By Sam Collentine, Meteorologist Posted 6 years ago January 15, 2018
The skies were crystal clear when we pulled into Big Sky, Montana during the afternoon of January 1st, 2018. Lone Peak and the surrounding mountains were coated with a fresh blanket of white after receiving 17 inches of snow over the previous week and 45 inches during the month of December. The snowpack was sitting a healthy 143% of average and my two friends and I couldn't wait to wake up the next morning and explore everything that Big Sky had to offer.
Big Sky Resort is located in southwestern Montana, about an hour from Bozeman, Montana and only a short distance from Yellowstone National Park.
Big Sky offers 5,800 acres of skiable terrain, which is accessed by 24 lifts and 300 named runs across 4 connected mountains. The resort stretches from an elevation of 6,800 feet at Lone Moose & Six-Shooter to 11,166 feet at the summit of Lone Peak.
The lift operating hours run from 9:00 am - 4:00 pm (weather and lift depending).
Our first of two days on the mountain started by meeting a mutual friend and Ski Patroller in the Mountain Village at the base of the Swift Current High-Speed Quad. We were headed for the Lone Peak Tram so after getting to the summit of the Swift Current Lift, we skied down to the base of the Powder Seeker High-Speed Six Chair.
The Powder Seeker Lift was installed at the start of the 2016-17 season and features heated seats and blue plastic wind-breaking domes.
It was then down to the Lone Peak Tram for our final ascent before strapping in for our first real runs of the day. The tram accommodates up to 15 people at a time and rises 1,450 vertical feet in only 4 minutes.
Once you arrive at the summit, the 360-degree panorama view is nothing short of breathtaking. Wyoming, Idaho, and the surrounding peaks of Montana can all be seen on clear days, including Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.
Even though it hadn't snowed in two days, our friend told us not to worry about the quality because it was "god groomed". This is a local reference to the snow when the wind refreshes the terrain each day and night.
After this leg-burning run to start the day, we ventured over to the Dakota Triple-Chair for multiple runs down steep gullies and gladed terrain.
From there, we made our way back across the mountain via Jay Walk & Lower Morningstar to access the Challenger Triple-Chair. This lift is directly on the border between the original Big Sky terrain and Moonlight Basin. The 1,900 acres of Moonlight Basin was consolidated into Big Sky Resort during the fall of 2013.
Our first run took us directly below the lift and as you would expect with "god groomed" snow, the turns did not disappoint.
Our second run off of Challenger took us skiers left and down Big Rock Tongue. Steep, fast, and exhilarating are the only ways to describe it.
For our final Challenger and heart-pumping run of the day, we opted for a short hike off the summit to access the Pinnacles. This area should only be accessed if you're an expert skier or rider and feel comfortable negotiating steep and very rocky terrain.
We then cooled our legs down with a few groomers off of the Ramcharger High-Speed Quad before calling it a day at Yeti Dogs in the Mountain Village. Our legs were fried but we had plenty left in the tank for another hard-charging day beginning early the next morning.
The next day started with my usual morning routine of forecasting for Colorado and the Tetons at Caliber Coffee House. This is located in the Big Sky Meadow Village and here you can grab a good-sized breakfast burrito and coffee for only $7.
After warming up with a few runs on the Dakota Chair, we made our way over to the Headwaters area of Moonlight Basin. The Headwaters Double-Chair and the hike-to terrain along the ridge provide access to some of the steepest inbounds terrain that I have ever come across.
Below is a screenshot of the trail map, followed by a photo from the Headwaters Lift.
We first took a run down Alder Gulch (skiers left off the chair) before opting for the hike along the ridge and into the run named Firehole. Much like the Pinnacles on the first day, this area should only be accessed if you're an expert skier or rider and feel comfortable negotiating very steep and rocky terrain.
Firehole starts fairly wide before becoming increasingly narrow and very steep. The crux of the run comes about three-quarters of the way down when the slope-angle reaches 45-50 degrees and your skiable terrain reduces to about 10-15 feet wide.
Once through the choke point, the run opens into Stillwater Bowl for your final turns down to the Stillwater Traverse. Firehole and the entire Headwaters area will rattle your nerves but if the snow is in good shape and you feel comfortable with my bolded warning above, it can be one of the most exciting and enjoyable runs of your life.
From here, we cruised down Meriwether to the Six-Shooter High-Speed Six Chair for a quick break. This is where we enjoyed coffee and warm cookies from Uncle Dan's. Highly recommended!
It was then onto Six-Shooter and up to the Headwater Lift for one more run down Cold Spring. Once down, we made our way to the Lone Tree Quad for a quick lap down Obsidian and back up and over to Lookout Ridge and the gladed terrain of Trapline, Double Jack, and Single Jack.
These north-facing runs were completely empty and full of leftover powder from the previous week.
The final area that we had time to explore was off of the Thunder Wolf High-Speed Quad. We went skiers left and dropped into one last leg-burning glade to wrap up the day.
Big Sky dished out the goods for our two-day adventure and I can't wait to make another journey north for more of "The Biggest Skiing in America."
Cheers to a strong second half of the 2017-18 season and as always, stay tuned to the latest OpenSnow forecast to catch your next powder day.
Visit BigSkyResort.com for all lodging, event, and other ski-related information.
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