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Tell me, Tallie: How did Big Sky trails evolve? Part Two

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By Tallie Lancey EBS Columnist

Change is afoot. Especially when you consider the narrative arc of Big Sky’s trail network.

In my last column, we explored the legacy of a man who’s credited with creating our off-road pathways, Bill Olson. Not too long ago, Big Sky’s interest in trails was lukewarm. He sought to change that.

Now we know in our hearts and on our balance sheets, trails are of great value. Residents and visitors love our parks and pathways; in some cases they even love them to death, as the saying goes. Without question, connectivity has become part of our community’s identity.

To understand where we’re headed, it’s critical to consider our history. Due to a dramatic miniseries of land swaps between the Forest Service and a few private individuals in the latter part of last century, our local resorts own all of the land upon which they operate. This is an important distinction between Big Sky and nearly every other ski area in the country; most resorts operate within the confines of strict Forest Service land leases. For better and for worse, Big Sky does not.

As it pertains to our local trail development, this means that private landowners retain sole discretion. No red tape! On the other hand, it also means no reliable source of funds to improve or maintain trails.

Big Sky Resort is investing in two new mountain biking trails accessed by Swift Current chairlift, bringing their total to nine cross-country and downhill trails. They have grown their lessons and guided offerings, which makes the sport accessible to more people.

Pete Costain is the mastermind behind Terraflow Trails, the brains and brawn responsible for Hummocks and Uplands, Fish Camp, Snake Charmer and more.

When I asked Costain what he sees in Big Sky’s future, he visualized major stakeholders will buy-in over time to the value of trail investment. Giving credit where it’s due, he noted that CrossHarbor and Lone Mountain Land Company have been visionary in both granting easements and funding construction. The famed Mountain to Meadow mountain biking flow trail is one example of their successful vision, in cooperation with Big Sky Resort. 

He forecasts Big Sky as an interconnected, collaborative, on-trail recreation destination. Multiple distant base areas would be linked via multi-user trails and then to populated neighborhoods and ultimately to Forest Service trailheads where the adventure begins. His sense of optimism is infectious.

Join in his zeal on June 15. It marks the official unveiling of Ralph’s Pass, which is BSCO’s newest trail achievement. Years in the making, this trail’s story has many authors and will be enjoyed by all. This summer, BSCO will reveal their Big Sky Trails Master Plan to be adopted by homeowners associations, zoning districts, and county administrators. 

A similar plan will be drafted for Big Sky’s parks.

As with so many things in Big Sky, if you want to see improvements in your community, it’s best to take Michael Jackson’s advice: “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and make a change.”

Are you wondering why something is particularly unique to our community? You want to know and I’m eager to learn. This column commits to answering your burning questions about why Big Sky exists the way it does. Ask me at

Tallie Lancey is a broker with Big Sky Sotheby’s International Realty and serves on the boards of Big Sky Community Organization, Top Shelf Toastmasters, and the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.

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