By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – This year, Moonlight Lodge will be open exclusively for Moonlight Basin members, after the Tavern operated publicly for a number of years.

Moonlight has recently grown to encompass more than 270 members, and according to Kevin Germain, vice president of Moonlight Basin, the decision to privatize the lodge was based upon this growth.

“The lodge was opened in 2000, before there was even a ski area contemplated on the Moonlight side of the mountain,” Germain said. “It was to become the living room for the Moonlight community.”

Beginning Dec. 15, the lodge will only be open to Moonlight Basin members and their guests, while lodging guests renting a member’s home will have access to the lodge for a daily fee. This winter, Moonlight is also offering a Sports Membership that will grant the public access to the lodge and fitness amenities without staying in a member home.

This winter, Moonlight says they will renovate the Great Room in the lodge in order to create additional soft seating options and an expansion of the lodge kitchen will allow for greater culinary variety.

For those who enjoyed public access to Moonlight Lodge in the past, this year’s change comes as a bit of a disappointment.

“I think [the lodge] is an asset on its location and they’re going to be missing out on an inclusionary feeling that the entire resort has developed,” said Joe Muggli, a ski technician at Grizzly Outfitters Ski & Backcountry Sports. “I think it’s a downgrade for what the resort can offer to the public. … You should be able to pop in and warm up and get food.”

While the lodge will be for members only this winter, ski access will remain public, as will trails for hiking and biking in the spring. Big Sky Resort Public Relations Manager Chelsi Moy reiterated the fact that the ski area, which is owned and managed by Big Sky Resort, will remain completely public.

Big Sky Resort sent an email to its employees, stating that, “Closing public access to the Moonlight Lodge matches plans contemplated during the 2013 integration of Moonlight Basin. That plan anticipated the eventual full privatization when the Moonlight Community (club) grew in memberships. With club growth, the Moonlight Lodge can no longer effectively serve dual functions, so it is being converted to the private club asset it is best suited to serve.”

Despite the privatization of the Moonlight Lodge, public access on the Moonlight side of the mountain has been expanded. Big Sky Resort has widened Fast Lane, a primary corridor between the Moonlight side of the ski area and Mountain Village. Also, a new magic carpet lift has been added to the Madison Base Area.

“Big Sky Resort has installed a new magic carpet at the Madison Village, built two new gladed ski runs, as well as improved the connectivity over to Mountain Village by improving Fast Lane and Blue Moon,” Germain said. “Their investment into the Moonlight terrain will continue to make Big Sky one of North America’s most popular and celebrated mountain resorts for both the local community and visitors alike.”

While still in the early stages, several future developments at Moonlight have been proposed. These include a new lodge at Ulery’s Lake, a hotel at Lee’s Pool, and added trails that could access destination yurts and cabins.