Shedhorn lift replacement, Mountain Mall renovation planned

By Tyler Allen EBS Managing Editor

BIG SKY – Stephen Kircher, president of Boyne Resorts, announced at a press conference March 7 that Big Sky Resort will install an eight-seat, high-speed chairlift this summer on Andesite Mountain, where the Ramcharger lift is currently.

The new chair, called Ramcharger 8 and slated to open in early December, will have heated seats, blue wind bubbles, and seats 2-inches wider than the six-seat Powder Seeker chairlift installed two years ago in The Bowl.

Ramcharger 8 will be the first eight-seat chairlift installed in North America-while foreign to this continent, Kircher presented a slide showing the number of eight-passenger chairlifts by country, with Austria topping the list by far with 47.

The current Ramcharger lift, a high-speed quad, will be moved to the south side of the mountain this summer to replace the Shedhorn double. Cutting the 10-minute-plus ride in half, the refurbished lift will also be more wind-resistant, allowing the resort to increase the number of days of operation in that area.

“In terms of the alpine experience, one of our pillars and goals with that was to create the most advanced lift system in North America,” Kircher said. “And also, at the same time, reinventing the on-mountain food and beverage experience.”

He announced a planned renovation of the third floor of the Mountain Mall, which will increase lunch seating capacity by 350 seats; include a coffee bar and wine and beer bar; indoor fireplaces; new food options such as stone-fired pizza, sushi, ramen and crepe stations; new windows to open up views of Lone Mountain; and expanded outdoor patio space.

Kircher said after the press conference that the Mountain Mall renovation might happen this summer, but that they’re still finalizing the design process and won’t begin the remodel unless there is certainty that it will be complete by next winter season.

This is the second phase of “Big Sky 2025,” a 10-year plan announced in 2016 to reshape Big Sky as the “American Alp.” The first phase included the installation of the Powder Seeker lift and Challenger triple. Future planned projects include night skiing on Andesite, slated to open for winter 2019-2020; expanded snow making; and a gondola to replace the Explorer double chairlift.

The gondola will be a two-phase project, with the second stage extending it to The Bowl at the base of Powder Seeker. A timeline for the gondola installation has not been released, but Big Sky Resort General Manager Taylor Middleton said after the press conference that it’s a matter of “sequencing” and will depend on infrastructure being installed for a new ski-in, ski-out development called the Montana Club.

Once the infrastructure, including water and sewer, is connected for the Montana Club development, the resort can begin planning for a new beginner area with food and beverage options at the eventual mid station of the gondola, which will originate from the north end of the Mountain Village.

Middleton compared the vision to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Sweetwater Gondola that opened for the 2016-2017 winter season, which accesses a new children’s ski school facility at its mid station.

Kircher also discussed plans to improve the Moonlight side of the mountain, by upgrading the Iron Horse lift, relocating and replacing the Headwaters lift, and adding additional food and beverage options. He also mentioned future upgrades to the Lone Peak Tram, as well as the Southern Comfort, Lone Moose and Swift Current chairlifts. A small food and beverage option is also in the idea stage for the summit of Lone Mountain.

While not divulging the cost of the Doppelmayr-built Ramcharger 8, Kircher joked that “it will cost more than the first lift we bought from Sun Valley for $5,000,” and that each chair will cost “as much as a Porsche.” The Powder Seeker and Challenger lifts cost the resort $9 million to install in 2016.

When Kircher was asked how mountain biking access would be affected this summer, Middleton interjected that the resort is thinking about running vehicle shuttles for bikers to reach the many new trails built on Andesite Mountain in recent years. He later said that one idea is to have mountain bikers take the Swift Current chairlift and bike down to the saddle of Andesite, where trucks would transport bikers every 30 or 45 minutes.

Middleton opened the March 7 press conference by telling the crowd that Big Sky Resort was sitting at 130-percent of average snowpack and will surpass 500,000 skier visits this season, for the first time in its history. He credited the hundreds of Big Sky businesses and entities that have given “a sense of place” to this resort community.

“I remember when I first came to this resort 37 years ago, I wondered if it would make it,” he said. “And only about 20 years ago did I recognize that this town would exist forever. And now, for the first time in my history we can recognize what the potential that this community and this resort has to offer.”