This is Taylor Middleton’s 31st winter in Big Sky. As Big Sky
Resort’s General Manager the last 15 years, he’s seen the community
grow and change. An avid skier, Middleton, 53, is deeply connected to the Big Sky community.

“It’s in my pores. I am local. That’s probably my worst flaw, but it’s also my best attribute. I care about this town.” His job as GM involves “dealing with the hardest stuff,” but he’s proud of his work, particularly the Biggest Skiing in America campaign.

“I love working with people, developing talent and helping people accomplish their potential,” he says.

He and his wife Barbara Rowley have two daughters, Anna and Katie, who attend Ophir and Lone Peak High School.
E.S.
—–
Did you come straight from Alabama
to Big Sky?

When I finished school, I worked
seasonally at resorts at Nantucket
Island, Glacier Park, in Florida, and
in Big Sky. My first job here was as
a hotel desk clerk at the Huntley
Lodge, and then I drove a bulldozer
and helped put in the very first
snowmaking system.
What was Big Sky like 30 years
ago?

Different. Much smaller. The resort
opened in 1973/74, and I was here
first for the winter of 80/81. It was
great then and even better now.
When did you come here full
time?

I was hired on full time in sales in
‘83. Eventually I ran the entire marketing
operation. The resort owner,
John Kircher, was GM for a dozen
years. When he left in 1996 to
acquire and manage Crystal Mountain,
WA, I took over as General
Manager.
Tell me about Boyne.
Boyne USA is a tightly held family
corporation. The patriarch,
Everett Kircher, started it in 1947
in Michigan. Boyne Mountain and
Boyne Highlands were the first
two resorts. The third was Big Sky,
in 1976. They bought it from the
original developer, a combination
of Chet Huntley and…national
companies led by the Chrysler
Corporation. [Now, Boyne owns
or manages 11 resorts in North
America.] Boyne owns some, like
Big Sky, outright, and others in a
ownership/management partnership
with CNL, an Orlando based
Real Estate Investment Trust and
banking company.
What’s working with Boyne like?
We have a great deal of latitude
and autonomy. The Kircher family
is very engaged in the business.
Each resort in the Boyne Family can
tailor itself to the local market, and
be what that resort is. Big Sky is the
showcase destination of the Boyne
family, and Boyne has pumped a
tremendous amount of capital and
expertise into Big Sky over the past
35 years. [They’ve] allowed us to
weather several storms, build a
great resort and partner in our community
in countless ways.
It seems like Big Sky is growing.
It always has, in fits and starts
though. The recent boom was the
biggest of them all. When the
resort was conceived in the early
‘70s, there was nothing here but a
ranch, a dude ranch, and a couple
of roadhouses in the Canyon. Our
economy tends to make big runs,
then hit flat spots. The gains made
during the runs have always made
us better—Look, we have a post office,
three banks, a hardware store,
three resorts, and hundreds of wonderful
small businesses that make
this town go. Not to mention a new
high school and a six-man football
team coming this fall!
How many employees does Big
Sky have?

975 during the peak winter season.
About half that in the summer.
Do you interact with everyone?
I’m here every day, and I have an
open door policy. I do staff meetings
and employee town meetings.
We host a Christmas dinner, and
usually 500-600 employees come.
I’m the official turkey carver. This
morning, I went to ski school’s
lineup. I’ll stop into department
organizational meetings. But there’s
not enough time to interact with
each one. It’s a lot of ‘hey how ya
doing’.
What have you learned from
employee town hall meetings?

The employees are where the rubber
meets the road. I think there
are fabulous opportunities here for
young people. Some are just passing
through, [but] there are a lot
who will evolve and stay in town,
like I did. We have an obligation to
identify those individuals and help
them grow professionally. Beyond
that, we have an obligation to take
care of all employees.
How much do you ski?
In the best of years, every day.
More typically, three or four days a
week. I love to ski.
Are you with other ski resorts?
I work with the resorts in the Big
Sky community a lot. Big Sky is in
the middle, and is the hub of the
spokes. Every winter I put together
a ‘ski around’. Every GM, mountain
manager, and senior leadership
team of each resort goes skiing for
a whole day together. This year
we started at Spanish Peaks, skied
across Big Sky, into Moonlight, up
through Challenger, and back to
Big Sky for lunch, and then up the
tram, down into the Yellowstone
Club, and ended for cocktails at the
Warren Miller Lodge. That’s a lot of
skiing! But we’re tough.
What’s going to happen with
Moonlight?

First, we all know that the community
is much better with Moonlight
and the Yellowstone Club here.
It’s bigger skiing. Look how much
more commerce there is. Both these
resorts have struggled, but Big Sky
struggled, too. It wasn’t in bankruptcy
when Boyne bought it, but it
was probably headed that way back
in the early ‘70s. It’s hard to develop
a new ski resort from scratch
and be successful. It takes years.
Moonlight will exit bankruptcy
this year, most likely. The bankers
and Moonlight Basin have to work
that out. That’s not my business
right now.
You helped Moonlight keep the
Snowfield open this year, right?

Greg Pack (Moonlight’s GM) is
a class A+ general manager who
knows skiing well. He understands
the value of the brand, the Biggest
Skiing in America—the combined
terrain of Big Sky Resort and Moonlight
Basin, which isn’t just about
vertical drop and combined acreage.
It’s about big skiing—the Gullies,
the Couloir and the North Summit
Snowfield. It’s about the quality of
our powder snow and no lift lines.
I’m not going to give that up easily.
When Moonlight Basin didn’t have
the resources to operate the Snowfield
every day this year, I talked
to Greg and we worked it out. I’m
grateful he was willing to do it.
You’ve come a long way since the lawsuit.
Even during the aggressive dispute between Big Sky and Moonlight that is long
behind us, both organizations made sure it was only among the senior management
and didn’t reach into the ranks of our resorts—it wasn’t affecting groomers,
ski patrollers and operations people. Ultimately, Big Sky Resort and Moonlight
Basin came together and created a perfect resolution—the Biggest Skiing in
America, for ourselves and for our community.
So, the Biggest Skiing in America brand applies to all of Big Sky?
Two years ago, this community was in a severe economic struggle. We worked
with the community and the resort tax board, which ultimately funded $250,000
in Resort Tax dollars, toward community marketing. Another $50,000 was
raised from the private sector to supplement this. This created funding to further
promote the “Biggest Skiing in America” brand. We agreed to make the name
available to the whole community: the residents, the businesses, restaurants and
retail shops are critical to our success. We work together. There have been many
examples of partnering in our community over the years, but none as resoundingly
successful as this one.
Do you market to customers from other parts of Montana?
Over 30 percent of our guests are drive-market visitors. We have aggressive programs
to market to them. The frequency card, [for example], offers many weeks
of free skiing, $20 off your lift ticket any day you ski, and discounts on lodging.
It pays for itself in a day. Anyone from Dillon, Billings, Butte or Bozeman—if
they’re not a season’s pass holder—should buy a frequency card. Also, we discounted
our season’s pass by 40 percent last year, and it’s been very successful.
Next year we’ve lowered the price even more. We’re making skiing more affordable
and Big Sky more attractive to skiers in the local and regional markets.
Do you ever take a vacation?
I go to the beach. I take my girls to Hawaii or the Caribbean, and we ride waves,
snorkel, build sand castles and ride mountain bikes.
What was your best ski day this winter?
Skiing the Couloir with [my daughter] Katie, who’s 11. She ripped it up and
linked every turn – she didn’t sidestep, even the first turn. When we stopped
at the dogleg, she couldn’t even talk she was so excited. At the entrance to the
Secret, she said ‘Dad, this is the best day of my entire life.’