Big Sky Ski Resort Review, Guide

There is a constant debate over where the biggest skiing in North America is.  It depends on how you define it, but Big Sky, Montana is absolutely in that conversation.  And if you ski Big Sky, you will notice it is really big, and really fun.

Big Sky is situated on the Southern tip of Montana, near Yellowstone National Park.  That tells you all you need to know – it is beautiful and wild.  Any place within a stone’s throw of Yellowstone is going to be magical.  To the north is the small but vibrant city of Bozeman, and to the East and West are solid mountains.  

The Big Sky area is not just about skiing.  In the summer, the Gallatin and Madison Rivers offer some of the best flyfishing in the country.  Mountain biking and hiking are outstanding, and many of the local ranches offer guided horseback rides.  In addition to Big Sky, the area offers winter activities like world-class Nordic Skiing at Lone Mountain Ranch, and the Bozeman area offers a lesser-known but affordable ski area in Bridger Bowl.

The Mountain

Big Sky and Moonlight Basin used to be separate ski resorts – not unlike the way that Whistler and Blackcomb or Park City and the Canyons were.  They merged operations in 2013, and since then have had one combined ski area that most people refer to as Big Sky.  The total acreage is 5,850, and most if not all of the 36 lifts are usually spinning because of how far north Big Sky is.  

The two bases (Big Sky and Moonlight) have a different feel.  There is definitely more going on at Big Sky, while Moonlight is a bit smaller.  But they both give you access to incredible skiing, and each can be accessed by a few runs that crossover from one side to the other.

The base elevation is about 6,800 feet, making Big Sky a good place for people who are affected by the altitude.  With the peak of the top lift (which only services expert terrain) being 11,600 feet, you can get high if you want to.  But a base below 7,000 feet means that the lower section is easier on flatlanders than places like Breckenridge or Vail.

The mountain is pretty balanced in terms of terrain, with 40% being beginner or intermediate.  One thing we like about Big Sky is that beginners are not confined to the lower section of the mountain.  Long runs like Morningside are green much of the way with a few stretches of easy blue, and can give you great views while allowing you to get lots of skiing in. 

Ski schools at Big Sky, which are excellent, typically meet at the Big Sky base area, and explore the entire mountain.  Big Sky is a great family ski area just because the crowds are not as bad as in places like Colorado, Tahoe, or Park City.

The Big Sky Area

The Big Sky area is a different format than many ski areas.  While it is growing rapidly as more and more people fall in love with it, Big Sky is much more laid-back than areas like Vail or Aspen.  

Think about Big Sky as a two-level area.  The base of the mountain is usually referred to as just that, the mountain base or the ski village.  This is the area at the bottom of the chairlifts, which is less built-out than the base of other ski areas of this size.  There are several restaurants and lots of on-mountain lodging, and if you include the base area of Moonlight Basin, there is plenty to offer right up “on the mountain” as they say.  

About 1,000 to 1,500 lower, but only about a 10 minute drive, is the Meadow Village.  “Meadows” is more of your mountain town.  It is where the grocery stores, more restaurants, tons of lodging, and services like the hospital and school area.  Consider the Meadows the year-round community, while the mountain base is just for people who are skiing.

Staying at Big Sky

Up above, we described the layout of Big Sky.  You have the base area of Big Sky and the base area of Moonlight Basin, which when combined provide ample ski-in, ski-out accommodations.

If you want to save some money and stay in a bit more of a “town”, you can go for the Meadows.  There is lots of accommodation down in the Meadows area, and there are actually more restaurants and shops.  It is a short, 10 minute drive up to the free parking lots at the base area.  

Which is best?  Well, if you want ski-in, ski-out, you will need to be either at the Big Sky base or at the Moonlight Basin (aka Madison) base.  If you don’t need ski-in, ski-out, we strongly suggest considering the Meadows area.  It gives you access to more creature comforts, as well as incredible non-downhill activities such as hikes and nordic skiing.  Plus, an underrated feature of the Meadows is that it is a good 1,000 to 1,500 feet lower than the base area — a major factor for people who are affected by altitude.  You climb a lot in that 10 minute drive!

The posh Yellowstone Club and nearby Spanish Peaks Club have access to Big Sky through private gates, but 98% of folks stay at the perfectly nice, upscale condo or vacation home options not affiliated with those exclusive clubs.  A new Marriott hotel, the Wilson, is in the Meadows and should anchor that area for years to come.

If you really are looking to save money, you can stay in any one of the cheaper hotels in Bozeman.  Just know you will probably have an hour drive to the mountain each day, but you will also have easy access to Bridger Bowl from Bozeman.

Summer?

Summer in the Big Sky area is arguably as good as ski season.  With close proximity to Yellowstone National Park, and world-class fly-fishing on the Gallatin and Madison Rivers, you will be in heaven if you like summer mountain activities.  Book ahead for a gondola ride up to Lone Peak on a clear summer day (you might be able to see the Tetons to the south) and do some local horseback riding.  We recommend the 320 Ranch or Lone Peak Ranch.

Getting There

The best way to get to Big Sky, by air, is to fly into Bozeman.  They have direct flights from many cities across the country.  If Bozeman flights are full or too expensive, you can consider alternate airports like Billings, Helena, or even Jackson Hole.  

Direct flights to Bozeman occur during winter from Minneapolis, Denver, Salt Lake City, Boston, New York, Newark, Philly, Nashville, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Vegas, Los Angeles, San Fran, Portland, and Seattle.  10 years ago, that list was half as long (or less).  Getting to Bozeman and Big Sky has gotten easier.

There are no major cities that you can drive easily to Big Sky from….. But that is part of what makes it so special.  You won’t have the weekend crowds coming in from Denver, Salt Lake City, or the Bay Area.  You will have fewer crowds — Welcome to Montana!