With record breaking skier visitation at 473,000, up seven and a half percent year over year combining Moonlight Basin, the mantra, Better Together, rings true. However, Better Together doesn't stand alone as a symbol of one resort or a symbol of how pulling together results in a record-breaking season, with it comes individual stories and personal reflection on the community of Big Sky and the love of Lone Mountain. Long-time local and Big Sky Resort employee Victor Deleo shares his perspective on what Better Together means from someone who cares for the community and the mountain. To read the full story, check out the latest issue of Live Big Magazine coming Summer 2014 to Big Sky Resort.
In 2003, I was like most young men in Big Sky, Montana. Skiing ruled my life. Big Sky Resort boasted over 4000 vertical feet, 400 inches of snow, and averaged 2 acres per skier. There was no better place for the skier to be. Then suddenly it got better.
That summer, more lifts were erected, more lodges were built, and for the first time in 20 years, a new destination ski resort was opened in the USA: Moonlight Basin. And conveniently, this resort was attached to our already-enormous and beloved mountain. We had more ski runs, more jobs, and more beds for guests. The skiable acres would be so huge, I was sure I'd never have to cross another ski track. But at the same time, things were changing for us that I wasn't expecting. Moonlight Basin brought another base area lodge, a new logo, and another lift system. Skiers began choosing one resort and not the other. While we were all gaining more opportunity, we were becoming slightly divided as a community at the same time. That's how it was for the folks that skied here. This was one mountain, and yet, every skier had to choose a side when he purchased his lift ticket or season pass. Even Aspen had four mountains that were a drive apart, and yet, they had one lift ticket. Then in 2005, with the collaboration of both ski resorts, came a combined option, The Lone Peak Pass. Skiers could finally ski the whole mountain on one, single purchase which was, as Christopher Solomon of the New York Times wrote in 2006, "the most you can ride in the United States without clicking out of your bindings."
Years later, the Lone Peak Pass was appropriately renamed The Biggest Skiing in America Pass because no other ski area had more acres. While this integration was a monumental accomplishment, it was still two resorts, one mountain, and three lift ticket options. Finally, in October 2013, ten years after the creation of Moonlight Basin, both resorts integrated under one name and one lift ticket. Big Sky Resort could claim with certainty, "The Biggest Skiing in America. Period." So now, guests purchase one ticket and have access to the whole thing.
Big Sky Resort's General Manager, Taylor Middleton said it best. "The integration has fueled record-breaking visitation which helps businesses and residents in our community." The integration has given Big Sky Resort the edge in the marketplace as the largest single ski resort in the US. It is now easier to book a vacation here. Our community is no longer divided. And for me, I'm still not crossing ski tracks.
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."
I'm spoiled, best to embrace it than deny it. I moved to Big Sky May 2013 and immediately secured a condo off the 18th tee box of Big Sky Resort's Golf Course. Not only do I have the Biggest Skiing in America in my backyard, 7 miles to be exact, but an amazing public golf course right off my deck. Oh, I've played my share of business trip golf scrambles and about 2 years ago, I decided it was time to play my own ball for 18 holes.
The Big Sky Resort Golf Course is an Arnold Palmer designed, 18 hole, 72 par, course winding along the banks of the West Fork of the scenic Gallatin River. Yes, the same Gallatin River the movie, A River Runs Through It was filmed starring Brad Pitt and directed by Robert Redford (swoon). The spectacular views of Lone Peak and the rest of the Madison Range surround this golf course. It's hard to imagine back in the early 1900s cattle grazed where I'm about to tee off at 6,300 feet above sea level. Honestly, I can't help but think my driving game has improved; the ball just flies farther at elevation.
The first tee is right outside the Pro Shop and Bunker Bar and Grill and by the time you've sunk your putt on the first green, the Mountain-Meadow style course becomes a wildlife refuge. Golf is a game of patience and here it is also patience with the animals. By the second hole we kindly wait for a flock of Canadian Geese to move along the river's edge. Fowl and water hazards have to be taken into consideration on this hole.
As we play on, I have to remind my companions to watch my drive, as I'm trying to keep my head down and they are gazing at Lone Peak in their own daydreams. The PGA Head Professional for the golf course, Mark Wehrman, told me I needed keep my head down during my previous week's Ladies Tuesday Night golf clinic (which are an affordable, fun way to improve your game and meet other women who enjoy the sport, after all, it is Man-tana).
The long Montana days allow me to golf into the 9 o'clock hour coming back around to the Bunker to sit on the deck, surrounded by mountains, the sun just starting to go down, and finish off a perfect day with the best burger in town and an ice cold beer (it's worth passing by my condo). Did I mention I'm spoiled?
For the full story on Big Sky Resort's Golf Course make sure to check out volume 7 of Live Big Magazine this summer.
Big Sky Resort's Arnold Palmer designed Golf Course opens May 23. Also, check the Events Calendar for information on Women's, Men's, and Saturday Golf Clinics as well as tournaments all summer long.
Springtime at Big Sky Resort's Golf Course.
Ladies Golf Clinic on Tuesdays at 10am and 5:30pm.
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