Why fly to Montana to ski Big Sky? Hello wide, open spaces. Spaces to find fresh powder, and spaces to find the family connections that are all too easily frayed during our hectic lives.
Montana is a refuge from soccer practice, deadlines, crowded restaurants, homework and all the other stresses we face. It's about letting your breath get taken away by the vastness of the mountains and slowing down to a pace where you can enjoy nature on her own terms.
When we parents invest time, energy and money on a vacation, we want it to be executed well. I take that back, we want our breath to be take away. We want to have tears in our eyes because the kids are being kind to one another, breathing pure air, and trilling with laughter. In a week, we intend to undo 6 months of frantic, city living.
High expectations. That's a lot of magic to expect from a resort. Big Sky can and does pull it off year after year. It's not Disney. No one is there to shuttle you through one experience to the next. There's no set schedule and no meal plan. Big Sky is a vacation for families that are comfortable having an entire ski run to themselves. It's a resort for parents that wouldn't think twice about letting their 7-year-old take a zip line over a canyon. It's a resort for parents that want to hear themselves think and want to have the time to take pause on reflect on family.
First let's talk about the lack of crowds. At maximum capacity, Big Sky can handle 2000 visitors. They have more than 5000 skiable acres. Do the math. That's more than 2 acres per skier ON THE BUSIEST DAY OF THE YEAR! This my friends is why we flew from NYC to Bozeman, MT via Minneapolis for spring break.
Planning the perfect family ski vacation is a bit of an art form. There's a fair amount of planning involved to get from Point A to Point B with all that gear. And it's not cheap.
That's a lot of romance I've imbued. Time to explain how it all comes together.
Getting There to Big Sky
Located 18 miles from Yellowstone National Park, Big Sky is easy and difficult to get to. So many ski families I know like the direct flights to Denver or Utah. I get it. I do. Direct is easy. But folks, the difference one connecting flight can make is HUGE. Once you land it's a breeze. Located between Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport and Yellowstone National Park, Big Sky is a nifty little drive away. It'a about 50-miles of some of the prettiest views around. You'll wind all along the Gallatin River (you might remember if from A River Runs Through It), and I bet you completely lose track of time on your way to check in. TIP: keep and eye out for sheep and elk! We say herds crossing the roads frequently.
The attitude of the resort is one of Western friendliness. Big Sky had greeters well-positioned and we got our questions asked quickly. It's all about getting you on the mountain fast.
Mountain Facts at Big Sky:
Big sky has 5800 skiable acres
Vertical drop 4350'
22 chair lifts
6 terrain parts
400+ inches of snowfall each year
Elevation 11,166' (bases are at 7500')
Ski Logistics: Big Sky has been in acquiring mode. There are four mountains and three bases: Madison, Moonlight Lodge and Mountain Village. Lodging is spread among the three bases. Nothing is far from one of the lodges and there are many ski-in, ski-out options.
Tip:Take the tram up Lone Peak lift. Mr. Momtrends reports it's worth the trip (about a 20 minute wait) to get view from the top (at 11,166') where you can gaze upon three states at once.
Favorite runs at Big Sky
We loved everything off the Lone Tree Triple lift. For the braver skiers, the Stillwater Bowl is easy to drop in for steep stuff and fresher snow. The girls loved giving the grown-ups lessons off the old-school Poma lift. They'd never seen one before and found it hilarious. Take Silver Knife to get to the Bear Back Poma. For tree skiing, we liked Pomp. We all agreed on Meriwether off the Six-Shooter lift for it's rolling hills and steeps. And finally, we all caught some air at Pony Park terrain park.
Big Sky Kids' Trails
Harbor’s Half Pipe is a natural gully formed at the top of Mr. K. The natural pitch of the mountain forms this area into a small half pipe, but remains mellow enough for kid’s skis.
Porcupine is a short, mellow gladed area named for one of the animals that represent the Mountain Sports School groups. Porcupine is a level 5 skier that can handle advanced green runs.
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White Fang, located off the Explorer chairlift, provides a mellow trip throuigh the trees, followed by a small jump and a steeper pitch when exiting the trail.
Short Stack Adventure Area trails use natural terrain to create beginner gladed tree trails with a mellow pitch, natural jumps and banked turns.
Freemont’s Forest is a specially-designed banked-turn ski run through a small forest of trees to maximize lessons in turning.
Pomp and Lizzett trails feature widely-spaced trees on a green pitch, making them some ideal first runs to learn the trees.
Flyrock Gully is located off Cinnabar, just below the entrance to Peacemaker terrain park, offering a narrow gully with bumps and jumps.
Kid’s Bowl is the beginner area located at the Mountain Village Base Area, including two magic carpets, Small Fry and Beehive Basin.
Middle Basin is another beginner area in the Mountain Village Base Area, including the new bubble-covered magic carpet (also called Middle Basin).
Bear Basin, adjacent to Chet’s Knob in Mountain Village, contains two new surface lifts to provide access to a wide, learning area with terrain based teaching rollers. Our ski instructors describe rollers as "big, gentle swells" or "snow whales." This helps skiers work on balance and how to adjust for varying terrain, pitch, and gliding.
Big Sky caters to ski families (yes, snowboard families too, I use the word to mean both). This is not a party atmosphere. Folks come to ski and bask in the glow of the great outdoors. You won't find rowdy apres ski scenes or loud neighbors in the village. One of the great family-focuses aspects is that there's free stuff. Kids ski and stay free (up to two kids ages 10 and under) at Big Sky. And to give mom and dad some free time, there's a Kids Club in the village with free activities from 4-6. For non-skiers, there's daycare for kids 6 mos to 8 years. But most likely if you're taking your kids to Big Sky they're going to ski.
Big Sky Ski School
As I've said before: A resort is only as good as the ski school. This one is blissfully well-staffed and thoughtfully managed. The sign in operation was smooth. The goal is to get the kids on the snow ASAP. Very little happens indoors. Once the waivers are signed and kids checked in, you head to a gated-off area right outside. For skill assessment, the kids do a few runs on the magic carpet. I thought the instructors placed both our girls in "just right" groups. In general, the groups had about 4-6 skiers per instructor.
Facts About Big Sky Ski School
- Every Big Sky Mountain Sports instructors are PSIA or AASI certified. Many of Big Sky’s instructors are industry leaders in mountain sports education, and are involved at a national level.
- More than 75% of Big Sky Mountain Sports instructors return year after year – and several are 25 year veterans of the resort.
- On average, class sizes are among the smallest in the country. For example, the average 4-6 year old class size is 2-3 students.
- Big Sky’s limited lift lines = more time skiing with your instructor.
Adult private and group lessons are also available. And we always advise lessons--even an expert has something to learn. That being said, we only did ski school one day. Since our girls are both solid skiers (I am officially the slowest skier in the family), we did family ski the other 5 days. The mountain is fairly easy to navigate and since we stayed on-mountain for three nights the ease of skiing home for a break was fantastic.
Special ski dining experiences: You'll want to book a table at Everett's 8800', this all-new gourmet spot is on mountain (hence the 8800) and has the hearty fare skiers need to refuel. Don't miss the elk chili or truffle fries.
To get the day started, you won't go hungry for HOURS if you head Black Kettle Burrito for breakfast. It's got stunning views of the bowl and it's the perfect place to plot the afternoon if you stop for a midday snack.
What else?Something new for us was attending an on-mountain service. Big Sky holds outdoor, church worship on Sundays at 1:30 and 3. Brad Lartigue, the Resort Chaplin, skied up and led a small group in a Big Sky Resort Ministries Worship service. It was definitely a highlight for me.
For the full Big Sky Off-Mountain Guide to fun click here.To book your vacation, head to bigskyresort.com/plan-a-trip
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This is not a sponsored post. We were given some lodging, activity, and meal accommodations. All opinions are my own.