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Ski Resort Life

Big Sky’s New Tram Policy Aims to Control Crowds, But It Will Cost You

This quality versus quantity approach asks skiers to pay for the luxury of uncrowded, premium terrain

In an effort to reduce growing crowds seen at ski areas in recent years and alleviate wait times on the mountain, Big Sky Resort announced significant changes to its lift ticket and season pass program today. Beginning next season, access to the Lone Peak Tram will not be included with the purchase of lift tickets, IKON passes, Mountain Collective passes, and most Big Sky Resort season passes.

Instead, to ride the Tram and access the 1,200 acres of expert terrain from the summit of Lone Peak, an additional purchase will be required—at the cost of up to $80 per day.

Skiers have two choices: They can pre-purchase Tram Access Packs at a flat rate in advance, or they can enable an auto-charge on their pass or ticket that triggers when they load the Tram. Auto-charge access is expected to range between $20-$80 per day, depending on factors like peak or off-peak periods.

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The $1,899 Gold Season Pass will still have unlimited Tram access and the Double Black Pass, which costs $1,449, will include 10 days of Tram access throughout the season.

“Ultimately, this quality versus quantity approach is a major shift in how we sell and manage access to our Tram. Our goal is to improve the guest experience and get the Tram line back to 30 minutes on average consistently,” General Manager Troy Nedved wrote in a public letter on April 6. “This requires strategic changes to make this a reality. The Lone Peak experience is like no other in North America, and we want to ensure a quality experience for all guests.”

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Tuesday’s announcement garnered a myriad of responses from skiers and riders, both local and visiting.

“The Tram change is an excellent improvement to the pass options,” wrote Joe Stanley on Big Sky Resort’s Facebook page. “I am excited to see how it works out next season. If one plans carefully, they are rewarded with an excellent Tram experience.”

Another commenter, Ted Dwyer wrote, “Finally some progress to reducing the Tram line. If you paid for a day ticket and wait two hours to ride the Tram, then you’ve spent approximately $40 waiting in line. Pay extra, ski more, or skip the Tram.”

One longtime local who asked that their name not be used is disappointed the limitations effect not just IKON and Mountain Collective pass holders, but local season pass holders too. “Everything changed when these big conglomerate passes came along. It’s made skiing more affordable to more people, but at the detriment of the experience,” they said. “I get that there is no business plan out there that isn’t about maximizing profit, but responsible growth would be nice.”

Many of the disparaging comments from locals, however, had less to do with the Tram access and were more focused on a lesser-publicized change to the Blue Season Pass, a $689 pass with blackout dates, but which will no longer include Saturday access.

“Incredibly disappointed with the pass options,” wrote Ashley N. Kroon. “For my husband and I, we will pay $600 more this year for the same access as this past year. Absolutely ridiculous and such a slap in the face to locals who have supported you through many years, including when times were thin for you.”

For employees of the resort who typically receive a season pass as part of their benefits package, the pending loss of Tram access is especially distressing. While details of their benefits program have not yet been shared, it has been communicated that Tram access for employee passes will be limited in some way.

“When you work at the mountain and provide the mountain with the labor they need to get it open, the last thing they should do is take away from your benefits,” says one resort employee who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s already hard to find places to live, to find employees for our business who are willing to work for $13 an hour and [commute] from Bozeman. Now we have the added burden of figuring out when you want to go up there to ski the mountain we help make possible.”

Stacie Mesuda, Big Sky’s public relations manager, clarified that all of the Lone Peak is still accessible without the use of the Tram via a 45-minute bootpack on the skier’s right side of Liberty Bowl.

As for why the Tram limitations will affect season pass holders the same way they affect IKON or Mountain Collective pass holders, Mesuda says they don’t want to exclude a certain population of people based on the pass they purchase. “This way, it’s more equitable for everyone, whether you’re buying a lift ticket or an IKON pass, and it preserves the premium experience for Gold Pass holders.”

Operation of the Lone Peak Tram for ski and snowboard access is dependent on aspects of the weather and snowpack. In an average season, the Tram will open mid-December and continue to operate through the end of the season, with a historical average of 90 operating days per year. The resort itself averages a 140-day season.

Big Sky Resort is owned by Boyne Resorts, a Michigan-based corporation and the largest family-run four-season resort company in North America. Additional ski resorts under their ownership include Sugarloaf and Sunday River Resort in Maine; Loon Mountain Resort in New Hampshire; Brighton Resort in Utah; The Summit at Snoqualmie in Washington; and Cypress Mountain in British Columbia.