Big Sky Is Montana’s Ultimate All-Season Mountain Escape

But it’s especially magical in the winter.

Big Sky takes its name very seriously. | Photo by Jon Resnick, courtesy of Big Sky Resort
Big Sky takes its name very seriously. | Photo by Jon Resnick, courtesy of Big Sky Resort

What is it about mountains that capture our imagination? For me, it goes beyond aesthetic appeal. They exist as punctuation; emphatic reminders of the awesome forces that shape our earth over eons. A single snapshot millions of years in the making. They wink at me, knowingly, from the horizon's edge. 

How they call to you is a surprisingly personal affair. But when you’re in Western Montana, it’s a conversation you won’t be able to ignore. And if you’re in Big Sky, you won’t want it to end. 

So far as aptly-named towns go, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a rival (Boring, Oregon maybe?). The landscape of Big Sky remains relentlessly on-brand. Turn west off of US-191 and a wide alpine basin unfurls before you. The “Meadow” is a verdant valley bookended by sloping ridges on opposing sides. Your sights, however, will be drawn directly ahead to the triangulated mass of Lone Peak dominating the encroaching panorama. This is one of those dictionary-illustration-type deals of what you’d find when seeking a definition for “mountain.”

Lone Mountain Ranch
Rustic vibes and luxury are not mutually exclusive. | Lone Mountain Ranch

You’ll soon discover that most things in this resort town of less than 2,400 residents are pretty straightforward, allowing the experiences themselves. The golf course is called Big Sky Golf Course. It was designed by golfing legend Arnold Palmer and sits at an average elevation of 6,500 feet—which means you’re afforded not just stunning views but a performance-enhancing boost to your long game. 

Just up the road is Lone Mountain Ranch. As advertised, it’s… a ranch overlooking Lone Mountain. It’s also one of the most undeniably authentic adventure lodges in the country, featuring a slew of standalone cabins, some of which are holdovers from the original homesteaders that settled this region at the turn of the 20th Century. 

Rustic, western-themed exteriors belie the modern trappings of luxury that exist within: heated bathroom floors, high thread-count linens, a smartphone-activated concierge service. Nestled alongside North Fork Creek, the destination draws fly-fishers and mountain-bikers in the spring and summer, giving way to sleigh-riding and nordic skiing once the snow falls. 

“Big Sky appeals to so many different types of travelers,” notes Paul Makarechian , owner of Lone Mountain Ranch. “It’s a place for families, a place for the adventurous, and a place for nostalgic romantics hoping to reconnect with western traditions of a bygone era.”

Big Sky Resort was socially distant before it was cool. | Photo by Patrick Conroy, courtesy of Big Sky Resort

It’s also, of course, a great place for skiers. Big Sky and its sister resort, Moonlight Basin, can be accessed by a single lift ticket. Combined they form one of the largest terrain—5,750 acres—in all of North American wintersport. Between the high season from beginning of December through the middle of April, the mountains can record as much as 300 inches of snowfall. Yet they remain relatively untrodden compared to their more crowded counterparts in Colorado and California—strict COVID precautions are in place, but social distance has always been a given, and a draw, here.

“Even on busy days you'll never wait more than 10 minutes in a lift line and the price is way more reasonable than Vail,” according to Matt Morley, a professional pilot who went to college in nearby Bozeman. Home to the region’s largest airport, it’s the gateway for most visitors to Big Sky Country. “Just the drive to get there—winding your way down Gallatin Canyon for an hour, spotting bighorn sheep licking salt off the side of the road. It’s a spectacular scenic journey you won’t soon forget.”

And because it takes a little added effort to get here, it tends to attract a more intrepid set of travelers. Namely, the sort that is eager to escape crowds. 

“For the outdoor enthusiast seeking adventure on a daily basis and a slower pace of life there is no place better than Big Sky,” says Mike Donaldson, owner of Gallatin River Guides. Since 1984, his company has been connecting tourists with some of the best fly-fishing on the planet. So renowned is the region for its wild trout rivers, in fact, that it even served as backdrop for a Brad Pitt movie on the very subject.

Come summer, the Gallatin is a haven for anglers and adventurers. | Rob Crandall/Shutterstock

Big Sky remains no stranger to high-profile personalities thanks to an elite private development known as the Yellowstone Club. But despite having the likes of Bill Gates, Ben Affleck, and Tom Brady milling about, this town is remarkably low-key and refreshingly unassuming. 

“We have a phenomenal community of folks that enjoy living here and tend to care about each other,” adds Donaldson. “Big Sky is a great place to slow down and enjoy life with family and friends. It is a small town with great weather and beautiful views in every direction. It is a no brainer in my opinion.”

And it’s a surprisingly reliable destination for good food, too—spanning a range of styles and price points. At the base of the slope, riders enjoy an innovative arrangement of frankfurters at Yeti Dogs. Scissorbills Saloon is another local standby, offering accessible apres-ski, including oversized nachos and Philly cheesesteaks to pair alongside local microbrews.

Horn and Cantle
Hearty and hardy is the Montana way. | Horn and Cantle

On the higher-end the Montana Dinner Yurt is a candlelit BYOB affair reached only by snowcat or sled. It showcases a chef-inspired, protein-driven menu over three hearty courses. Back down at the Lone Mountain Ranch, Horn & Cantle goes the way of elevated gastropub, plating bison short ribs and pickle-brined fried chicken against barrel-aged cocktails and an international assortment of wines. 

Makarechian also recommends arriving with a thirst for history, one which you can slake at the neighboring Crail Ranch Homestead Museum. “Embrace the spirit of the Old West, and you’ll find ample respect for the courageous pioneers who settled this part of the world.” 

Over a hundred years later, it awaits discovery by a whole new generation of nomads. Though some are happy to let them take their time in the pursuit. “Please don’t tell people about how awesome it is,” begs Morley. “Keep it a secret!”

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Brad Japhe is a freelance journalist with a wicked case of the get-up-and-gos. He enjoys his whisky neat and his IPA hazy. He’s usually found at the junction of food, booze, and travel. Follow him @Journeys_with_Japhe.