By Tyler Allen EBS Senior Editor
“There is probably no pleasure equal to the pleasure of climbing a dangerous Alp; but it is a pleasure which is confined strictly to people who can find pleasure in it.” – Mark Twain
BIG SKY – The first time you see Lone Mountain wrapped in a fresh blanket of snow and cloaked by an azure sky, it may give you pause and beg the question of whether you’re still in the Northern Rockies. You might find yourself whisked back to Twain’s day and the quote above, which he wrote in “A Tramp Abroad,” his work of travel literature published in 1880.
Fortunately for visitors to Big Sky Resort, this “American Alp” has a tram reaching its 11,166-foot summit, and most who descend from its lofty peak find great pleasure in schussing down its steep faces, chutes and gullies.
When Big Sky Resort announced last August that it would be investing $150 million in improvements over the next decade, Steven Kircher conjured mountains halfway around the world.
“This is about making Big Sky not just bigger but making it better,” Kircher said at an Aug. 24 press conference at the resort’s Summit Hotel. “We believe we have a unique positioning statement … where we become the American Alps.” Kircher is the president of Boyne Resorts’ eastern operation and his father Everett purchased Big Sky Resort in 1976, three years after it opened.
Big Sky is turning heads, and not just those with eyes drawn daily from the meadow to its volcano-shaped hulk. More than 90 media outlets around the world picked up the “2025” story once a press release issued by the resort hit news wires, according to Big Sky Resort Public Relations Manager Chelsi Moy.
The plan includes 12 new or upgraded lifts—including eight bubble-enclosed lifts, a gondola originating at the Mountain Village and a lift on the south face—night skiing on Andesite Mountain and 10 new restaurants, as well as extensive renovations and construction in the Mountain Village.
A new lift at the base of the Moonlight terrain is planned, creating the longest lift-served vertical drop in the U.S. at more than 4,500 feet.
The investment is scheduled to roll out in near-, mid- and long-term phases, and many of the short-term plans have been completed, including a $9 million project last summer that replaced the Lone Peak Triple and Challenger chairlifts with two new Doppelmayr lifts.
The Powder Seeker six-person lift rushes skiers to the top of The Bowl in just three minutes, its heated seats and opaque blue windshields adding maximum comfort. Locals have been bragging about, “five-minute Bowl laps,” Moy said.
The conveyor-loading Challenger triple reopens some of the steepest lift-served terrain in the region, after the original double chairlift stopped spinning its bullwheel for good last winter.
The resort also rolled out variable ticket pricing this season—a day ticket costs $89 to $129 this winter—with the biggest discounts offered for early and online purchases. It’s nothing new to the industry, Moy said, but it’s been difficult to gauge how successful the new online pricing structure has been during this first year.
“We’re confident that, with time, guests will turn online first for their lift tickets—much as they do for many of their everyday shopping needs,” Moy said. “As that message reverberates to our many guests, we’re confident that more and more people will resort to purchasing their tickets online to save the most money.”
If all goes according to plan, new lifts would include a North Village Gondola, additional lifts in the Moonlight area and a chairlift that would access the south-facing Lone Mountain terrain that the tram services now. But it doesn’t seem like Big Sky Resort visitors are waiting for the mid- and long-term projects to be complete.
On Dec. 28, Big Sky recorded its busiest day in history with 8,392 skier-visits, followed by its second biggest skier-day on Dec. 29 with 8,137 skiers and riders. The reliably busy week between Christmas and New Years was exceptional this winter, and set another record of more than 48,000 skier visits from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.
“It certainly helped that we received more than 2 feet of snow in the last week of December, with a foot of it falling in about eight hours on Tuesday, Dec. 27,” Moy said.
Resort profits are fueling this infrastructure growth, especially since Big Sky acquired the terrain and began operating the lifts of Moonlight Basin and Spanish Peaks Mountain Club in 2013. Since the expansion, revenues have increased $10 million to $15 million annually.
Big Sky Resort has long been integral in drawing travelers from afar to this remote corner of the world, and on Jan. 9 American Airlines announced a nonstop summer flight between Chicago and Bozeman. The once daily service will be available from June 2 to Oct. 4 and is thanks in large part to a heavy push by a coalition including the resort, the Yellowstone Club, Lone Mountain Land Company and the Bozeman Chamber of Commerce.
This same partnership helped bring the airline’s first direct service to Bozeman last year, with its winter and summer flights from Dallas/Fort Worth. There are now 17 direct flights between Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport and major cities throughout the country.
In addition to expanded summer offerings for its visitors, like mountain biking trails, mountain coasters and high-alpine ziplines, Moy said this vision of the future is also focused on Big Sky Resort’s employees.
“As we talk about investing and developing our mountain operations … we’re also simultaneously, as always, looking at our employees’ needs,” she said.
Brian Wheeler, the resort’s director of real estate and development, is presenting to the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Jan. 24, a proposal to add 200 beds for on-mountain employee housing. Construction on a 42-bed facility could begin as early as this summer, Moy said.
The resort added 44 new employee beds this winter after renovating the former Black Bear and Grill building.
“While we’re trying to consider this $150 million on-mountain development,” Moy said, “we also have the best interest of our employees in mind.”
Visit bigsky2025.com for more details about the 10-year project.