By Doug Hare EBS Staff
BIG SKY – Southwest Montana had a December to remember. Numerous snowfalls of more than 6 inches turned Big Sky Resort into a powder playground for winter sports enthusiasts during the last month of 2017, making for an auspicious start to the winter season.
Notably, researchers at Montana State University reported a record snowfall of 46 inches for the month of December in Bozeman, nearly besting the all-time record monthly snowfall of 47 inches in April 2009.
By the end of the month, Big Sky Resort was reporting a 42-inch mid-mountain snow depth and 61-inch upper-mountain base.
“We are at 120 percent of average snowfall for this time of year, at our mid-mountain weather gauge at 8,900 feet,” said Chelsi Moy, public relations manager for Big Sky Resort, on Dec. 30. “Which means we’re well over that in the upper alpine areas.”
Snow fell on 11 days during the last two weeks of December alone. “This past two weeks, it hasn’t stopped snowing. We’ve received around 3.5 feet of snow in that time,” Moy said. “People who’ve worked here a decade and longer are saying that early-season conditions haven’t been this good since the record snowfall of 1996-97.”
The snowstorms came at the right time too, given that the week after Christmas is typically the busiest of the year in terms of lift tickets sold, and for retail shops and restaurants. The fresh powder attracted visitors from around the country to enjoy the favorable conditions, so it comes as no surprise that Big Sky Resort reported a more than 15-percent increase in skier visits over last year, with Dec. 28 being the busiest day on record at the mountain.
The early season snowfall was also a boon to local businesses, with many owners reporting record sales for the month. Lines in grocery store checkout aisles were long, “Star Wars” screenings at Lone Peak Cinema sold out, and during the last week of December it was difficult to get a table at local restaurants without advance reservations.
“This was our best December [in terms of sales] ever,” said Keith Kuhns, owner of the popular après ski destination Scissorbills Saloon. “We were far busier than expected … the early snow really helped get the season off on the right foot and the resort numbers around Christmas were just crazy.”
Dave Alvin, owner of East Slope Outdoors, echoed Kuhns’ sentiments.
“Record sales are nothing new given Big Sky’s growth,” Alvin said. “But the week before Christmas was noticeably busier for us than in years past … probably because of visitors who chose to come to Big Sky instead of places without a good snowpack.”
When EBS went to press on Jan. 3, the National Weather Service was forecasting another unsettled, snowy pattern for Big Sky beginning Friday, Jan. 5.