montana. Enjoy local draft beers, wine and spirits as well as a selection of craft food including the H and C burger, Korean chicken wings and Montana trout spread while you soak in this one-of-a-kind setting.
1 – 2 p.m. Relax with some shopping in Big Sky Town Center. The brilliant window displays of Montana Supply will draw you in. This store features a curated selection of “sound goods for the modern explorer.”
But really, it’s a great selection of relevant clothing brands including Frye, Fjallraven, Bridge & Burn and Gentle Fawn tastefully mixed with outdoor goods, local keepsakes and accessories.
Grizzly Outfitters is another stocked store with a huge selection of mountain footwear and clothing, backcountry gear and ski and snowboard hardgoods with an expert staff to guide you into the right gear.
2 – 4:30 p.m. Continue your shopping excursion at Gallatin Alpine Sports, and then head into the rental department to check out their fleet of fat tire snow bikes.
You can pedal right out the door into Big Sky meadow and a network of fat tire bike trails, which are detailed on the free maps that come with your bike rental. There are trail options that circle around the meadows as well as legit leg burners that gain elevation in the foothills.
If fat biking isn’t your thing, you can still opt outside with a quickie hike to Ousel Falls. This popular trail originates just south of Big Sky town center, and is a 1.6-mile round-trip hike down a wide, maintained trail into a steep ravine to the stunning 100-foot waterfall that flows into the Gallatin River.
4:30 – 6 p.m. It’s après time again, this time at Beehive Basin Brewery in Big Sky town center. Cozy up to the bar and choose from the constantly rotating fresh-brewed beers on tap. Enjoy the mountain views or watch the brewers mixing up the magic in the brewery. Don’t be surprised to see Coletrane, the brewery’s famous four-legged ambassador, woofing around.
7 p.m. – closing The Gallatin Riverhouse Grill, located on the banks of the Gallatin River along highway 191 just south of Big Sky, is where the locals and tourists, river guides and construction workers, snowmobilers and skiers all go.
It’s a local gathering place thanks to friendly owners who serve up delicious BBQ at reasonable costs. The Riverhouse plates include brisket, racks of ribs and pulled pork, although many locals never veer from the popular three-piece fried chicken dinner with beans, corn, coleslaw and cornbread for $7. Done.
Beyond the dining room, The Riverhouse has a full bar with views of the Gallatin River featuring free late-night music and a dancefloor. The bar menu includes a popular spirited slushie drink appropriately dubbed a “Shenanigan.” Guaranteed this combination is your best bet for entertainment on a Sunday night in Big Sky. Enjoy!
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