Any ski town has its quirks, but for me Big Sky's quirks are the main reasons I choose to live here. Be it the single traffic light, the wildlife traffic jams, or Lone Peak Cinema's full bar, living in Big Sky, Montana, has some amazing peculiarities that will entice and indulge the notion most non-Montanans have of Montana: It's the Wild West. The following fairly comprehensive list encapsulates the bizarre, mundane, and wonderful logician's reasons for calling Big Sky home.
1. One stop light. Enough said.
2. Backpacking out my front door. The possibilities are endless for being able to throw on a pack and walk away from my condo into the wilderness with friends. Growing up in Montana I thought it was easy enough to go backpacking in the Bob Marshall Wilderness or Lee Metcalf as these were only an hour or so away from my house. Now I know what it's like to have backpack accessible wilderness literally in my backyard.
3. Cross-country skiing to the grocery store. Although I did not do this as much as I would have liked, cross-country skiing is the favored transportation method to retrieve comestibles. Behind my condo is the best in-town cross-country trail that crosses through the golf course and gets me just steps from the Hungry Moose or Country Market.
4. Big Sky recycles plastics #1-7. Even when I lived in Minneapolis (a city that prides itself on recycling) a resident could not easily recycle plastics #3-7.
5. The peaceful off-season. When the resort closes for the winter or summer seasons the town goes from 17,000 people on a peak winter day to about 2,000 full-time residents, according to the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce. The off-season separates the wheat from the chaff, and I love being part of the wheat: the year-round mountain life.
6. Lone Peak Brewery's Nordic Blonde on Nitro. Try this or any beer on nitro (meaning the gas used in carbonation is Nitrogen instead of or in addition to CO2).
7. Coming home to my roommates cooking five types of meat. Montana is full of meat-lovers, but the concentration of grills and grill-lovers in Big Sky far outweighs the rest of the states. Last summer I came home from work to grilled steak, elk, pheasant, hamburger, and deer.
8. Lone Peak Cinema's Full Bar. Although a movie theater with a full bar is not unheard of in large cities or fancy Midwestern AMC Theaters, it is rare in Montana. But the Lone Peak Cinema does it up right with a full bar, four beers on tap, and fantastic managers (or the owners) to serve those adult beverages.
9. Five hours of daylight after work. I have a 9-5 job in Big Sky (which is quirky in itself), but perhaps the best part about summer in Big Sky is that after leaving the resort at 5pm I can still have nearly 5 hours of adventure in the day.
10. Wildlife traffic jams. Big Sky locals are impatient and irritated with traffic and congestion when visiting the closest "big city" Bozeman (a city of 38,000), but when it comes to wildlife traffic jams we might be worse. However, there's still nothing like city-like bumper to bumper traffic due to buffalo or Big Horn sheep or Elk. It's a beautiful thing. After all, it's a place we all want to call home.
I have been a ski instructor at Big Sky Resort for eight seasons and guests always ask me "but what do you do in Big Sky during the summer?" My answer: "winter in Montana is wonderful but summers are something really special." Unlike summers in the east, summer sun in the west is warm on your skin and humidity is low. The average temperature in July is a comfortable 83 degrees making weather in Montana perfect for enjoying all kinds of outdoor activities. I certainly don't miss those hot, muggy summer days of the Midwest.
In the summer I love to hike nearby peaks that yield 360 degree vistas. Imagine snow-capped mountain peaks against a sapphire blue sky or high mountain lakes surrounded by a wide jagged cirque. Hiking is not for everyone. Many of my friends prefer exploring the area on horseback, and my husband enjoys mountain biking in the Porcupine Wilderness area or along the Gallatin River. The Gallatin River sits near Lone Mountain and is one of our favorite rivers in the country to fish. The movie "A River Runs Through It" was filmed on the Gallatin River near Castle Rock introducing Americans to fly-fishing and immediately increasing the popularity of our river. Skilled kayakers love the Gallatin's raging white water during spring run-off. It is fun to watch but I prefer a gentle raft trip down the Gallatin during the summer season when the water is much calmer.
A couple of times a week, I can be found golfing at Big Sky Resort. My favorite hole is nine because of the unique perspective of Lone Peak looming majestically in the distance. The view never ceases to impress me, and even though the views from every hole are spectacular this one in particular stops me in my golf-spiked tracks.
I also love summers in Big Sky as hibernation ends for human and animal alike. Maybe it is because the sun doesn't set until 10:30 at the peak of summer nights or because the sun provides us with our much missed Vitamin D.
Almost each Wednesday and Thursday of the summer I check out the Town Center Farmer's Market and Music in the Mountains, respectively. We take a bottle of wine to Music in the Mountains and enjoy the company of friends and free music as the sun sets over Lone Peak. I love coming to a place where I will see everyone I know.
It is a far better thing to spend summers in Montana than anywhere else. Where the biggest problem of Big Sky summers is there are too many things to do and not enough time to do them all. What a place to call home.
In 1999, Baz Luhrmann (yes of 2013's The Great Gatsby) wrote the bizarre and popular "The Sunscreen Song (Class of '99)." I recorded this song off the radio onto a tape so I could memorize the lyrics, later that same year I got the worst winter sunburn of my life. I was skiing at Big Sky Resort with my family, and my dad told me to put sunscreen on my face. Dads know best, but multiple factors led to this sunburn: Time of day, altitude, reflective surface, and a lack of sunscreen (because even though dads know best, daughters don't always listen). At the time I did not realize that the sun was most intense from 10am-4pm or that UV exposure increases about 4 percent for every 1,000 feet of vertical, according to WebMD. Thus, we mountain-living folks are like Icarus, sometimes just a little too close to the sun. It's too bad Luhrmann's "one tip for the future" didn't stick with me better on that day in 1999 when I got sunburned while skiing.
As summer approaches in Big Sky the snowy reflective surface fades, but the sun becomes more intense during this time of year and the days are longer. As a redhead the sun and I have a tumultuous relationship, making my freckles pop out without a moment's notice, and can burning my freckly skin as late as 6pm on a peak summer day. Last summer while stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Levinsky (another reflective surface) I neglected to wear any sunscreen at all. It was 4pm on one of the hottest days of the year, yet I thought it was late enough to be out on an adventure without sunscreen. The sun: 2; Me: 0. I highly recommend the paddleboarding, but just with sunscreen.
Protecting ones skin is as important as staying away from salty snacks or greasy foods, and it's a lot easier to do. I managed to stave off any serious sunburns this winter in Big Sky, but summer's just around the corner and the sun taunts me.
This time around I'll be wearing sunscreen (especially at 11,166 feet), and I'll take time of day, altitude, and my dad and Baz's advice into consideration.
After all "the long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists ... trust me on the sunscreen."
When Big Sky Resort closes for the winter season I feel like spring should immediately come upon us. This feeling comes from years of low-land living where April showers bring May flowers. Unfortunately that's not how weather systems work in the mountains. With multiple days of new snow since we've closed for skiing, I took to the trails to seek out the hope of spring. Ousel Falls is still significantly frozen when I took these photos about a week ago, but melting had begun. I looked to Ousel Falls, which is located just south of Big Sky's Town Center, for spring because if the falls are melting I know it can't be far away. With spring and summer comes camping, fishing, hiking, climbing, sun tanning (and sun burning), and long sunny days that bring happiness. I have many more hikes to take this summer, including Beehive Basin, Castle Rock, and Garnet Peak. I can't wait for spring and summer.
The 2-mile hike to the 100-foot Ousel Falls took me across multiple bridges and past beautiful Engelmann Spruce trees.
The mid-April afternoon I hiked Ousel Falls I only saw three tracks other than my own. After the first bridge I passed two women and a dog headed in the opposite direction, which meant I was hiking alone from there on in. Normally I hike with friends and bear spray, but this day was just me and the bear spray. This photo shows the other "falls" that can be seen along the hike.
Frozen Ousel Falls from the upper lookout.
Ousel Falls again from the upper lookout. At the coldest times during winter the entire South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River in front of the falls is frozen. Ousel Falls was named for the Water Ouzel Bird, which can be seen throughout the Gallatin Valley.
A close up of the right side of the falls reveals that melting has begun. Although we continue to get snow in Big Sky into June (and sometimes later), it won't take long for the falls to completely melt.
As the days grow longer and the snow storms grow a bit smaller and less frequent I am nostalgic for winter. Someone recently asked me what my favorite season was, and I had no direct answer. With winter comes skiing, magical movements of the mountain, and engaging personalities of a ski town set out to make this the best winter yet. On the other hand, summer brings wild flowers, sunshine, long days that turn into longer nights of fun, carefree camping, whitewater rafting, and a unique sort of happiness that only Montana summers bring. Fall and spring are also a wonder with changing tides, colors, and local produce that changes my recipe choice (squash soup, Mmmm). Even though I still do not have an answer for my favorite season I know I will miss winter. Here are two of my favorite Robert Frost winter poems, in honor of one of my favorite seasons at Big Sky Resort:
I had for my winter evening walk-
No one at all with whom to talk,
But I had the cottages in a row
Up to their shining eyes in snow.
And I thought I had the folk within:
I had the sound of a violin;
I had a glimpse through curtain laces
Of youthful forms and youthful faces.
I had such company outward bound.
I went till there were no cottages found.
I turned and repented, but coming back
I saw no window but that was black.
Over the snow my creaking feet
Disturbed the slumbering village street
Like profanation, by your leave,
At ten o'clock of a winter eve.
Dust of Snow
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
< Older Posts Newer Posts >