By Maria Wyllie Explore Big Sky Associate Editor
BIG SKY – Big Sky Resort on Oct. 3 closed out its summer season, one of the resort’s most successful summers yet.
With the economy on the upswing the resort is seeing more visitors, due in part to its growing number of summer events.
According to Barb Rooney, vice president of lodging, the resort has seen a 77 percent increase in overnight stays since 2009. With the addition of Moonlight properties, that number jumped to 94 percent.
“We have had record-breaking summer lodging revenues over the past three years and currently we are pacing ahead of last year by over 13 percent,” Rooney said.
The resort’s longstanding summer events continued to grow in 2014, according to the resort’s PR Manager Sheila Chapman, including the ninth annual Brewfest and Lone Peak’s Revenge bike race, which has been around for more than 15 years.
On July 12, this summer’s beer-tasting event featured 35 breweries showcasing more than 70 beers from Montana and around the region, nearly doubling in size since 2013. It’s now the largest beer festival in Montana, according to Chapman, and like all of Big Sky’s events, the festival was family friendly, with kids’ activities and specially crafted root beer floats.
“Everything we do is geared toward family,” Chapman said, noting the resort offers childcare and free activities like putt-putt in the Mountain Village base area, during all its summer events.
The resort is also growing the annual Labor Day Weekend music festival, newly named Big Moon Rising for 2014, and The Rut 12K/50K mountain race, which returned for its second year Sept. 12-13.
One of the country’s toughest mountain running races, The Rut expanded this year to include the Vertical Kilometer, a 1,000 meter climb in less than five kilometers. In 2013, the 50K and 12K races were each capped at 200 runners, but this year were expanded to 500, and both sold out.
“We more than doubled our runners from last year,” said Lyndsey Owens, marketing director for Big Sky Resort, noting that nearly 1,200 participants signed up for the three races.
Big Sky also introduced the inaugural Vine and Dine festival and the Kids Adventure Games this year. The festival’s main wine tasting event, The Wine Stroll, featured more than 20 vintners from around the world, and the adventure tasting – where wine enthusiasts paired libations with the zip line and Lone Peak Expedition – as well as many of the wine pairings, sold out. The success of the Vine and Dine prompted the resort to quickly set next year’s dates for Aug. 13-16.
The Kids Adventure Games took place Aug. 22-23, challenging participants between the ages of 6 and 14, both physically and mentally, while experiencing a mini-expedition.
Over the last three years, the resort’s daily summer offerings have expanded to include more activities at Lake Levinsky, such as paddle boarding and a beach area, as well as more Basecamp activities such as a ropes course, nature zipline, adventure games, and the Lone Peak Expedition, which shuttles visitors to the top of Lone Mountain.
Chapman also suspects the resort will see increased visitation from mountain bikers in future years, due to more trails and improved chairlifts with bike-carrier trays that allow riders to transport their bikes safely and efficiently by loading them on the chair ahead of them. Previously, downhill bikers had to secure their bikes with bungee cords.
“Overall, between activities and lodging, the entire resort is looking at an increase [of] about 16 percent in revenue over the year,” Chapman said. “The last three years have been a good indication of the economy coming back.”
Visit Big Sky, a nonprofit destination-marketing group, collected bed tax numbers for Big Sky showing that since 2010, Big Sky’s annual lodging revenue has increased between 13 percent and 21 percent year to year. Third and fourth quarter numbers for 2014 have not yet been released.
Chapman says the resort is working to improve and build upon its summer events as it grows into a true year-round destination.
“About five years ago you could have shot a cannon through our Mountain Village and not touched a soul.”