big sky

Ripping Basics

 Location:  Big Sky, MT  Longest Run:  6 miles
 Nearest Airport:  Bozeman, MT (1.5hrs)  Expert Terrain:  20%
 Summit Elevation:  11,166′  Advanced Terrain:  40%
 Base Elevation:  6,800′  Intermediate Terrain:  26%
 Vertical Drop:  4,366′  Beginner Terrain:  14%
 In Bounds Acreage:  3,812  Avg Annual Snowfall:  400″

Big Sky Mountain, located in Big Sky, Montana, boasts some of the “biggest skiing” in America.  You can define “big” in a lot of ways at mountains – acreage, vertical drop, steepness, etc – and Big Sky fits the bill in nearly all of them.  For starters, it sits by itself, essentially, with no other equal peaks in the immediate area, making this Lone Peak look significantly higher than it’s 11,166’.  Our first remark was “I’ve been well above 13,000’ but it didn’t look like that.”  From the top of Lone Peak, you can see the Tetons.  Even if you can’t rip at that level, it’s worth a tram ride for the views.

What to Expect

Now that you know the general goods, it’s time to learn where to Rip them.  When you get there, something is going to jump out at you right away.  WHERE THE HELL IS EVERYBODY?  The RTW team was there in early January with plenty of snow on the ground, and apparently the rumors are true – Big Sky is never busy.  We got to the window on a Saturday with 20” of fresh on the ground from the night before and walked right up.  Keep in mind, there are not 20 windows, more like 5.  We asked about the “crowd.”  Response:  “this is pretty busy.  We’ve scanned about 1200 tickets today.”  Ummmm, okay, I’m gonna go Rip this place apart now!

The Mountain

Now that it took you about 10 minutes to get a lift ticket and get on Swift Current (main base lift) you’ve got the juice flowing.  Contrary to normal RTW philosophy, you can actually take your first run back to the base……because there is no lift line.  This gives you a sweet opportunity to lean back and warm up that back leg (you’ll need it later) and go left or right off Swift Current.  Either way is an excellent first run.  Calamity Jane is usually a smooth section of perfect courd where you can put those edges to the test and get some nice big carves in, or just bomb it.  Slide up into the edges to slam a wall of pow.  Once you get past ½ way, look to “boarder’s right” (why always skier’s right…) for Lower Calamity which will get moguled up from skiers later.  Generally ungroomed, you’ll drop right into a nice little steep section for some fresh lines and then dump out back to Swift Current.  Loop back up, and look for Buffalo Jump.  Nice and somewhat open, you’ve been on the mountain for 20 minutes TOTAL and you’ve hit a groomer, some trees, and now you’re on Crazy Horse heading back to Swift Current.  Varied terrain, no crowds….you haven’t even left the main base lift.  This place is sick.

Back up Swift Current, it’s time to branch out.  WARNING:  you can not ride this entire mountain in 1 week.  Head right off the lift and look for Mr. K.  You’ll need to hold some speed and follow the signs for BRT Road and Challenger Lift – this is where you want to go.  Aside from the LPT, you get some of the most challenging terrain at Big Sky here.  If the snow coverage is good, you could spend the better part of the day just ripping this lift accessed area.  And we are serious, Big Rock Tongue, which people will refer to as BRT, and 17 Green are sweet early, they get cut up pretty good later in the day from the 2-stick crowd.  But no worries, there’s plenty more.  Our advice – stay left off the lift so you keep looping to Challenger.  Take Highway to St Alphonse Trees, cut across BRT and you drop in Magic Meadows (more trees!!!).  Just come out on Black and Blue and you are at Challenger again.  Now hit Pinnacles for a nice section of Andesite rock spires.  If you’ve ever ripped the Moon, it probably looks like this.  Time to move on to bigger and better things.


Now that we’ve warmed you up with just about everything terrain wise, you just came off Pinnacles and rolled up to the Lone Peak Triple.  You’ve got a decision to make:  base or higher.  Listen to your stomach and body, it’s about to get serious if you keep going up.  Beat down or hungry, head down.  Feeling money, rocking your RTW membership with some AFI blaring in your ears, UP.  Bigger, better, steeper….you are starting to get into what Big Sky is about.  At the top of LPTriple, there really is only 1 decision.  Left onto Turkey Traverse because that shaded South Wall is screaming at you to come rip that powder apart.  Don’t be fooled, Rice Bowl and South Wall are steeper than they look when you get off the lift.  Take the traverse until you find your line.  See.  Rip.  Repeat.  Make sure you stay above LPTriple, no going down now!  As you rip that South Wall, keep an eye on the Pepsi Can, or the Tram.  Watch the lines and try and time your run.  That’s where you want to go off of the Triple next.


Lone Peak Tram (the Can)

Top of Big Sky copyweb

If fear is a factor, you can always ride the Tram back down.  If you’re claustrophobic, DO NOT get on.  Worth the ride, the last 100m feel nearly shear vertical.  You unload and take a minute to reload yourself.  It’s pretty badazzz up there.  You’ve got 2 options, again.  Most people really only have one choice.  If you’ve got Warren Miller video skills, or you’ve nailed down some major couloir’s in your life, take one of the narliest drops in North America – Big Couloir.  A grade below in difficulty, you can traverse toward Moonlight for some wider shots.  If you conquer Big Couloir, you’re probably going to reload that Tram for another shot or a peak at the Southern Exposure.  The RTW crew called it a day at this point.  Look at what you’ve covered, and you haven’t scratched the surface.  Come back tomorrow for some fresh when you’re fresh.  Work to the top of the Tram as fast as possible – Swift Current, Lone Peak Triple, Lone Peak Tram.


The Southern Exposure

Now you’re at 11,166’ looking where to go.  Welcome to the Southern Exposure.  You can spend a day here when coverage is good.  South facing in North America is challenging to keep snow, but this place is pretty successful.  Easiest route – Liberty Bowl.  Just go right, stay right and you’re on it.  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  All the lines are good with coverage, The Wave, Lenin, Marx, and you get the laughs of your crew just throwing powder around on fresh lines.  At some point before the tree line, you need to make a decision – Dakota or Shedhorn Lifts.  There is a serious fall line that runs vertical between these two, so you need to know which side of that to be on.   It’s labeled Rockville Bowl on the map.  If you end up at Dakota, I hope you’ve ripped a ¼ pipe.  Unloading off Dakota is the same deal.  Don’t worry about the vertical wall of snow 6’ in front of you, it’s soft.  Worst unload I’ve ever been on.


These 2 lifts hit some of our favorite terrain.  We had sweet coverage and NO PEOPLE.  If you didn’t think there was anyone at the base area, wait until you get here.  But know where you are, otherwise an unnamed member of RTW may take you on the worst cat walk of your life, which was part of Middle Road.  Other than that, we could talk about every trail, but we focused on Bavarian Forest/Aspen Meadows under Dakota and Dude Park, Pack Saddle Glades and Bacon Rind off Shedhorn.  Those 3 trails provided some of the best mixed terrain, fresh pow, and freedom we experienced all week, a first class ticket to endless White Rooms.    Shedhorn Grill is back here, so we decided to check it out for some lunch since the signs say “Open Daily.”  NOPE.  Not at 1PM it wasn’t.  Check with someone if you think you are going to eat there, otherwise you’ll rip on empty back to the base.  Two ways to the base if you’re going:  1. Duck Walk around to the top of Swift Current, bombs away.  2.  Middle Road – it’s labeled a blue but should be a hiking trail.  You’ll be skating segments from 50-200 yards, some uphill.  Thanks D, really enjoyed that.  But if you are going from Shedhorn to Dakota, get a guide or follow someone that’s been.  It’s not easy, and the signage is not good, so I can’t even tell you how to get there.  Just stay high, and essentially leaning up the mountain, keep cutting across.  Don’t EVER turn left.



Andesite Mountain

New day, whole new mountain.  Time to hit Andesite Mountain, that little North facing jewel that people seem to forget about after the hypnosis of Lone Peak.  The snow here stays fresh longer.  You won’t find many crusted out areas on a sunny day.  Head up Ramcharger and get after it.  This entire mountain is loaded with sweet tree runs and glades for ripping.  If you moved Andesite Mtn to the East Coast, it would be top 5 immediately, by itself.  It’s also a money spot if you destroyed the fresh pow on the main mountain in the morning, ate some grub, and came here for the afternoon goods.  Feel free to trash Congo off the right and cross over into Wounded Knee for some steep and deep.  It’s pretty tight, so make sure you’re skilled in trees.  Back up and left into Ambush Meadows and Glades, more great stash for your ripping pleasure.  Up again, and take the short cat walk toward the top of Thunder Wolf.  Mad Wolf is money, but when fresh.  It can get moguled up.  Elk Park Ridge became an RTW fav, both sides are outstanding and seem to offer endless fresh lines with deep coverage for days.  Slalom the trees that separate EPR and Madison Ave for more of the goods.    Back up Thunder Wolf and drop into Madison Ave right away.  Untouched lines 3 FULL days after a 20” dump.  War Dance, Mine Shaft, the Blue Room – Andesite never stops.  We could list every trail here, and we rode them all.  Rip, rinse and repeat over here.  We kept going back day after day.  Demolish the Southern Exposure in the morning, lunch at Pinnacle at the top of Ramcharger, and then Andesite all afternoon.


Apres Ski and The Village

You’re first stop will probably be Whiskey Jack’s.  It’s right at the base of Swift Current.  That’s a good deal.  It’s a bad deal if you want appetizers, pitchers or “specials” – they have NONE of those.  Chicken nachos are pretty solid, but double check for chicken, might be 86’d.  The better bet after a cocktail, stroll over to Scissor Bills.  Not only do they have pitchers and appetizers, they have ping-pong tables.  Since it’s not visible from a lift, its not as crowded – a loose term at the Big – so you get a different feel.


Once evening comes, you can also check out Black Bear.  It seems to be where most of the locals hang.  Bottom line, you aren’t in Big Sky for the night life, or at least you shouldn’t be.  This isn’t Tahoe, Breck or Park City.  Six miles down mountain is Meadow Village with some bars and restaurants, but unless you are staying down there, stick with Mountain Village.  If you’re like RTW and looking for something different and adventurous, line up transportation to Buffalo Jump Sports Bar & Casino, nearly back in Bozeman.  It’s got stacked stone pillars outside, need we say more about the “classy” factor?  Don’t be surprised if you’re the only person who shaved this month or isn’t wearing Carhartt’s (not that there is anything wrong with that).  There is fun to be had here, trust us.


If you just wanna chill on the cheap, grab some tall boy PBR’s in the mountain mall.  Then head outside and chill at one of the firepits with endless cut wood.  Free of charge, great for chilling and staring at Lone Peak, remembering the days rippage.


Lodging and Transportation

Like most mountains, there is a steep difference in $$$ between ski in/out and those “close” to the mountain.  This isn’t a big area, so nothing is really far.  Clarify whether it is Mountain Village or Meadow Village (45 min bus ride on the shuttle).  RTW opted for a Mountain Village condo on the bus route with a badazzz view of Lone Peak.  We’ve got some criteria we look for, and we found it here.


Getting around has choices.  One is car rental at the airport, we deemed it worthless.  You’re going to Big Sky, not hoping around Cottonwood Canyon in Utah.  Line up transportation to Big Sky, and the ride back.  Everything else is relatively easy.  There is certainly a better way to do this, allowing you to have a few beers on the way.  Back at the airport, if you’ve got time to kill, hit Overland Pass Bar and Grill upstairs.  Couch, TV and phenom burgers and shakes.