Montana is big and beautiful and diverse. You’ll find hunting, fishing, hot springs, but most importantly for skiers: Big Sky. Their tagline is “The Biggest Skiing in America,” and they don’t disappoint. 5,800 acres of skiing. Among the largest in the United States. Not only is it big; it’s downright scary.
NBC broadcaster and Montana native Chet Huntley said of the Beetles on their first visit to the United States, “Someone asked what the fuss was about, and we found we had no answer.” Only a native of Montana would fail to see how big the Beetles would become. However, he did not fail to see the significance of Big Sky. Mr. Huntley was the front man in getting Big Sky started. “Good night Chet and thank you,” from all fans of Big Sky.
John Steinbeck said, “I’m in love with Montana. For other states, I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.” This is how I feel about Big Sky.
Big Sky’s Powder Is Delivered by The Wind
The patrollers will tell you that unlike most mountains where snowstorms deposit pockets of bliss, at Big Sky the powder is at the mercy of the Wind Gods. I cannot exaggerate this reality. Big Sky powder is deposited by wind. If you ski the steeps, where wind can easily scrape off snow, knowing where the winds are depositing the snow can make the difference between your best and worst runs. Same day, same facing aspects, very different snow conditions.
If you want the best conditions in the steeps, you’ll need to spend time asking the patrollers. Patrollers that have spent more than a year at Big Sky are amateur “anemologists” (wind experts). The wind patterns are generally known to the experienced patrollers. Adjacent runs can have dramatically different coverage based on daily wind patterns. I’ve never seen so many steeps that face the same way with such radically different snow.
Expert Skiing at Big Sky
At Big Sky ignorance is not bliss. The area is filled with in bounds, backcountry lines. It’s easy to get “cliffed out” on terrain, especially on the both sides of the Headwaters Ridge, and the Gullies. Big lines are found on Lone Mountain and Headwaters. You reach Lone Mountain via the Lone Peak Tram. Lone Mountain has three skiable aspects. Back under the chair is the Big Couloir. Off the top and around Yeti and Gullies Traverse are The Gullies. Otter Slide and the Yeti Traverse lead to the Dictater Chutes and Bowls. Liberty Bowl leads to the Bavarians. Lone Mountain is also where you can access backcountry gates leading to Dakota and Wyoming Bowl.
Lone Peak / Mountain.
The top of Big Sky is Lone Mountain. It’s the iconic peak you see from almost anywhere in Big Sky. Its accessible by the Lone Peak Tram. I break up Lone Mountain into three general areas; South Face Loan Mountain, the Big Couloir and Gullies, and really Scary Stuff.
South Face Lone Mountain
This is classic single back expert terrain on Liberty Bowl and more adventurous double backs on the Dictator Chutes.
The Big Couloir
This is the iconic 50-degree slope run below Lone Peak Tram. No hiking required, but you’ll need to bring your backcountry gear and check in at the Patrol Shack.
Really Scary Stuff
The Gullies. These are a series of runs above the Turkey Traverse visible from Powder Seeker. The Gullies are accessible by taking the Yeti Traverse to the Gullies Traverse.
Headwaters Ridge is a ridge of jagged peaks, skiable on both sides, that separates Big Sky from Moonlight Basin. One side faces the Loan Peak Tram. On your first rides up to Loan Peak you’ll look across the cirque and ask can you ski that? You might even see an occasional skier darting between the rocks or straight lining an entrance that sends shivers up and down your spine. You’re looking at runs called Parachute, Three Moons, the Pinnacles, and a bunch of unnamed trails in between.
On the other side, are the more common chutes seen from the Moonlight Basin Side of the resort. Take Six Shooter to get a long look at your options. They include Headwater’s Bowl, Cold Spring, Fire Hole, Hellsroaring, Hell’s Half Acre, the Creeks, the Classes, Whitetail, and Three Forks.
You reach both sides of Headwater’s Ridge by hiking the ridge. However, there are very different entry points for different runs. Conditions and courage will often determine what you can access and how hard you’ll have to work to reach the entrance.
Glade Skiing at Big Sky
There are fun glades on Andesite Mountain to skiers right of Silver Knife including Blue Room, Colters’s Hell and Bolivia. Lone Mountain Southside offers the Badlands, Bavarian Forest, Erikas, and Cardio Trio. Old Moonlight Basin offers fun glades off of Lone Tree Chair including Broker Heart and Double Jack.
Ski Patrol at Big Sky
A note on patrollers. Big Sky has lots of them. They are amazing. I spent a day skiing with one on his day off, and he showed me the mountain. But more importantly, he showed me how carefully Big Sky patrollers watch over their skiers. While riding Challenger up to Headwaters, I noticed a group of kids skiing some extreme lines between Bug Rock Tongue and 17 Green. I said “Does that freak you guys out?” He pointed at a patroller on the ridgeline I didn’t notice, one on the flats below and another on a nearby ridgeline. They had triangulated on Big Sky’s Children’s Big Mountain Team. The patrollers know the dangers and act like angles to keep eyes on their guests.
Talk to Ski Patrol about expert terrain. Learn to traverse across the mountain on Fast Lane using Six Shooter lift on the old Moonlight Basin part of the mountain.