By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Senior Editor

It’s that time of year again, dear readers: The chairlifts are spinning, the holidays are in full swing, and ballots are being stuffed for the Best of Big Sky competition. Explore Big Sky’s annual tradition is a chance for you to recognize the businesses, events and people that make this community great.

We’ve made a few changes to this year’s ballot, including the addition of “Best Bartender,” as well as bringing the “Best Pizza” category back after a year hiatus. We’ve also added Bozeman to three categories to involve readers in the broader region, and allow Big Sky residents to show some love for the places they frequent on trips to the big city. These categories include “Best Restaurant,” “Best Pizza,” and “Best Business.”

Outlaw Partners is sweetening the deal for this year’s winners as a way to encourage more of the friendly competition that defines Best of Big Sky. In addition to announcing the winners in the Jan. 9 issue of EBS and awarding the framed wall certificates we’ve given in the past, winning businesses will receive a $500 Outlaw marketing credit. Outlaw will also donate a digital file to each winner with the Best of Big Sky logo to use in all future advertisements in the paper.

There are three categories our readers have consistently agreed upon over the first three years of this contest: “Event of the Year,” won by the Big Sky Pro Bull Riders event; “Best Breakfast,” which went to the Bugaboo Café; and “Best Restaurant,” won by the Lotus Pad three years in a row.

“It’s good to know that within the community we’re still the best, I love it,” said Alex Hoeksema, owner of the Lotus Pad. “I’m a competitive person, and it makes me feel really good that we’re doing something right.”

Despite having a stranglehold on the Best Restaurant category the past three years, the Lotus Pad isn’t resting on its laurels. The restaurant offered its $10 entrée night on Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout November and recently moved to all-paper containers for their booming takeout business.

Tell us what you think makes Big Sky/Bozeman great! Vote on the Best of Big Sky by midnight on Dec. 31 at explorebigsky.com/bestof, or fill out a paper ballot in the Outlaw Partners office at 11 Lone Peak Drive, Unit #104 (next to Grizzly Outfitters). Businesses are encouraged to grab a stack of ballots to hand out to their supporters.