By Tyler Allen EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – Feb. 5 was the end of an era at Big Sky Resort, as the storied history of the original Challenger chairlift came to a close.
Opened in 1988, the double lift rose 1,672 vertical feet, carried riders 12 minutes to the top and accessed some of the most extreme terrain on the mountain. That terrain is now only accessible from the Moonlight side of the resort, via the Headwaters chairlift. At least until next year.
“After exhaustive efforts to make Challenger operational for the rest of the season, we have determined that the best course of action is to replace it with a completely new lift,” Big Sky Resort General Manager Taylor Middleton wrote in a Feb. 15 email to season pass holders.The Challenger lift was scheduled for replacement this summer along with the Lone Peak Triple chair, as part of the resort’s capital improvement plan. As of EBS press time on Feb. 17, the resort had not released specific plans regarding the capacity of the new lifts.
“When Boyne first came to Big Sky in 1976 there were five ski transportation machines, today there are 34,” Middleton wrote in an email received by EBS on Feb. 17. “Upgrading lifts and expanding terrain is a big part of what created The Biggest Skiing in America, and a bigger part of what will keep us competitive in the future.”
While the resort is looking to compete in the future, numbers would indicate it’s doing a good job at present.
Skier visits for President’s Day Weekend – as well as the season to date – were up more than 10 percent, according to Big Sky Resort Director of Marketing Lyndsey Owens.
“We’re having a great year,” Owens said.
For the balance of the 2015-2016 season, intrepid powder hounds can find more untracked snow in the Challenger terrain if they’re willing to work for it.
“Challenger is definitely my little happy place because that’s where I worked as a lifty. It’s easier to find untracked stuff for sure [now that Challenger isn’t running],” said Ross Downer, a ski technician at Grizzly Outfitters Ski and Backcountry Sports. Downer worked for Big Sky lift operations in 2012-2013.
“They need that terrain there,” Downer said. “That’s the type of terrain people buy tickets for.”