3 Weekdays at Big Sky (Powder, Trees, and Groomers!)

big sky trip report

One of my favorite skiing traditions is the annual guys’ trip my old college buddies and I take each season.

Every year, we gather ’round a group of 5-10 dudes, pile all our money together the best we can, and rent a massive spot at one of our favorite mountains.

While the pandemic put that tradition on hold for a few years, in 2023, our crew vowed to return to its former glory.

We narrowed down our options to a few finalists – namely Banff, Mammoth, and Big Sky – and then agreed that our last trip to Big Sky, in 2019, left a good enough impression that we were all itching to go back.

Here’s the full report!

Trip Details

  • Resort: Big Sky Montana
  • Trip Dates: January 31 – February 4, 2023
  • Ski Days: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
  • Lodging: Ski in / out near Pony Express Lift

Weather Conditions

  • Day 1: 2 inches, snowing all day
  • Day 2: 0 inches, mostly cloudy
  • Day 3: 0 inches, bluebird

*Note: Big Sky received 30+ inches of snow the week before we arrived! Can you say, powder stashes!?

Video Highlights

SlopeLab is now on YouTube!

Check out this edit of our three days of skiing Big Sky:

Day 1: Traveling to Bozeman

travel to bozeman

One of the best things about a trip to Big Sky is the surprising ease of travel to the middle of Montana.

At least, that’s what some of us experienced…

As a Minnesotan, I can find direct flights all day. And so can my Texas college buddies… except when Texas is covered in a sheet of ice from a surprise ice storm!

Their DFW flights were immediately showing delays from the storm, so the guys made the bold decision to book a completely separate flight out of Houston, which meant an unplanned four hour drive to that airport and even crashing a night early in an impromptu motel room.

Unplanned adventures aside, we all eventually made it to Bozeman’s airport. And within 10 minutes of our original schedule! Not bad, considering the circumstances!

Our ski in/out condo was part of the Moonlight Basin / Saddle Ridge complex, right next to the Pony Express & Iron Horse chairlifts.

Day 2: Deep Powder Leftovers!


big sky snowy

In the week before we arrived, Big Sky was getting hammered with snow, and we were all salivating as we followed the weather updates in the days leading up to our trip.

While I don’t remember the exact details, I do know Big Sky got somewhere around THREE FEET of snow the week before we arrived, including one 15+ inch day nice and close to our first day of skiing.

Keeping with our good luck, we woke to copious amount of snow blanketing the trees, with even more falling as we skied out of our condo to the lift-ticket pick up box.

Speaking of which, the Saddle Ridge complex was a nice, convenient location. You can ski right down to the Iron Horse lift, grab your tickets (assuming you prepaid, which is highly recommended!) and then take Iron Horse right up. From there, it’s a quick, mostly-green cat-track down to the Mountain Village.

Which is exactly what we did.

We started the day with a few laps of untracked, green powder off the Southern Comfort lift.

day 1 skiing powder leftovers

(Protip: Beginner sides of the mountain can be big-time sleepers on powder days. While everyone else is duking it out for expert terrain, the beginners are doing their best to avoid the deep snow. More for us!)

From there, we hit Big Horn and  Elk Park Ridge, two of Big Sky’s most well-loved front-side blues. These runs are especially incredible during morning runs, when they (and their incredible views) are lit up by morning light.

We spent the rest of the day mostly lapping Ramcharger and Swift Current, enjoying tons of soft powder stashes even on these popular runs.

First Day Ski Stats:

  • Total Runs: 21
  • Total Vertical: 28,227 ft.
  • Run of the day: Easy, soft powder bumps in Ambush Meadows

Day 3: To the trees!

iron horse big sky

Even after we called it a day yesterday, we sat in the hot tub and watched more snow falling over Lone Peak and it’s beautiful tree lines.

Which gave us an idea…

Surely, even if it stops snowing, there must be some powder stashes in the trees, right?

Right we were!

big sky powder

We started the day by heading straight to Powder Seeker chair, and then lapping the bowl for three amazing runs. (The bowl had been closed all yesterday and possibly even the day before, so this included days of fresh snow!)

Once Powder Seeker started getting bumped up, we headed over to Moonlight Basin. There, we were on a mission to find a few of the locally recommended tree runs, namely White Bark and Single / Double Jack.

This area of the mountain takes a few lifts to get to, so we didn’t get quite as much skiing in here as we hoped. There’s also a bottle neck from the mountain’s design at the Six Shooter chair, and this is where we experienced the only lift lines of the entire trip (a total of about 8 minutes, for one lap up) before everyone else packed it up and headed inside for lunch.

In any case, we did eventually find that White Bark tree run. For an intermediate-advanced skier like myself, it was absolute tree skiing perfection. Perfectly spaced, perfectly pitched, and did I mention perfect?

For my money, it’s one of my all time favorite tree runs. I just wish it was easier to get to!

(Maybe that’s part of the allure…)

Anyway, the snow was still plenty soft and deep in the trees, so we spent all day seeking out more of the same.

day 2 trees

Of note, we had a great time in tons of tree runs, with a few standouts being:

  • Lone Creek Gully: An awesome natural half-pipe that’s extremely unique.
  • Blue Room: More of a mogul run than a tree run, but still fantastic conditions
  • Congo: An awesome blue tree run
  • Dogwood/Lost Frontier: A short pitch of blue trees, which we lapped at the end of the day because it’s so near the Moonlight Lodge and our condo

Second Day Ski Stats:

  • Total Runs: 19
  • Total Vertical: 23,491 ft.
  • Run of the day: White Bark – an all time great tree run

Day 4: Bluebird Skies

big sky bluebird

For our third and last day of skiing, the mountain blessed us with something we’d barely seen all trip – the sun!

As we watched a jaw-dropping sunrise give way to clear, blue skies, we knew we were in for some awesome groomer-zooming on our last day.

We also knew that we hadn’t yet hit Big Sky’s legendary tram, so we made that our first priority.

Unfortunately, here is where we made our only tactical error of the trip…

When we arrived at the Tram at it’s planned 9:30 AM opening, we were told it was on hold. No big deal, we thought, since we were one of the first groups in line.

Unfortunately, as we watched empty tram car after empty tram car run up the mountain, that line continued to sit, on hold, without moving.

By 10:30 AM, we decided we couldn’t sit around and waste these amazing bluebird conditions any longer, no matter how much the temptation of Liberty Bowl was pulling us in. So we bailed, and instead ripped down Mr. K and Marmot Meadows to the main mountain village.

bluebird groomers big sky

Lesson learned: don’t get in line for the Tram if it’s currently on hold.

From here, we were making up for lost time, and lapped Big Horn, Elk Park Ridge, and other blue groomers as quickly and efficiently as we could.

They were everything we expected. Especially after two days of powder searching, ripping these easy groomers in the morning sunlight was an awesome change of pace.

We even made our way to the Southern Comfort and Lewis & Clark chairlifts, where we had a blast lapping casual trees like Lizette’s and Freemont’s Forest.

We made a mid-day pit-stop near the Spanish Peaks clubhouse, at an apres bar who specialized in… $30 pints of beer and $200 bottles of Champagne. Not quite the Gatorade Vending machine we were looking for, but I made the most of it by downing an awesome choice off the “value” menu – a $31 brisket sandwich.

apres sandwich

We finished the day heading over to one of our last unexplored parts of the mountain – the Shedhorn chairlift. And there, we were met with what might have been the best snow conditions of the trip. The unnamed bowl between Upper Sunlight and the Shedhorn Lift Line was chalky, wind-buffed perfection.

Final Day Ski Stats:

  • Total Runs: 21
  • Total Vertical: 23,161
  • Run of the day: Lizette trees for casual tree skiing or the Shedhorn Bowl for the best snow

Final Thoughts

Big Sky impressed again.

Compared to our trip a few years ago, the resort is in the process of some serious upgrades. They’ve added new chairlifts (with bubble windscreens to block out that Montana cold!) all over the place, and they’re in the process of adding a huge gondola and even upgrading the Tram.

Big Sky still feels relatively undiscovered, with pretty limited liftlines, but with the continued investment, it doesn’t feel like it will stay that way forever.

Get it while it’s good! And on our trip, helped out by feet upon feet of powder stashes and even some bluebird skies, it certainly was!

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