Epic Road Trip: Denver to Big Sky
With less that epic ski conditions in Colorado, and Colorado's Epic Pass being honored at Big Sky for the month of January, skiers and riders are making their way to Montana. And even though there are 35 direct flights between Denver and Bozeman each week, chasing snow calls for the time honored ski bum tradition of hitting the open road. It calls for an Epic Road Trip.
I've taken my fair share four-wheeled adventures, and between cross-country jaunts and half-baked long-weekend college getaways, I've driven the stretch between Denver and Big Sky more than once. Most would stick to I-25 and I-90, making for the fastest route at 11-and-a- half hours (a leisurely cruise for any seasoned snow-chaser or road tripper). But a truly epic road trip calls for scenery, adventure, and quirky rest stops in podunk towns, and we're calling for an alternate route via Western Wyoming. The extra hour is worth its weight in scenic and small-town gold.
7am: Denver, CO
Lock your skis in the rack, hit I-25, and don't stop until Colorado is behind you. At Cheyenne, take I-80, and head towards Breakfast in Laramie.
9:30am: Laramie, WY
While Big Sky local, food connoisseur, and West Virginia expat Chad Jones recommends the "great food and pies" at Perkins, skip the sit-down chain and pull in for a quick coffee and made-from-scratch baked goods at Coal Creek Coffee in downtown Laramie's historic district.
2pm: Boulder, WY
Gas station snacks and stunning mountain views can tide you over until a late lunch near Boulder, WY, population 75. Keep your eyes peeled for Wyoming's own Brigadoon: a tiny diner oasis filled with Carhart-clad ranchers that only reveals itself to hungry road trippers on their way to Montana. Without proof of existence from any phonebook or webpage, you'll just have to take my word that this no-name place exists; I stumbled across the roadside gem on a trip through Wyoming in 2010. You'll know you've made it when you spot the stand-alone log cabin eatery - it's the only building around. Sit at the swiveling stools at the low countertop and order a burger - in meat country like this, sampling the beef is a must.
5pm: Jackson, WY
Two hours later, you're in Jackson. Stretch your legs with a lap around the town center with its iconic antler archways, but don't get sidetracked when you spot fellow skiers - the free skiing, a fraction of the crowds, and three times the terrain await you in Big Sky.
7pm: Island Park, ID
In the summer months we'd lead you through Yellowstone National Park, but roads close to vehicles there come winter, and instead you'll head northwest to Island Park for dinner. A little fancier than your average ski bum haunt, Last Chance Bar and Grill at the TroutHunter is true fine western dining. Relax in the high-ceilinged dining room and enjoy gourmet game before hitting the road for the final stretch.
10pm: BIG SKY, MT!
Pull into the Huntley Lodge for check-in and hit the heated pool with a Lone Peak IPA from Chet's Bar and Grill to unwind. Then head to Whiskey Jack's to dance the night away to live music. Skiing the best conditions in the Rockies and over 3,300 acres of terrain is on the agenda for tomorrow, but you don't have to worry about waking up early to catch first chair. This is Montana, where "lift line" isn't in the vocabulary, and good snow sticks around long after the lifts open. After a whirlwind Epic Road Trip, you'll have all the time you need for truly epic skiing.