Nestled in the southwest corner of Montana between the city of Bozeman and the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park sits Big Sky: a small mountain town with a Montana sized heart. While known as one of the country’s top ski resort destinations, the charming yet lively town blossoms into a summer resort with so many activities at your fingertips, it would be nearly impossible to check them all off in just one visit.
Big Sky is easily accessed via the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport and a short 50 minute drive through stunning Gallatin Canyon. The setting for the movie A River Runs Through It, Gallatin Canyon offers a beautiful and scenic setting to take in as you navigate your way down highway 191 along the banks of the Gallatin River.
While the scenic drive alone would sell most on a visit, here are three key reasons why Big Sky needs to be at the top of your list of must do summer vacations.
Basecamp to Yellowstone Park: If you want to make your summer vacation feel more like Family Summer Camp, look no further than Basecamp. Conveniently located in the Resort’s Mountain Village, it serves up an extensive activities menu that ranges on the adventure scale from easy going to full on adrenaline rush for the entire family. With activities geared specifically for little ones, teens, adults or all the above, there’s something for everyone.
The guided Lone Peak Expedition ($79/person) whisks you to the top 11,166 ft. Lone Peak via chairlift, Mountain Safari Truck and Lone Peak Tram. From the top take in the 360 degree views that overlook 3 states, 2 national parks, and mountain ranges as far as the eye can see. On your way to the summit, one of Big Sky’s friendly and knowledgeable Basecamp guides will point out different geological features along with specific peaks that begin to emerge on the horizon.
Lone Peak Expedition too mellow? Harness up for the Adventure Zipline Tour ($79/person) to pick up the pace and really get the blood flowing. Coupled with heart pounding speed, multiple spans and gorgeous mountain vistas, it’ll put a whole new spin on the wild wild west. Don’t worry though if the adventure part is a bit intimidating, the Nature Zipline Tour ($59/person) offers an option for those looking for a more scenic and less adrenaline driven option. With height and weight requirements of only 3ft. and 45lbs. respectively, there’s nearly no barrier for a family to part in this fun-filled activity.
For a full list of Big Sky’s Basecamp offerings, visit www.bigskyresort.com/basecamp.
Close vicinity to Yellowstone: With geysers, mud pots, western wildlife, and an awe-inspiring backdrop a short and scenic 45 minute drive away, Big Sky’s closeness to Yellowstone National Park (YNP) is no doubt one of the top reasons to visit in the summer.
Known as the world’s first national park, Yellowstone offers more than enough elbow room for you and any in-laws. Spanning an area of 3,468.4 square miles, half of the world’s geothermal features (geysers, mud pots, hot springs, etc.) call YNP home making it one of the most visually stunning parks in the world. A few of the notable attractions that make for a memorable Yellowstone experience include Old Faithful, Yellowstone Falls, Grand Prismatic Spring, and the Fountain Paint Mud Pots but only comprise 4 of over 10,000 total geothermal features within the park’s gates.
If the colors and showmanship of the geothermal features aren’t enough, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is one of the last remaining large and nearly intact ecosystems in the northern temperate zone. Hundreds of species of birds, mammals, fish, and reptiles make it their home here including grizzly bears, wolves, and free-ranging herds of bison and elk. Following the roads that lead you through the park, it’s easy to view of these animals in their natural habitat from the safety of your car or from a distance at one of the many viewing pullouts along the way.
Think of it as an American Safari from the safety and comfort of your car that’s taken at your own pace. For more park information visit: www.yellowstone.visitmt.gov.
Family Friendly: Remember the good old days when parents allowed their children to roam freely without a worry about their wellbeing? Guess what, at Big Sky they still do.
With a centrally located mountain village, the resort features a layout with every activity, meal, or lodging option only a few steps away. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the inviting mountain plaza that sort of acts as the hub within the resort which offers picnic tables, a free putt-putt course and Lone Peak as the backdrop. From here you can easily access Basecamp, stores in the Mountain Mall, or simply bask in the sunshine while catching up with friends and family.
Adding to the safe, tight knit feeling of the village, the friendly resort staff polishes things off with their warm Montana Hospitality and desire to ensure your stay is the best it can be. So unleash the kids, kick back, and rest assured that as long as they’re not trying to pet the wildlife, they’re probably not getting into trouble.
Whether you’re checking off items on your bucket list, heading out for a quick hike around the base area, or lounging by one of the resort pools, Big Sky has the ingredients for an unforgettable summer vacation. So load up Aunt Edna and the old family Truckster because Lone Peak and the Big Sky state are beckoning.
A scenic lift ride gets you half way to the top and just above the tree line
Lower Tram Dock and the Mountain Safari truck
The view from the atop 11,166 ft. Lone Peak
One of the many natural hot springs
Bull Elk bedding down in the tall grass
YNP's most common foot hoof traffic
One of the views from the Nature Zipline Tour
The mountain plaza
Smoke Jumper Giant Swing located in the Mountain Village
Pond Skims have become a spring staple at many winter resorts - skiers and riders try their luck gliding down a ski slope and then across an icy pond.
But at Big Sky Resort, the annual Pond Skim is a ritual in creativity and daring, pushing the boundaries of a ski culture classic. Last weekend, Big Sky pulled it off again, with these key ingredients for the perfect Pond Skim.
Big Sky's pond is never just a pond. Every year the shape and approach are a surprise - participants tackle double ponds, giant kicker entries, and s-curves. 2012 brought the most elaborate pond yet: a tetris-piece shaped pond with two separate entry points, a jump, and endless skimming path combinations.
Ballerina, banana, giant ape, beach babe - skimmers don't skimp on wild attire. And neither does the crowd.
Rules are, there are no rules - Big Sky encourages the unexpected. Daffys, 360s, ski and water ballet moves are all fair game.
Over 100 skiers and riders skimmed to the tune of thousands of cheering spectators this year. And every spring it gets bigger and crazier. There's just something about standing in a sea of neon onesies that makes you feel like you're part of something bigger.
We've known Jessica Biel rips since she descended the North Summit Snowfield last winter on a trip to Big Sky - how else do you think she keeps those shapely gams and derriere in perfect Hollywood condition? Now, she's taking her snowboarding to the next level and taking an avi course - not a bad idea with so many early season slides this winter.
We're not usually ones to flaunt our celebrity skiers, but with Jessica touting Big Sky as one of her go-to mountains to fellow skier David Letterman, we'll take this cue from Jessica: In or out of bounds, skiers need to be prepared. Jessica has the savvy to educate herself on the necessary precautions to take on the mountain, and it's not a bad idea to follow suit.
Big Sky Resort works hard to manage avalanches in-bounds, but it's always good to carry an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe, and know how to use them wherever you're skiing. And front, side, or backcountry, remember to never go alone. Again, not a bad idea - especially when your next ski partner for the Big Couloir could be none other than Jessica Biel.
Two years after a life-threatening ski accident, I hiked the A-Z Chutes with Trevor, the snowboarder who saved me
It was two years ago that Trevor and I first met, and though the moment is still quite vivid, I didn't remember his face or his name. I was too preoccupied with what had just happened - I'd crashed into a tree near the Natural Half-Pipe, and I didn't even register who was asking for my cell phone, calling ski patrol, and sitting with me as we waited for professional medical help to arrive.
In the hospital days later, I got a Facebook friend request from a Pennsylvanian teen. His name was Trevor, and he wanted to know if I was OK after my accident - he was the one who had found me, saved my life, really. He had noticed a photo of me hiking the A-Z Chutes at Big Sky. He'd never skied them, but asked if I might take him when I got better.
After months of recovery time, I did get better, and made a point to get back on the slopes. But post-accident I wear my avalanche beacon on Mr. K, avoid most glades, and head in whenever light gets flat; I've challenged myself by getting back out there. Deep down, I'm still a scaredy-skier.
But when Trevor told me he was coming to Big Sky this winter, I knew our mission would be to ski the expert sidecountry A-Z Chutes. It was a beautiful bluebird powder day, and we hiked the ridge with determination, stopping at a gnarly run called Castle Rock. Teetering on the ridge, my heart was racing. But skiing with Trevor had me feeling emboldened, and my nervousness turned into whoops of excitement as we hit wide powder turns.
Then we went cliff hucking, something I generally avoid. Trevor got ready to hit Big Rock like a pro as I inched up to the edge of the smaller drop, and hesitated. "You've got this," Trevor said, and I pushed off, proceeding to get the least amount of air in the history of cliff hucks, my ski tips hitting the snow straight-on and immediately ejecting me from their bindings. I tumbled through the powder, but found myself laughing in delight as I self-arrested; falling didn't have to be scary. It could be really, really fun.
Then Trevor suggested we ride the trees. I'm much more wary of tree runs these days, but I thought about whom I was skiing with - when it comes to life saving abilities concerning tree-related ski accidents, Trevor has definitely proved his worth. So into the powdery glades I went, and Trevor made sure to stop and check on me every so often as I took my time weaving through the once menacing-looking trunks.
We came out unscathed and smiling, exhilarated. I couldn't help but put my arms out and turn my face to the sun as we slid back down to the base area, soaking in the feeling that with Trevor's help, I was gaining back my confidence. I had been afraid of hugging another tree. Instead, I hugged Trevor.
My first time on the North Summit Snowfield, the run that epitomizes the Biggest Skiing in America
With 5,800 skiable acres, Big Sky Resort and Moonlight Basin make up The Biggest Skiing in America. But a big claim like that is about more than just stats. It's about expanse and variety. It's about elbow room and attitude. It's about an entire experience.
Nothing exemplifies this more than the North Summit Snowfield - the expert run off of 11,166-foot Lone Peak that requires a joint Biggest Skiing in America lift ticket, signing out with Ski Patrol, and some sizeable cojones to descend. It's the kind of big, gnarly skiing you only find in the backcountry or cat skiing - but accessible by the Lone Peak Tram.
Just last week, my friend Katie and I were North Summit virgins. We both have hundreds of Big Sky ski days under our belts, but when you're exploring as much terrain as Big Sky offers, there's always something left to discover.
For us that was the North Summit, so we enlisted the help of Moonlight ski patroller Pete Owens and North Summit vets Lyndsey Owens and Chad Jones. Newbies are encouraged to bring a guide for their first trips down to reduce the possibility of taking a wrong turn off the side of a cliff, and we had recruited the best.
It was a bluebird day, the snow was smooth and wind-buffed, and we braced ourselves for a heart-pounding descent. As longtime local Meg O'Leary describes it, the North Summit Snowfield is like an extreme version of a run on Marx, then First Gully, then Lenin, all in succession. Meg famously guided now avy-certified Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake down the snowfield last winter. I yelled to Katie as we made the steep traverse to our entry point - If Jess and Justin could do it, so could we!
And we did - following Pete to make powdery turns down the sheer face before sidestepping and traversing to more of the wide-open steep and deep. And while maybe we didn't rip it like a hardcore ski pro, or even like Jessica Biel, this terrain was straight out of a Warren Miller movie: for our turns on the North Summit Snowfield, we all felt like ski celebrities.
This, I thought, is the Biggest Skiing in America.
Katie Grice and Pete Owens pause during a traverse on the North Summit Snowfield
Chad Jones and Lyndsey Owens make turns down a narrow chute on the North Summit
Greer descends smooth, wind-buffed powder.
North-facing snow stays soft for Lyndsey Owens
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