BIG SKY WEEKLY STAFF
BIG SKY – The winter of 2012-2013 was a season of high points – resorts set record skier numbers, local real estate brokers saw a dramatic upswing in the housing market and Big Sky businesses sold merchandise and food at record rates. It appears consumer confidence is on the mend in this small mountain community.
The Country Market finished “slightly better than last year,” said Lynn Anderson, owner of the grocery store in the Meadow. Anderson says she wasn’t surprised by the numbers, since people eat at restaurants more often when they have disposable income.
“As long as we’re seeing an increase like [we have] after that recession, it’s a good thing.”
Business was up for restaurant owners both in the meadow and on the hill this winter.
“I’ve never seen anything like it up here before, not even before the recession hit,” Kuhns said. “The numbers were good and strong, and the resort did a great job of sending people our way—especially with college kids and ski groups.”
Although Scissorbills focuses on serving locals, the small restaurant benefited from increased skier numbers and 10-12 large ski and college groups that helped generate more sales for lunch and evenings mid-week.
Warren “Bibber” Bibbins, who opened Olive B’s with his wife Jennie in February of 2012, also attributed more business to a rise in the area’s tourism. “Snow was better, so I think there were more people around,” Bibber said. “Last year, we had bare ground on the first of March.”
Bibber noted that influx of customers at Olive B’s consisted of both tourists and second homeowners.
By closing day April 14, Big Sky Resort recorded 370,000 skiers this winter, the most in the ski area’s history.
“The consistently good snow in Big Sky is key,” the resort’s general manager Taylor Middleton said in a press release. “We started off with a great base and continued to get powder throughout the season.”
On Saturday April 13, throngs of visitors turned out Saturday to watch the annual pond skim competition, followed by live music by Bottom of the Barrel. The successful season earned Big Sky the title of North America’s favorite ski resort in the onthesnow.com Visitors’ Choice Awards.
Moonlight Basin was on top of its game as well, during its 10-year anniversary season, breaking skier numbers and season pass sales records.
“About a week and a half before closing day, we beat our  record of 104,000 [annual] skiers,” said Karen Lum, marketing director for Moonlight Basin. The resort reported 111,000 skier-visits this season, toppling last year’s 95,000 visitors, a 15 percent increase, according to Moonlight President and General Manager Greg Pack.
“It was our best year ever, even in an average to below-average snow year,” Pack said. “The early-season snow really set us up, and all season the Headwaters never looked so good.”
Moonlight ended its season on Sunday April 14, with the annual Huck-A-Berry Jam slopestyle competition in which 36 athletes competed for prize money while DJ Missy O’Malley spun tunes and spectators lined the fence.
The successful ski season reached beyond Lone Mountain this winter to Lone Mountain Ranch, as well. The cross-country resort doubled numbers for its famed sleigh ride to around 1,800.
“This is my first real winter in Big Sky,” said LMR general manager Bob Foster, who took over the resort with his wife Karen last July. “Any experience on a dude ranch is crazy, but we hit our high-water mark the first day we were open [this season].”
LMR marketing director P.J. Wirchansky attributes the high sales volume – which included an 8 percent increase in overnight/weeklong packages and a 20 percent increase in retail sales – partly to good snow, but also to the local community.
“Big Sky [residents are] always sending folks to our Ranch and the hard work of our employees provided an unforgettable experience,” he said.
In spite of the recent national budget cuts, consumer confidence seems alive in Big Sky, after first quarter sales reports.
“I’d almost call it a mini-surge,” said Ania Bulis, broker with Christie’s International Real Estate/PureWest. “People are coming back into the market, but we don’t know how long it will last.”
According to Multiple Listing Service data, the greater Big Sky area saw 27 vacant land parcels sold in 2011 and 46 in 2012. So far in 2013, 28 parcels sold.
“We’re currently seeing a run on land,” Ryan Kulesza, broker with L & K Real Estate Brokerage said. “But everything across the board is up from last winter. You can’t find a segment [of the market] that was down.”
While Kulesza says transaction numbers are down, the average price per transaction is up, indicating buyers are pursuing higher-end purchases. “All the lower-end properties have been picked through. We’ve sold it all and there’s no new construction,” he said.
Bulis’ numbers also support this trend. Christie’s contracted six lots in the Club at Spanish Peaks and over the last six months, a number of properties at Moonlight Basin ranging from $350,000 to just under $2 million.
“You can feel the market turning,” she said. “There were twice as many contracts this year versus last year.”
From Jan. 1 to April 15, 2012, 52 properties were sold in the Big Sky area for a total of $18,588,138, according to Christie’s reports. From the same time period in 2013, 81 properties sold totaling $42,173,130. At press time, another 49 sales were pending.
Additionally, New York-based auction house Concierge reported seven consecutive successful luxury property auctions in the Big Sky region, including three properties in the Yellowstone Club, three in Spanish Peaks and the 180-acre Ponderosa Ranch.
“Many buyers in our database are lifestyle-driven as opposed to dedicated to a particular town or geography,” said Laura Brady, president of Concierge Auctions in an email. “We have enjoyed introducing some new interest to Big Sky.”
Bulis agrees. She says parties are interested in buying real estate in this area because of the premier location and the wellness benefits it provides.
“These people are driven not by price, but because they love Big Sky,” Bulis said. “That’s the kind of buyer you want. They’re good for the community.”
Shawna Winter, of Winter and Company Real Estate in Big Sky, says it’s a long time coming.
“We used to have people fist-fighting over properties. Then we saw the cutting of the elevator shaft,” said Winter, who was flying high with Montana Real Estate Company from 2003 until 2007, when the bottom fell out.
Now, Winter is also noticing the upward trend. According to her numbers, land sales have increased by 55 percent compared to last season, while single-family homes sales have are up 45 percent. – JO’C