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Big Sky Resort breaks ground on new tram

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By Bella Butler Managing Editor

BIG SKY – The scraping sound of excavators scooping up rock and dirt echoes off the walls of the Bowl at Big Sky Resort. It’s June 1, and the mountain cirque on the northeast face of Lone Mountain is seeing more action than is typical this time of year.

Though the resort has been closed to skiers for more than a month, snow still covers the ground and more is falling from the sky. Longtime resort employees comment that this spring isn’t unlike that of 1995, when the resort broke ground on the original Lone Peak Tram. It’s a relevant parallel to draw today on the groundbreaking ceremony for the resort’s brand-new tram.

Big Sky Resort announced in February that it would replace its iconic 27-year-old tram as part of Big Sky 2025, a 10-year growth vision that’s already yielded superlative-worthy infrastructure like Ramcharger 8, North America’s first eight-seat chairlift, and this year’s Swift Current 6, among the fastest lifts on the continent. Construction has already begun on the new tram’s lower terminal, located at the base of the Bowl rather than at the top, where the tram’s current base sits on a slowly moving glacier. The new tram will take two summers to build and will be operational for the 2023-24 winter season, resort officials said.

“We’re so excited about this new design, that it is going to be the flagship of the most technologically advanced lift system in North America,” said Big Sky Resort General Manager Troy Nedved at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Nedved was joined at the event by representatives from the broad team that will tackle various aspects of the massive project, from builders to architects to resort executives.

While still delivering visitors to the 11,166-foot summit of Lone Mountain just as the old tram has done since its 1996 debut, the new tram will be the picture of technological innovation and rider comfort, according to Mike Unruh, senior vice president of Boyne Resorts.

Big Sky Resort also announced in February that it would replace the current Explorer lift with a gondola that will connect visitors from the base directly to the bottom of the new tram. The resort has yet to disclose the capacity of the new tram but confirmed the cabins will hold more people than the current cabins, which each carry up to 15 people.

“We’ve sized the capacity of the tram for the future, and we’ll operate it for the day,” Unruh said.

Among other differences from the old tram, the new tram will travel an additional 600-plus feet of vertical. It will also have the capability to travel 10 meters per second for a sub-four-minute ride, up from the 5 meters per second at which the current tram operates.

According to the resort, the new tram and the forthcoming Explorer Gondola will also allow for the first-ever pedestrian summit access from the base area.

Building projects of this scale come with unique hurdles. Chad Wilson, director of construction management, said the biggest challenges will involve the steep terrain—the new tram line will stretch from the bottom of the Bowl above the Gullies and up the summit—as well as the logistics of transporting materials.

The new tram is a milestone marking a new era for Big Sky Resort as it moves forward with ambitious projects, just as the lift it’s replacing stamps another inflection point in the resort’s growth.

“[The tram] transformed Big Sky, ultimately put us on the map, put us in the big leagues with many of the others,” Nedved said. “Accessing this fantastic high mountain, big-mountain terrain—it was a game changer for us.”

Memories made waiting in line, riding in the cabin or skiing off the top of the original tram may forever define the Big Sky Resort experience for many, but few know the seminal lift as intimately as Lift Maintenance Director Laurel Blessley. Blessley has worked on Big Sky lifts for 20-some years, many of which operating or supervising the tram. She spoke fondly of early mornings snowmobiling up to the bottom terminal, shoveling the trench and, of course, lots of skiing.

Partners from across the project’s spectrum stuck shovels in the dirt today as part of the forthcoming lift’s groundbreaking ceremony. PHOTO BY BELLA BUTLER

Big Sky Resort President and COO Taylor Middleton is another longtime employee that’s been around since the construction of the first tram. 

“It’s just another phase for me,” Middleton said about the new tram. “There were new phases 25 years ago and there’s a new phase today and there will be a new phase tomorrow. It’s always changing if you’re doing it right.”

At the groundbreaking, leaders from the project on the count of three thrust their shovels into a pile of dirt, symbolically launching a new phase for Big Sky Resort.

“That will be the easiest thing we do on this project,” one representative said.   

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