A Day at Big Sky
Start by skiing on Andesite. The back side is usually groomed into a perfect pack that naturally pulls long, sweeping turns out of your legs. Most runs there are blue and over a mile long-perfect for warming up or hiding from sour conditions on the upper mountain. After a few runs, head to the Tram and hit The Bowl. It's Big Sky's most popular terrain feature and the first place on Lone Mountain to get skied off. On a powder day, head for Lone Peak (the upper part of Lone Mountain). Almost any line will give you 1,500 feet of wide-open vertical before you reach tree line.
Top Elevation: 11,150 feet
Vertical: 4,350 feet
Snowfall: 400-plus inches
Lifts: 18 total; 1 tram, 5 quads, 4 triples, 4 doubles, 4 tows
Info: 800-548-4486, bigskyresort.com
Four major carriers fly into Bozeman, with direct flights from major cities (including Seattle, Salt Lake City, L.A., Minneapolis, and Detroit). From Bozeman, drive an hour south on Highway 191 through the Gallatin Canyon to Big Sky. You can either rent a car or jump on a shuttle (Karst Stage, 800-287-4759). Last season, it was $42 round trip. Check rates and book at karststage.com.
Chug a $3.50 Moose Drool (don't worry, it's beer) at Chet's Bar & Grill (406-995-5784) and chicken dance to the rhythms of the accordian-wielding Crazy Austrian Brothers. To get the skinny on secret stashes, eavesdrop on the locals at the Black Bear Bar n' Grill (406-995-2845). It has live tunes on weekends and local brews on tap (try the Headstrong pale ale), and stays open until 2 a.m., a virtually unheard of closing time in Big Sky.
Dante's Inferno (406-995-3999), an Italian-American eatery housed in a 1901 building at the base of the gondola, serves up a juicy eight-ounce filet mignon. Chase it down with a Monte Cristo cigar ($13 at the bar) and on Saturdays, get jiggy to homegrown tunes by live bands. For refinement (yes, in Montana), dine at Timbers (406-995-7777) in the Moonlight Lodge. You won't feel cramped under its 37-foot ceilings. Chef Scott Mechura combines local ingredients with French and Asian spices in mountain-sized servings of lamb and beef tenderloin. Or do like a local and fill your belly while topping off your tank. The Big Sky area is known for its gastronomic gas stations. Try the hot Italian sandwich at the Conoco station at the junction of Highway 191 and Spur road, nine miles from the ski area.
Play Marlboro Man for a night at Cowboy Heaven's rustic midmountain cabins ($205-$485; 800-845-4428), and ski from your door to the Iron Horse lift. Or play Little Joe at the 320 Guest Ranch ($124-$305; 406-995-4283), which has riverfront cabins, snowmobiling, and dessert sleigh rides. For one-stop sleeping, check into Buck's T-4 ($144-$263, 800-822-4484) in Canyon Village. It has a restaurant, lounge, hot tubs, and a free shuttle between room and lifts.
by Joe O'Connor and Chad Johnson