SlopeLab’s Review of Big Sky Resort

SlopeLab Ratings

Overalll
0%

Detailed Scores:

Beginner Terrain
90%
Intermediate Terrain
80%
Advanced Terrain
90%
Expert Terrain
100%
Tree Skiing
90%
Bowl Skiing
80%
Crowds
90%
Snow Rating
60%
Ski Town
60%

287 inches

5,800 acres

4,350 ft

11,166 ft (peak) | 6,800 ft (base)

Photo Gallery

Big Sky Overview

Big Sky Ski Resort just might be The Last Frontier in the destination skiing world!

Much like the original last frontier (that’d be the 49th US state, Alaska) Big Sky visitors can expect to find expansive terrain, a general feeling of remoteness, and best of all… a shocking lack of crowds.

And much like the 49th state, Big Sky visitors might even experience a few run ins with the local wildlife. (On the SlopeBox team’s first visit to Big Sky, the entrance to our condo was blocked by a moose!)

Big Sky’s official tagline is “The Biggest Skiing in America.” And yet, despite the mountain weighing in as the second largest ski resort in the United States, the atmosphere is surprisingly quiet.

While Big Sky’s neighbors to the south, especially those in the more traditional ski destinations of Colorado and Utah, find themselves overrun with tourists and lift lines, Big Sky and its aptly named “Lone Peak” sit quietly to the north, enjoying what’s often a nearly empty mountain.

Which brings us to Big Sky’s unofficial tagline, which you’ll see plastered on the helmets and bumpers of locals all throughout the area: “Big Sky Sucks, Tell Your Friends!”

In other words, the locals are sitting on an undiscovered gem, and they’d like to keep it that way!

Big Sky Trail Maps:

Big Sky Trail Map
Big Sky Trail Map (click for full size)
Big Sky - Bowl Inset
Big Sky Bowl Inset (click for full size)
Big Sky - South Face
Big Sky South Face (click for full size)

Big Sky Lift Info

Lift High Speed? Vertical Rise (ft.)
Six Shooter
Yes
1,828
Thunder Wolf
Yes
1,728
Swift Current
Yes
1,645
Challenger
No
1,640
Shedhorn
No
1,487
Lone Peak Tram
Yes
1,450
Lone Moose
No
1,284
Dakota
No
1,245
Southern Comfort
Yes
1,250
Ramcharger 8
Yes
1,160
Iron Horse
No
921
Powder Seeker
Yes
807
Headwaters
No
686
Lewis & Clark
Yes
715
Lone Tree Quad
No
650
Explorer
No
622
Sacajawea
No
538
Pony Express
No
519
Cascade
No
448
Derringer Quad
No
429
Bear Back Poma
No
181

Big Sky Terrain Overview

Big Sky’s terrain lives up to its claim as “The Biggest Skiing in America.” While its massive 5,800 acres of skiable terrain technically makes it the second largest resort in the United States (thanks to a PR move by Vail Resorts to “combine” the two entirely separate mountains of Canyons and Park City via a long, cumbersome Gondola) Big Sky certainly skis like the biggest mountain in the country.

In part, that’s thanks to the mountain’s recent acquisitions of neighboring ski resorts Moonlight Basin and Spanish Peaks. The result one GIANT mountain, all seamlesslessly connected into nearly 6,000 acres of terrain with a whopping 4,350 vertical feet.

As you can imagine, that terrain at Big Sky includes a little (or a lot!) of something for every type of skier.

Beginners and lower intermediates might leave their first visit thinking the mountain was tailor-made for them, thanks to the miles of expansive blue and green groomers shooting spanning in either direction from the main village.

At the same time, at any point on the mountain lies a postcard shot of Big Sky’s highest point, Lone Peak.

The peak is truly striking in its size, and it looms over the rest of the resort like a scene of Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. And for good reason! Skiers waiting in the Lone Peak tramline, and thinking about the extreme terrain it services, might very well conjur up images from the movie. Maybe of tiny hobbits ascending a giant mountain to an unkown fate!

Big Sky for Beginners:

Big sky is a top tier location for those new to the sport. 

Beginner terrain shines off Andesite Mountain, located on the left side of the trail map. Of particular note, the runs off the Southern Comfort chairlift are just the sort of mile-wide, gentle sloping groomers beginners dream about. 

But maybe most importantly, Big Sky benefits from a standout feature all beginners look for crave- uncrowded slopes. 

This is particularly obvious off the Lewis and Clark chairlift, which, due to its location in the far corner of the mountain, rarely sees traffic. This lets beginners ski stress free, and eases their nerves about colliding with another skier. 

Adventurous beginners will also enjoy the terrain located on the Moonlight Basin side of the mountain, found off the Six Shooter and Lone Tree Quad chairlift. While most of these runs are rated blue, outside of a few short bursts of steepness, they are among the most gentle, rolling blues found on any mountain.

Big Sky for Intermediates:

As the name implies, Big Sky is big. And with that, comes plenty of terrain for all abilities, intermediates included. 

Intermediates will especially love the bountiful blue options underneath the Ramcharger lift. As one of the most advanced chairlifts in North America, the Ramcharger 8 seater (yes, you read that right) shoots intermediates up nearly 1,200 vertical feet… in just four minutes. 

This ain’t your ordinary chairlift, either. The luxurious Ramcharger comes complete with heated seats, a nice bubble windshield keep the Montana winter at bay, and most importantly… a plethora of blue groomers and moderate bump runs! For intermediates hoping to rack up serious vertical or really fry their legs, we haven’t found a faster way, at any mountain, than via Ramcharger.

From Ramcharger, intermediates only need to veer slightly skier’s left to find themselves on Elk Park Ridge. This perfect blue cruiser swoops around the Thunder Wolf chairlift. On a nice sunny morning, it’s fantastic enough to claim SlopeLab’s vote for the best groomer at Big Sky.

Lastly, Big Sky scores intermediate skiing bonus points for its bursts of moderate blue tree skiing. Standouts in this area include Freemont’s Forest, Pomp, and White Magic. 

Advanced Terrain at Big Sky:

To put it simply, advanced skiers will have a hayday with Big Sky. 

At Big Sky, an ability to ski challenging blacks opens up nearly the entire mountain (save the truly gnarly stuff off the Tram and Headwall). For this reason, an advanced skier is perfectly positioned to explore an enjoy almost every nook and cranny of Big Sky’s massive 5,850 acres. 

But for the true advanced experience at Big Sky, there’s one area that shines above all others. To get there, skiers should head straight for the Lone Peak Tram. While it only serves 15 skiers and runs just one car at a time, and therefor is the only spot on the mountain with a constant 30-45 minute, the terrain it services is worth the wait. 

As the name implies, Lone Peak stands alone. It’s a full 2,000 vertical feet above the nearest peak, which on a clear day, grants its visitors one of the most spectacular panoramic mountain views we’ve ever seen, plus a true “top of the world” feeling unlike any other.

From the top of Lone Peak, skiers should head down Liberty Bowl – a long continuously steep pitch. This is bowl skiing at its finest. Thanks to the tram’s low skier capacity, fresh snow stays well preserved.

After Liberty Bowl, skiers can either continue down to Dakota triple, which services fantastic advanced terrain complete with unique, windswept trees, or veer skier’s left to the aptly named Screamin’ Left. The latter is a moguled gully which funnels into the Shedhorn lift – which might be the single best lift for fun advanced terrain on the mountain. 

From Shedhorn, advanced skiers have access to great bowls (Chicken Head Bowl, the area between the liftline and Upper Sunlight) fun trees (Dude Park, Pack Saddle Glades) and fun bumps (Shedhorn Liftline). 

 

Expert Terrain at Big Sky:

If you’re looking for some of the gnarliest lift serviced skiing in North America, well, you’ve come to the right place! 

Big Sky has the type of expert terrain needed to make even the most advanced skiers pucker up for a minute. 

Waiting in line for the Tram, you’re unlikely to ever see more avalanche gear in one place. This makes sense, considering the general extremeness of the chutes, couloirs, and backcountry terrain the lift services.

Perhaps no single run at Big Sky stands out quite as much as the aptly named Big Couloir. To ski “The Big” you’ll have to check out with ski patrol, and they won’t even let you consider it unless you’re rocking some of the previously mentioned avalanche gear. The run is skied just two skiers at a time, which actually isn’t a problem, since the couloir’s narrow rock exposures combined with consistent 45 degree pitch keeps all but the most expert of skiers at bay. 

Outside of the Tram, legitimate expert terrain can be found off the Headwater chairlift. This lift is hike-to only, which is probably a good thing! The massive collection of narrow chutes this lift services could certainly leave the unsuspecting skier in a ton of trouble. We once heard a skier remark that this area’s near vertical sheer of ice and snow looked like The Wall from Game of Thrones! Hopefully the expert skiers venturing into this territory find a better fate than most of that show’s characters! 

 

Where is Big Sky?

Big Sky Resort is located in Montana’s Northern Rocky Mountains. As the name implies, the resort is located in the town of Big Sky, which sits in the southwest corner of the state. 

The nearest airport is the modest Bozeman Yellowstone International. Once you make it to the airport, you’re a relatively easy one hour drive or shuttle to the mountain. 

Of course, Montana isn’t exactly a hub of aviation, so your ease and price of flight options can vary widely depending on your originating location. Luckily, the airport has improved its direct flight options in recent years, which is a good thing, since alternate arrangements are limited. (Besides Bozeman, the nearest major airport lies in Salt Lake City, a full 6 hours south.)

How is the snow at Big Sky?

0
Averages Inches of Annual Snowfall
Big Sky receives average snowfall typically, clocking in just below 300 inches each winter. That snow is typically above average quality, as Big Sky benefits from similar dry snow as what falls in the nearest major resorts of Utah and the Grand Tetons. Of course, Big Sky’s snow quality is greatly aided along due to its general lack of skier traffic. Laying fresh lines late in the afternoon on a powder day is a very real possibility here!
 
That said, the mountain needs strong snowfall, because no discussion about Big Sky’s skiing conditions would be complete without a quick mention of the mountain’s notorious rocks!
 
In the summer, the entire mountain of Lone Peak is one giant boulder field. In the winter, the snowfall does its best to cover up the rocks, but ski Big Sky with any regularity and you’re sure to uncover some of those rocks with the underside of your favorite pair of skis. (Especially during the early season months.) It comes with the territory, and many locals designate a pair of “rock skis” as their daily driver until the mountain fills in towards the end of the season.

When is the best time to visit Big Sky Resort?

Late February - April

Make no mistake, Big Sky is a Spring Mountain.

Snowfall at Big Sky noticeably picks up in mid January and typically peaks in mid February. The mountain also sports an 11,000+ foot elevation at its highest point and a base elevation of 7,500 feet, which helps preserve snow during later months.

As a result, most of the advanced terrain skis best in late February, March, or even April, after the previously mentioned rocks have had a chance to get covered up. 

As an added bonus, a Spring trip to Big Sky can help shield against the often frigid Montana winter temperatures. 

How are the crowds at Big Sky?

Despite the mountain’s sheer size and growing popularity, Big Sky’s location off the beaten path in the middle of Montana means this resort is far less crowded than just about any other major destination resort in North America.

For the majority of the mountain, lift lines are pretty much non-existant. For many skiers used to the crowds of Colorado, Utah, and California, the miniscule lines and even more desolate slopes are often a high point of their first Big Sky trip.

To make things even better for the line averse skier, the major chokepoints on the mountain, such as the Ramcharger Lift and Powder Seeker bowl, are served by whopping 6 and 8 person high-speed chairs, respectively. Together, these high-tech lifts slice and dice and any potential crowds that would otherwise develop.

That said, there’s one spot on the mountain that’s never immune to a lift line. The Lone Peak tram, which services the advanced and expert terrain of… you guessed it… Lone Peak, has proven itself far more popular than Big Sky management ever expected. As a result, you can expect lines for the tram to hold steady around 30-60 minutes, no matter what time of day or day of the week you’re riding.

A word on Big Sky as a ski town:

Big Sky’s lack of crowds does come with one minor to major downside, depending on your preferences. Big Sky’s ski town is certainly less developed than comparable resorts in more populated areas.

The mountain village itself is still relatively small. Lodging options certainly lean towards the the “large luxury ski house” side of the spectrum. As a result, many first time visitors are surprised at the lack of “traditional” hotel rooms in the area.

The mountain village does host a few pricier hotels, which are complemented by a small handful of basic restaurants.

Dining options are slightly more prevalent in the town of Big Sky, which is located a 10-15 minute drive away from the village. Still, by no means is this a big city or even a big ski town. Depending on your preferences and the length of your stay, you could certainly find yourself eating at the same place twice.