Big Sky and Whitefish are the two largest ski resorts in Montana. And if you’re trying to decide which of these mountains to visit, I’m here to help.
I’ve visited both of these resorts several times, and I’m here to share and compare which Montana ski resort is best for you.
We’ll look not just at the stats, but also that local, insider’s info that makes all the difference.
General Thoughts – Big Sky vs. Whitefish
Despite both of these mountains being located in the same state, they are pretty different experiences.
- Big Sky is a much larger, well-known “destination” resort. You’ll find many more chairlifts, ski runs, and amenities.
- Whitefish is a more “under the radar” spot, with more of a local, small-town vibe. It’s a great choice for a skier on a budget, but if cost is no issue, I think most people would find it a hard to sell it over the legendary Big Sky.
Here are my personal ratings from my ski resort reviews page, before we jump into more detail for each category:
|wdt_ID||Ski Resort||Ovr. Rating||Beg.||Int.||Adv.||Expert||Trees||Bowls||Crowds||Snow||Ski Town|
Mountain Stats Comparison: Big Sky vs. Whitefish
|1||Size||5,800 acres||3,000 acres|
|2||Vertical||4,350 ft.||2,353 ft.|
|3||Avg. Snowfall||287 inches||325 inches|
|4||Summit Elevation||11,166 ft.||6,817 ft|
|5||Base Elevation||7,500 ft.||6,311 ft.|
(Stats Source: Whitefish Mountain Stats, Big Sky Mountain Stats)
Although Whitefish and Big Sky are both in Montana, they’re in far reaching corners of the state.
In total, the two ski resorts ski are nearly 6.5 hours apart:
To get to each one, you’ll probably be flying into different airports. Often times, the mountains even experience different weather patterns!
Ease of Access: Whitefish vs. Big Sky
- Big Sky is best accessed by flying into Bozeman, Montana (BZN airport) and driving 1 hour to the ski resort.
- Whitefish, on the other hand, is best accessed by flying into Kalispell, Montana (FCA) and driving 30 minutes to the ski resort. (Or only 15 minutes to the town of Whitefish) For more info, check out my guide on how to get to Whitefish.
So while Whitefish is more convenient on paper, there’s one big tradeoff… Whitefish’s airport has a few less direct flights that Bozeman, and they’re usually more expensive, too.
Ski Town Atmosphere
I actually prefer Whitefish as a ski town.
Sure, Whitefish is a tiny little small town, but it has a certain character to it. If I can remember my history lessons, Whitefish, Montana was historically a railroad town, and that historic charm continues to this day. It’s also not entirely a resort town, and is instead filled with authentic locals. Head to a local bar, and it’s a lively crowd where everybody knows everybody.
Big Sky, on the other hand, feels a little more… touristy? Everything feels like a new development, giving the whole area a somewhat suburban vibe. Except compared to many ski resort towns, it still has a ways to go, and dining and entertainment options are still very limited.
After all that bashing on the ski town, I will say that Big Sky’s vibe is awesome if for no other reason than its incredible scenery.
Big Sky is located in the middle of wild, wild Montana. For scenery, you’re treated to endless mountain ranges and beautiful, remote wilderness.
Whitefish, I’m told, also has beautiful scenery. But it also has a legendary reputation for fog, and on my winter trips, I’ve never actually been able to see the incredible views I’ve heard so much about!
And yeah, that fog is a real knock on Whitefish. It occurs frequently, and means you can often be skiing totally blind. Locals don’t mind, because they say it helps preserve the snow and keep the crowds away. But for folks planning a trip here, don’t forget your flat-light lenses!
Snow at Big Sky vs. Whitefish
The snow at both these Montana ski resorts are pretty similar, overall.
If we’re splitting hairs, (and I suppose we are, given the nature of this article!) then Whitefish averages slightly more snow during a normal year, but it’s relatively negligible. On average, Whitefish records 325 inches of snow per season, while Big Sky is usually around 290.
That said, the peak of Whitefish’s Big Mountain is noticeably lower than Big Sky’s Lone Peak (11,000+ feet at Big Sky vs. only 7,000 feet at Whitefish) so Big Sky has a tendency to preserve its snow better.
Crowds at Whitefish vs. Big Sky
It’s Montana, ya’ll. Neither mountain is crowded, especially compared to more popular ski destinations in Colorado and Utah.
That said, Big Sky is more well-known among casual skiers, so it tends to get more visitors. Of course, this is balanced out by Big Sky’s significantly larger terrain and number of chairlifts, which helps spread out skiers a little more than Whitefish.
Speaking of terrain…
Terrain Comparison: Big Sky vs. Whitefish
This whole discussion needs to come with a big disclaimer. Big Sky is bigger than Whitefish. A lot bigger.
So, by default, Big Sky wins each category on quantity and variety, alone.
And to be fair, Big Sky probably wins on quality, too. Put simply, nothing at Whitefish has the sheer “wow” factor of places like Big Sky’s Lone Peak, and all the world-class terrain that’s skiable from there.
That said, Whitefish does have good terrain, in it’s own right. The mountain has a little bit of everything, from long groomers, to dense trees, to open bowls. (Whitefish excels most in the long, fast groomer category, plus some of the best tree skiing anywhere.)
However, the expert terrain at Whitefish simply does not compete to the legitimately terrifying triple blacks at Big Sky. And again, Big Sky has so much more of everything, that it’s not really fair.
Value: Big Sky vs. Whitefish
Of course, there’s one category where Whitefish spanks Big Sky handedly: cost/value.
If you’re not relying on a multipass, lift tickets at Whitefish are nearly 1/3 the price of Big Sky. This season, I skied for three days at Whitefish for the same price as a one day lift ticket + tram access at Big Sky.
And usually, Whitefish lodging is a fraction of the price of Big Sky, too. (Whitefish is actually busiest in the summer, when it serves as the gateway to Glacier National Park. Which means that during the winter, there’s usually a surplus of cheap hotel rooms to go around.)
All this makes Whitefish a great choice for the cost-conscious skier.