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Chet Huntley’s Montana resort lives up to its billing

A city of 38,000, home to Montana State University ... Indeed, there are hundreds of mostly seasonal homes across the lower slopes of Lone Mountain. Many of them are at ski-in, ski-out Moonlight Basin, on the northeast side of the mountain; the Iron ...

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BIG SKY, Montana — There are some giant ski resorts in this countryPark City (Utah), Vail (Colorado), and Squaw Valley, Heavenly and Mammoth Mountain (all in California) each exceeds 3,500 acres in sizeBend’s own Mount Bachelor, at 3,683 acres, is the largest in the NorthwestBut they all pale in comparison to Montana’s Big Sky Resort I had no concept of Big Sky’s size until I stood beneath The Gullies on the flank of the South Wall, just below the 11,166-foot summit of Lone Mountain in Montana’s Gallatin National Forest, and scanned my surroundingsIt was hard to see where the resort began and ended Big Sky promotes itself as “The Biggest Skiing in America.” It’s hard to argue with the factsOther resorts may have more vertical drop (here, the number is 4,350 feet), but with its mountaintop tram, 23 chair lifts and 12 surface lifts, there seems never to be any waitingOn a typical winter’s day, Big Sky will host no more than about 3,000 skiers — leaving each and every one of them two full acres of crisp Rocky Mountain powder in which to play Big Sky claims acreage of 5,800 acres, including the smaller Moonlight Basin ski complex on its lower slopes that it absorbed five seasons agoAnd it has a direct on-slope link to the 2,700-acre Yellowstone Club ski resort, giving it a total terrain of 8,500 acresThat is even more than Canada’s massive Whistler-Blackcomb complex The frontier boundary of Yellowstone National Park is 20 miles southeast as the crow fliesBig Sky doesn’t reach quite that farBut the ski area does extend for more than 12 miles east-west in the heart of the Rocky MountainsAnd it incorporates not only Lone Mountain, but four other peaks: Andesite, Flatiron, Spirit and Pioneer mountains, each over 8,000 feet in altitude Chances are you won’t have an opportunity to run your boards on 9,860-foot Pioneer MountainIt’s part and parcel of the fore-mentioned Yellowstone Club, a private residential ski and golf resort for the rich and/or famousBut there’s so much to see and do at Big Sky, you won’t be missing a thingLone Mountain I skied Big Sky in late March of this year, just before the end of the last ski seasonThe resort is 40 miles south-southwest of Bozeman, a drive mostly on U.SHighway 191A city of 38,000, home to Montana State University, Bozeman is served by several major airlines, including Alaska Airlines (from Portland) and Delta Air Lines (from Salt Lake City)There are easy connections from the Redmond airport Conceived by famed NBC broadcast newsman Chet Huntley, Big Sky Resort was five years in developmentIt opened for skiing in 1973, just a year before Montana native Huntley diedBought in 1976 by Michigan-based Boyne Resorts, whose other ski hills include Brighton in Utah and Crystal Mountain and the Summit at Snoqualmie, both in Washington, it was expanded to its advanced upper slopes in 1988 with the opening of the Challenger lift The Lone Peak Tram was fully operational in 1995The view of this dizzying feat of engineering, as seen from the upper terminal of the Powder Seeker chair, is intimidating indeedRising 1,450 vertical feet in just over a half mile without a single mid-station, it is a vertigo-inducing ride that provides access to expert-only terrain — as well as an observation area for summer visitors Lone Mountain towers like an ancient pyramid above the other peaks of the Madison RangeHigher than any mountain in Oregon except Mount Hood (which tops it by fewer than 100 feet), this glacial horn was shaped 160 million years ago by massive blocks of ice and rockThe triangular summit is just large enough for the tram landingBut skiers beware: The downhill options are almost entirely double-black-rated chutes, with the only exception being the south side’s single-black Liberty Bowl Big Sky’s five distinct bowls are separated by a series of sharp ridges, or arêtes, which hold the snow and build a sense of isolation on different sides of the mountainIf one area, say the north-facing Headwaters Bowl, is being buffeted by chilly winds, the tree-shrouded, east-facing runs of the Swiftcurrent section will offer respite, while the south-facing Shedhorn and Dakota lifts may be getting sunThe lift system has been designed to move skiers easily between ridges and bowls From the resort’s Mountain Village, hub of most visitor activity at 7,500 feet elevation, the Ramcharger lift climbs 8,800-foot Andesite Mountain, its runs catering mainly to intermediate skiersBackside runs from the Southern Comfort chair lead to the isolated Lone Moose chair, on Flatiron Mountain, and to additional chairs on Spirit Mountain, mainly serving a residential area Indeed, there are hundreds of mostly seasonal homes across the lower slopes of Lone MountainMany of them are at ski-in, ski-out Moonlight Basin, on the northeast side of the mountain; the Iron Horse quad lift links it to the Challenger triple and other parts of Big SkyOn the snow Chelsi Moy, Big Sky’s public relations manager, apologized for end-of-season snow conditions when we headed out together on a mountain tourThe winter’s 400 inches weren’t reflected in fresh spring powder, and as daytime temperatures warmed into the 40s, the snow on runs that had been left unpacked was getting heavy, forcing leg muscles to work harder We started our day on Andesite Mountain, where Moy introduced me to the mountaintop Everett’s 8,800 restaurant, offering fine dining for lunch and dinner by reservationWe took a warm-up run through the broad glades of Elk Park Meadows, then returned on the Thunder Wolf quad to the top of Andesite before tackling Hangmans, an intermediate cruiser Back at Mountain Village, we took turns down Lobo, via the Swiftcurrent quad, then followed Jaywalk to the Powder Seeker chair, where I was introduced to what Moy promised is “the most technologically advanced chair lift in the country.” New in 2016, the Powder Seeker seats six skiers side by side under a translucent blue bubble cover, providing protection from weatherAll riders have heated seats, foot and head rests, and they travel uphill at twice the speed of an earlier chair Boyne Resorts, said Moy, has prioritized development of terrain and lift technology at Big SkyAs part of a $150 million investment last year, a new fixed-trip triple chair was installed on the Challenger lift, a ridgetop ride for expert skiersImprovements in the 2017 off-season have included increased glade runs and more surface lifts From the top of Powder Seeker, we studied the Lone Peak Tram terminalMy quadriceps were already aching and I wasn’t wearing my big-boy pants, so I opted to skip unnecessary double-black tests on this dayAnd as I gazed in awe at the twin, 15-passenger cabs passing one another high in the sky above me, Moy gave me another reason for trepidation: The tram is constructed above a massive rock-and-ice glacier that moves several inches a year, a fact that engineers had to take into serious consideration when the lift was built There are other geological nuances on this mountain so close to the Yellowstone calderaThermal vents sometimes appear in the middle of ski runsIf you see ski patrollers marking a bare spot with crossed bamboo poles, it’s likely that hot steam has melted the snow to rock Besides taking the tram, we had two other choices from Powder SeekerFirst, we traversed The Bowl, beneath The Gullies, and tackled the black-diamond-rated South Wall to the foot of the liftReturning again to Powder Seeker’s upper terminal, we followed the blue-rated Upper Morning Star to access Challenger Challenger led to down the double-black Headwaters Bowl, served by the short-but-steep Headwaters double chairThen I relaxed into a long cruiser to the base of the Six Shooter six-pack chair at the Madison Base Area, which tends to be frequented by Bozeman-area localsAfter one more trip up Six Shooter, we took the Fast Lane traverse back to Mountain Village — and I called it a day after 10,000 feet of verticalMountain Village Mountain Village is the hub of lodging, dining and shopping at Big SkyIts original luxury accommodation, still popular today, is the Huntley LodgeAlways part of Chet Huntley’s vision for Big Sky, this hotel is linked to underground parking, the Yellowstone Conference Center and a set of private condominiums Most activity, it seems, revolves around its heated outdoor swimming pool, its spacious dining room and Chet’s Bar and Grill, which offers a full meal menu and entertainment several nights a weekA roaring fireplace warms the spacious lobby, from which guests can readily visit the Solace Spa and Salon I stayed slope side, just across the village plaza, at the Village Center condominiumsRooms are lovely, and the condos have their own pool, hot tub and ski storageOn property is the Andiamo Italian Grille, whose southern European food may be the best on the mountainNearby, in the Summit Hotel, my favorite spot at Big Sky is the Carabiner, a lounge with a full dinner menu and nightly solo guitar music The Mountain Mall, where shops also have plenty of ski equipment for sale and rent, has two good food stops: Montana Jack has rock bands and plenty of beer to entertain the younger crowd, while the Lone Peak Cafe offers cafeteria-style breakfasts and lunches on the upper level Most live music comes to an end by 8 p.min the Mountain Village, howeverSkiers looking for later nights can head downhill seven miles to Big Sky’s Town Center and Meadow VillageHere, more dining and après-ski options are offered to resort guests and to mountain employees who are among the village’s 3,000 permanent residentsOut and about In the Town Center, braided streams, flowing gently downhill toward the Gallatin River, share the broad meadow area with winding residential streetsNot only is this Big Sky’s hub of dining, shopping and civic activities, with its schools and churches, hospital and Warren Miller Performing Arts Center; it is also the center for such seasonal events as the Music in the Mountains summer concert series, the Vine and Dine wine-and-food festival and the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival In winter, nordic skiers find their nirvana at the Lone Mountain Ranch, about a mile uphill from Town Center toward Mountain VillageOther winter activities include snowshoeing and zip-liningWarm-weather highlights for hardy athletes include the early-summer Lone Peak’s Revenge endure-bicycling race and, in late summer, The Rut, an extreme high-altitude foot race with several distances up to 50 kilometers Summer or winter, there are few bigger visitor attractions than Yellowstone National ParkIts nearest entrance, at West Yellowstone, is a mere 48 miles (an hour’s drive) south of Big SkyDuring the peak months of the winter season, guided snowmobile and snow-coach tours extend to the Old Faithful Snow LodgeBison frequent the geyser basin at this time of year An alternate entrance is at Gardiner, 80 miles south of Bozeman and very near to the Mammoth Hot Springs, a magnet for elkThis is the only entrance open year-round to automobile traffic, which is restricted in winter to the north side of the parkWhile it doesn’t run past any of Yellowstone’s most famous attractions — not geysers, nor canyons, nor colorful hot-springs pools — the highway does yield stunning wildlife watching in the Lamar ValleyOn one winter visit, I stood on the road, armed only with binoculars, and watched a herd of elk hold off a pack of circling wolves You don’t see that sort of thing every dayThen again, you don’t see a summit like Lone Mountain, nor a resort like Big Sky, every day eitherThis is one hill that is worthy of its marketing slogan: “The Biggest Skiing in America.” — John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at 18886280 --> #article-map-canvas { height: 300px; margin: 10px; } If you go INFORMATION Big Sky Resort50 Big Sky Resort Road;, 406-995-5000, 800-548-4486Lift tickets $79 to $130LODGING Big Sky Mountain Village lodging44 Big Sky Resort Road;, 855-231-7242Huntley Lodge rates from $264; Village Center rates from $288Whitewater InnHighway 191;, 855-231-7242Rates from $184DINING Big Sky Mountain Village dining50 Big Sky Resort Road; bigskyresort.comAndiamo Italian Grille (Village Center; 406-995-8041; dinner nightly; expensive)Carabiner (Summit Hotel; 406-995-8078; lunch and dinner daily; moderate); Chet’s Bar & Grill (Huntley Lodge; 406-995-5784; dinner nightly; moderate); Lone Peak Cafe (Mountain Mall; 406-995-5876; breakfast and lunch daily; budget); Montana Jack (Mountain Mall; 406-995-5786; lunch and dinner daily; budget to moderate)Lone Peak Brewery48 Market Place (Meadow Village),, 406-995-3939Lunch and dinner every dayBudget to moderate Olive B’s Big Sky Bistro151 Center Lane (Meadow Village),, 406-995-3355Lunch Monday to Friday, dinner Monday to SaturdayExpensive Ousel & Spur Pizza Co50 Ousel Falls Road (Meadow Village),, 406-995-7175Dinner nightlyModerate Coming Dec10: After September’s fire, the Gorge bounces back 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