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BIG SKY, MONTANA
By Stacy A. Hickman

A little piece of heaven, Big Sky perched on the spine of the Madison Mountain Range near Yellowstone National Park features majestic mountains and rolling prairies. Montana is probably best known for no speed limits and Ted Turner's ranch. But, skiers know Montana for dry fluffy powder skiing at Big Sky Ski and Summer Resort.

Big Sky was conceived and built by the late NBC newscaster Chet Huntley. It first opened for skiing in 1973. In 1976, Boyne USA Resorts purchased the resort and slowly expanded the mountain to the resort it is today.

GETTING THERE

Reaching Big Sky involves flying into Bozeman, MT. A acquaint little airport with a cafeteria and bar with a panoramic view of the mountains that surround the airport. Skiers can fly Northwest, Delta or United/Skywest. Plus, Horizon Air from Seattle.

The Bozeman Airport features all the major rental cars: Avis, Hertz, National and Alamo. We went via the 4X4 Stage bus. Big Sky is located about 45 minutes to an hour from the airport,

We have a very enjoyable ride to the resort. The shuttle driver pointed out all the local landmarks;
Ted Turners ranch, the spot on the Gallatin River where Robert Redford shot the "River Runs Through It" And various forms of Montana wildlife: big horn sheep, deer, buffalo and a
moose.

LODGING

Slowly the bus climbed up the mountain to the Base Lodge. We were greeted with a magnificent View of the infamous Lone Peak of Big Sky. Big Sky offers several lodging
options. We chose to stay at the Big Horn Condos. One of the newer condos on the mountain. It is located just below the base area and features 3 bedroom units with garages and in unit laundry facilities ski-in/ski-out via it's own Bear Back Poma lift. You have access to the exercise and spa facilities in the Huntley Lodge.

Normally, we would have stayed at the Huntley Lodge, which features a huge brass bear sculpture in the lobby. The Huntley is ski-in/ski-out with 2 queen beds in every room, a mini kitchen, spacious closets and ski storage downstairs off the lobby floor in route to the ski slopes. The Huntley Lodge offers an option of breakfast included. Go with that option! The breakfast is a buffet every morning featuring omelets made to order, a fruit
and cereal bar, hot bar and various Danish's. The lifts don't open until 9:00am so you have plenty of time to enjoy your breakfast. You can stay at the Shoshone Condominiums which combines hotel service with all the condo comforts. All the Shoshone have full kitchens, fireplaces, balconies plus a fully equipped health club with Jacuzzis and a heated pool.
Or the brand new Summit Hotel Condominiums with 213 suites, fitness center, spa, indoor/outdoor pool, valet parking, 2 restaurants and a bar.


WHAT ABOUT THE SKIING/RIDING?!?!

Big Sky offers 2 mountains of terrain to please all levels of skier and snowboarder. 3600 acres of skiable terrain, 100 marked runs, a terrain park and half pipe. If you like plenty of snow, wide terrain and no lift lines, Big Sky is the place for you.

You can begin your day by taking the mountain tour. You can pick it up daily at 9:45am or 1:00pm at the top of the high speed quad. Big Sky uses an electronic ticketing system. You place your ticket in the reader slot and the gate opens up. This is a very efficient system and did not cause any lift line problems.

We skied down a beautiful blue run from the top of the quad down to the Shedhorn lift, which is a slow double chair, but the terrain is worth it. We skied Calamity Jane down to the main base area and cut over to catch the Ramcharger high speed quad to Big Sky's second mountain known as Andesite Mountain. Andesite Mountain is the beginner/intermediate terrain of Big Sky. This mountain contains the legendary Elk Park Ridge Cruiser area. We could have skied the corduroy forever. But, we wanted to hit the expert terrain on Lone Mountain.

Visibility on Lone Peak was poor for the first 2 days of our stay and the Lone Peak Tram wasn't running, so we had to amuse ourselves with the expert terrain under the Challenger Lift. The Challenger Lift combines steep cruisers with some very tough skiing featuring 1, 670 of vertical. We had a choice of chutes, vertical wrinkles or the broad steep open face. We skied Challenger over and over again and it felt like we were on our own personal lift. There were no people but our group.

Finally, on the third day the weather was clear enough for them to begin running the Lone Peak tram. The Lone Peak tram is a 15 person, single span tram that ascends in an elevator-like fashion to the summit. The summit puts you at 11, 166 feet where on a clear day you can enjoy panoramic views of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park. While waiting to ride the tram, we were greeted with posted signs and a recorded message about how deadly the terrain can be on top and how you must be an expert
skier. It appears quite a few skiers heed this warning. Several skiers rode the tram just to see the views from the top of the summit and rode back down. We enjoyed the pristine snow off the Liberty Bowl. Stay with your fellow skiers in this area. Conditions can change quickly and there are no trees to guide you down. The mountain is steep, if you fall your going to slide a long way. If you really like a challenge you can take the tram up and hike to the Big Couloir. You must check in the ski patrol and carry a shovel and a beacon to ski this area. You are only allowed to ski this area fork 10:00am until
2:00pm and it's limited to the first 20 skiers. We had a handful of skiers in our group attempt the Couloir. A spectacular show on an amazing run. We definitely earned the hot tub that day!

During the trip, Big Sky was hosting the USSA Disabled Alpine Championship on the Andesite Mountain side. Watching the racers gave us an opportunity to ski the 5 new runs off the Lone Moose triple chair on the southside of the mountain. Nice runs but they get a little soft by the late afternoon.

NIGHTLIFE AND DINING

Let's make two things clear about Big Sky, Montana. 1) If you are looking for a cosmopolitan shopping, clubbing, gourmet-dining, village strolling vacation or 2) you will eat beef unless you are a hard-core vegetarian. This is not the place for you.

We had an excellent dinner at the Huntley Lodge restaurant. We had an excellent meal consisting of prime rib and an excellent chicken dish. This is Montana, so keep in mind the portions are BIG! After dinner, we enjoyed a free movie in the Huntley Lodge Theater. The lodge offers rotating nightly features; either a Warren Miller movie or a major theatrical release. For those who fancy themselves as expert poker players can enjoy nightly rounds of poker Wednesday-Saturday at Chet's Bar with the locals or electronic poker and Keno games. Chet's features "The Crazy Austrians" apres-ski show daily and nightly live music.

Brand new this year located in the Summit is the Peaks restaurant serving western cuisine. Enjoy apres-ski at the Carabiner Lounge or a lively happy hour at Rooster's pub
located on the 3rd floor of the ski shop building.

Need recommendations for dinner? Enjoy ribs, steak and fresh seafood at M.R Hummers or if you're in the mood for Italian enjoy pasta, pizza and music at Dante's Inferno both located in the Mountain Mall. Dante's is great for a quick lunch or meeting place for apres-ski.

Lolo's Saloon is the only dance place on the mountain and where the snowboarders hang out. It's a fun place with pool tables and foosball located on the lower level of the mountain mall.

To our great surprise, there is an excellent Chinese restaurant at the base of the mountain in Big Sky. The China Panda offers both eat in and take-out. Montana's finest and fancy restaurant is Buck's T-4. It's located about 10 miles from the base of Big Sky. They will send a shuttle to pick up your party for dinner. Buck's specializes in prepared game and steaks. We had excellent meals of trout, caribou, antelope and New Zealand Red Deer. Buck's is part of a Best Western with 75 rooms, a dance hall, liquor store and gift shop. It's great. Another dinner option is The Corral. This is strictly hamburgers
and chicken but the atmosphere is worth it and recommended by all the locals.

BRIDGER BOWL

This ski area is located 16 miles northwest of Bozeman. It is a local owned and operated ski area. Lift tickets are only $33 for a full day. The elevation is only 8, 500 feet but offers some great expert runs off the Ridge and the Fingers areas. Plenty of cruising off the Alpine and Pierre's Knob lifts. Bridger has dining at the base area at the Jim Bridger Lodge and mid-mountain in the Deer Park Chalet. The mountain is empty during the week but can become crowded on weekends or after a big snowstorm. Everyone is very friendly and it's a reminder of old time ski resorts with the emphasis on skiing/riding. Bridger rocks and they offer half-day lift passes. So, fly in, rent a car and get a half-day in at Bridger!

OTHER THINGS

Big Sky is about an hour drive north of Yellowstone National Park and several outfitters offer snowmobling tours in the park. It's about $200 for three hours and $200 for six hours. Unfortunately, The winter snow mobling was done for the season, so we didn't get the chance. So, we have an excuse to go back to Big Sky.

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