Chute the Moon

Cold Front

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This Thanksgiving, when Montana’s Moonlight Basin cranks up its high-speed, six-person Northface chair just one ridge over from Big Sky, it will mark the opening of the first new destination ski resort in the United States in two decades. While this is the kind of buzz-producing claim that makes marketing strategies irrelevant, the new resort on Big Sky’s block will still have to confront some tough questions after the euphoria wears off. Specifically, are its 22 runs, 1,850-foot vertical drop, and 1,500 acres enough to convince better skiers to rethink their winter and scour the web for cheap airfare to Bozeman?

The resort’s developers think so—but it’s too early for a report card. They point out that in 2004 they plan to open another 1,000 acres of terrain, and within 10 years, the area inside the ropes should reach 3,500 acres with a lift to the top accessing 4,162 feet of vert (23 feet more than Jackson Hole, for those of you counting). Burt Mills, Moonlight CEO, claims that the area’s north-facing aspect will offer drier, longer-lasting powder than Big Sky and argues that a swath of hairball steeps and cliff bands accessible to hikers this year should be enough to get expert skiers salivating. “That’s XXX terrain, he says, “with some big exposures and consequences.

Despite Mills’s optimism, locals remain skeptical and are holding on to their Big Sky passes. “I think they’re doing a great job, says Rick Ladzinski, a Bozeman resident who has been a regular at Big Sky and Bridger for 30 years. “But right now, it’s foo-foo skiing. Big Sky dwarfs anything Moonlight has to offer.