Big Ski Lifts & Terrain

Our Terrain Ratings

Powderhound rating = advanced/expert terrain + powder + freshies + uncrowded

Our Terrain Ratings

Powderhound rating = advanced/expert terrain + powder + freshies + uncrowded
  • Vertical (ft)
    6,800 – 11,166 (4,350)
  • Average Snow Fall
    400 inches
  • Lifts (36)
    1 tram
    1 express 8-pack
  • Ski Season
    late Nov - mid Apr
  • Terrain Summary
    Size – 5,850 ac
    Runs – 300
    Longest run – 6 mi
    Beginner - 15%
    Intermediate - 25%
    Advanced- 42%
    Expert - 18%

Ski Big Sky – Terrain, Lifts & Snow

Big Sky Resort has always been big, and it’s grown further after the acquisition of Moonlight Basin and the little Spanish Peaks (guessing they’ll never acquire the Yellowstone Club!). There are plans in the pipeline for further growth, but it would be nice instead to see Big Sky Resort focus on perfecting the existing terrain. It’s so large that it takes ski patrol an eternity to get all the terrain open after a storm, and we found that there were numerous beginner and intermediate runs that hadn’t been groomed, and there were runs with small loose rocks on the surface that needed some attention.

Big Sky Ski Resort has several zones and you’ll want to keep an eye on the trail map/s for navigation. The main face of Lone Mountain rises up from Mountain Village and provides beginner and intermediate terrain with a northeast aspect initially, and then gnarly expert slopes further up the mountain. To the north is Moonlight Basin with the Madison Village base area. It’s reasonably quiet at Moonlight, in part because it’s clunky to get there and back, and many runs don’t drop fall line. Andesite Mountain rises up from the Mountain Village and features green, blue and black terrain with a variety of aspects. Further afield, Flatiron Mountain only has a few cut runs and the little Spirit Mountain has a few mellow runs and is mostly access for housing. The South Face isn’t that aesthetically pleasing considering the many dead trees, and it features blue and black trails down low, and expert terrain serviced by the tram up high.

Lifts

Big Sky Resort has a mix of modern lifts and old clunkers, which feel painfully slow after you’ve been on a super speedy chair lift. And the Big Sky claim to have “the most technologically advanced chairlift network” seems rather ludicrous.

Lift highlights include the 6-pack Powder Seeker with its heated seats and hoods that services some nice expert terrain, and the 8-pack Ramcharger with its hoods and fat-arse seats (apparently they’re not just extra wide but also ergonomically shaped!!). The Ramcharger seems like total overkill for such short vertical, but at least it’s handy to get evening diners up the hill to the restaurant. A major lowlight of the Big Sky Resort lifts is the tram, which only fits 15 people and goes every 4 minutes, so the lifting capacity is useless. Expect medium waits when the snow conditions are naff and ridiculous waits of an hour plus when it’s a powder day. At least the powder lines last all day.

Considering some of the very modern lifts, it’s surprising that some of the lift systems are very antiquated whereby you have to pull your pass out each time you get on the lift.

Lift Tickets

As to be expected considering the enormous amount of infrastructure on offer, lift tickets are rather expensive at Big Sky Resort. Big Sky is accessible off the Ikon Pass, which many locals are blaming on the sharp increase in visitor numbers.

Big Sky Snow & Weather

The statistic for the volume of snowfall at Big Sky is somewhat perplexing. The average Big Sky snow per season is 400 inches (which seems conveniently rounded), however from 2009/10 to 2018/19 the average was only 311 inches and only one season managed to get above 400”. Even the 18/19 season, which was a phenomenal bumper record-breaking season for many western US ski resorts, the snowfall was only 266” (6.7m).

The altitude of the ski resort is quite high relative to other Montana ski resorts, but not quite as high as the nearby Wyoming ski resorts when you exclude the tram serviced elevation. Snow quality is well maintained on most parts of the mountain considering the cold temperatures and the many slopes that face north or northeast. The aptly named south face is one exception.

The variety of aspects is advantageous on inclement weather days, as there’s usually somewhere to hide from the wind, and the tree lined trails offer some visibility. One disadvantage of Big Sky is the meagre offerings of tree skiing for experts, so there’s not a lot of expert terrain for weather days, especially compared to Jackson Hole.

Ski Big Sky - For the Beginner

Big Sky has very good terrain for beginner skiers and snowboarders, with nice progressions. One limitation we found was that a few key beginner runs were not groomed daily which seemed ludicrous. Beginners should also be aware that there are many green runs outlined on the trail map that are really just for access to the abundant houses.

Just above Mountain Village is a mega long covered magic carpet for novices, and then green horns can progress onto the Explorer and then the Swift Current chairs. The Madison base is also a perfect learning zone.

Beginners can then explore further afield and hit up the Southern Comfort lift and its mellow wide trails, and if you get tired you could pop into one of the Yellowstone Club mansions (ha!).

Intermediate Skiing Big Sky

Big Sky certainly has lots of intermediate trails, so there’s plenty to choose from. The intermediate terrain is very good but it loses a point for inadequate grooming and trail maintenance, and the abundance of trails that are cat tracks and/or don’t drop fall line, especially over at Moonlight Basin which is rather zzzzz. Some of the best intermediate trails can be found off the Ramcharger and Thunder Wolf lifts.

Terrain Parks

Big Sky has various terrain parks that range from novice parks to intermediate/advanced parks, but if you’re looking for big boy half pipes and jumps then you’ve come to the wrong place.

Advanced Snowboarding & Skiing Big Sky

If you love speedy groomers, unfortunately Big Sky only has a handful of black runs on their grooming roster, and each day there’s only one or two steep groomed runs. Moonlight Basin has lots of single diamond runs which tend to bump up rather quickly despite the relatively low skier traffic. The backside is the best spot for advanced piste terrain. The South Face is also great for tree skiing, so long as the sun hasn’t soured the snow because the trees aren’t very dense.

Expert Ski and Snowboard Terrain

Big Sky has some phenomenal double black terrain that ranges from standard expert lines to sphincter puckering extreme lines. There’s a smattering of trees in the Challenger and Headwaters zone, but it wouldn’t be classified as tree skiing. The majority of the Big Sky expert terrain is alpine, with steep faces, craggy headwalls, and chutes to boot. The dogleg Big Couloir and the tricky North Summit Snowfield require ski patrol sign in and avi gear, and are a rite of passage at Big Sky.

It’s very easy to see why people rave about the challenging terrain at Big Sky but its rave worthiness has a few provisos. Firstly it needs a lot of snow and the exposed peak can easily get wind scoured. Much of the terrain is accessed off the Lone Peak tram and it’s frustrating and difficult to get much vertical considering its poor lifting capacity. Then you may score some attitude from the locals (probably because they’re livid after lining up for a long time for the tram). And if you’re with one of the Big Sky guides on a fresh tracks program, then really expect to receive some daggers.