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OPINION: Big Sky Resort’s most unique skiing experience? Night skiing. 

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By Julia Barton DIGITAL PRODUCER

I’ve driven State Highway 64 up to Big Sky Resort to ski countless times since growing up in Big Sky, but prior to Dec. 23, 2022, I’d never been driving up to start my ski day after the sun had already set. 

I carried my gear into the nearly-empty Snowcrest Lodge around 5:45 p.m. and met up with my coworkers Jack Reaney and Leslie Kilgore. Big Sky Resort organized for some of the Explore Big Sky staff to try out night skiing, an offering that has recently returned to the ski school after a two-year hiatus. Our guide, Tim McGill, secured headlamps onto our helmets and walked us through how the evening would go. 

McGill spent the daylight hours ski instructing, took a little break after closing, and then guided our two-hour adventure. He just loves skiing, he said, and night skiing is an entirely different experience than the typical day at the resort. 

Tim McGill has been ski instructing at Big Sky Resort intermittently since 1990 and as of Dec. 23 had yet to miss a ski day this season since the resort’s opening. PHOTO BY JULIA BARTON

“My favorite part of it is that the whole experience is just so different than what we would normally do during the day,” McGill said. “It’s very independent. You’re relying on your own senses in order to get down the hill. It’s just a very freeing experience.”

McGill began instructing at Big Sky in 1990—the same time as my dad, coincidentally—and has been instructing on and off here for more than 30 years. With that, I knew we were in safe hands. 

From the moment we sat down on the Ramcharger 8 lift and left the lights of the Base Area, I understood what McGill meant by relying on our own senses. The lift plunged us into the dark night sky. With our headlamps turned off, all that was visible for most of the ride was the amorphous shapes of trees against the pale snow. 

There are five runs open off of Andesite for this nighttime adventure: Safari, Hangmans, Ambush, Tippy’s and Silver Knife, two of which get a fresh grooming each evening. 

A light snow was falling and as I gained speed on our first run down Safari and snowflakes sped by in streaks of white light, illuminated by my headlamp. We shouted at each other as we made our first turns—things like “This is awesome” and “Woohoo!” It took that first lap to gain confidence in the darkness, but I’m pretty sure I smiled the whole way down. 

From the run, lights from the Base Area and nearby homes glowed yellow below. With Christmas just two days away, I felt like the Grinch looking down on Whoville. After his heart had grown, that is. 

The headlamps aren’t like the ones you probably take camping, they shed a large oval of light covering about 20 feet ahead of us. Given the nature of the excursion, there are far fewer obstacles to look out for than skiing during the day. Namely, very few other skiers. We were one of two groups out for the evening, and we never ended up on the same run at the same time. With Big Sky’s growing popularity, it was something I hadn’t experienced since I was a child. We got to leave fresh tracks on crisp corduroy on each lap. 

It doesn’t take an expert skier to enjoy night skiing, according to McGill. 

“You need to be able to make parallel turns on a steeper blue run, but our runs are groomed at night for this specific purpose, so it’s quite simple,” he explained. 

A fox hung around the top of the Ramcharger 8 lift, curious about the people invading his nighttime patrol of resort trash cans. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

McGill spotted some movement in the dark on our next ride up the chairlift and quickly turned on his light, revealing a small orange fox darting across the snow below us. A few chairs later, we spotted another fox right at the top of Ramcharger. With all of Big Sky’s modern amenities, it can often be easy to forget how wild the landscape in southwest Montana can be. Seeing wildlife juxtaposed against the lights of the resort is a good reminder. 

We skied from about 6-8 p.m., including a brief pitstop at the new-this-year Enchanted Forest at the top of Andesite to check out a path through the woods that was clad in colorful string lights. I’ve skied at Big Sky Resort for nearly 20 years, and it was a ski day (or should I say ski night) I won’t soon forget. 

Big Sky Resort offers night skiing Wednesday-Saturday from 6-8 p.m. through Feb. 18. Starting Feb. 19, the hours will be pushed back from 7-9 p.m. A private session with one guide accommodates up to seven people, that way the entire group can ride the Ramcharger 8 lift together. 

For more information about night skiing, head to Big Sky Resort’s night skiing webpage

Big Sky Resort offered this experience free of charge to EBS. This story, however, was not paid for by the resort and is the author’s honest opinion.

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