“We’ve always had this philosophy that we don’t want guests waiting in liftlines.”
Hate to tell you this but hell will freeze before Boyne invests in Moonlight lift improvements.
Yet another great interview. Big Sky is indeed one of the ski resorts with Epic terrain. Unfortunately its evolution into a mega resort with corresponding mega pricing and mega crowds was likely inevitable. Taylor seems to managing it as well as possible. My son lives in Bozeman so I will likely always ski Big Sky a day or two if the conditions are good. I was there Saturday March 5th and experienced first hand their need for more lift capacity out of the base. It was crowded in the morning and absolutely mobbed early afternoon; like a New York train station at rush hour.
Unfortunately it was a very bad snow year for Big Sky, with crowds and bad conditions it was a poor experience. Even a well run mega resort like Big Sky cannot overcome Mother Nature when she does not cooperate.
Interesting that Taylor mentioned possibly adding lifts to One&Only, since they have recently released plans to connect their hotel to Moonlight Basin with a Gondola (according to Liftblog). https://liftblog.com/2022/02/03/gondola-coming-to-moonlight-basin/
I recently skied Big Sky a few weeks ago after an extended hiatus. I was introduced to Big Sky as a young lad back in the early 80’s. I skied there two more times that decade (long before the Lone Peak Gondola was installed), then 35 years passed. Going back was a shock to the system in two ways—First, the same hoooollllyy-shit-grandeur I felt as a kid surged back to the surface in the form of a Joker-esque-shit-eating grin and second, I didn’t recognize the place, at all.
I remember Big Sky’s rough and tumble days as a skier’s mountain. Huge, burly, awe-inspiring, remote, and raw. There was a bunkhouse at the base of the mountain where you could stay for $15/$20 per night and if you wanted a touch of very affordable “luxury” and a mouth-watering steak, you could stay at Buck’s T4 about 45 minutes away. There wasn’t much else except a few classic motels and the long, slow drive from Bozeman. I was told the bunkhouse burned to the ground ages ago and, at $450/night, Buck’s T4 is now a very far cry from affordable during ski season. Despite the 90 minute drive, it’s even hard to find affordable lodging in Bozeman. Hence, my 35 year absence.
Then, there’s the otherworldly cost of a lift ticket and their newly instituted additional fee/variable pricing to ride the gondola to the top of the world.
The other side of this story is the local story. I skied there on the Mountain Collective pass for my two days and had the opportunity to speak with eight “locals”. Two were mountain hosts, one a former ski patrol, one a ski instructor, two were local skiers with no affiliation other than working to ski (both were in construction), and two lived in Big Sky.
I can summarize my conversations with six of the eight thusly, “It’s really sad to see what they’ve [Boyne] done to this place … be thankful you got to ski here when it was a skier’s mountain”. Bet you can guess why the other two aren’t included in this sentiment? One of the mountain hosts told me that this was her last season at Big Sky after forty plus years, she was moving back East because she could no longer afford to live there (in Bozeman). Both of the local skiers told me that, I’m paraphrasing, “it’s almost as if they [Boyne] are deliberately pricing out locals” and “$100 extra to ride the fucking gondola!!!” I happened to ride one of the eight-packs with both the former ski patroller and a ski instructor. The ski patroller told me that she was hanging on (in the area) for dear life and had to find a way to make "real" money to survive. She's barely surviving. She knew the instructor and asked, "... You've been here a while now, are there any old timers left, I can't think of anyone?" The instructor named one guy who been there since the early 80's. "They've all had to leave", he said.
The final two people I spoke with both lived in Big Sky, both were recent transplants (within the past fifteen years). One of the two had “multiple properties”. Needless to say, they both loved it there … When they were “in town”.
Big Sky was incredible. Nowadays, it’s still incredible, but it needs to be accompanied by an asterisk. It’s incredible in ways that take away from the experience—price, crowds, inaccessibility (for those without deep pockets), pay-to-play gouging, cost-of-everything, etc. Parking was easy and it was cool to discover that they still have the pickup truck shuttles to ferry skiers to the base, but it has to be mentioned that even the free lots filled up quickly on a random weekday.
I happened to visit at the tail end of one of the worst snow seasons they’ve ever recorded. It happened to snow seven inches the day I arrived in Bozeman, which was great except that coverage was perilously thin and everything off-piste or ungroomed was a core-shot waiting to happen (and did). I still paid the extra $100 and stood in line for an hour to ride to the top of Lone Peak. My goal had been to ski the Big Couloir, but I had to settle for an easy run down Liberty Bowl because I didn’t have a partner or my avy gear with me. Still, standing on the top of that peak was something my inner kid will never forget, which is good because I will likely never go back to Big Sky. I’ve been priced out and the three-hour round trip from Bozeman simply isn’t worth it if you plan to ski there for more than a couple days.
Big Sky is a circus, an impressive circus, but a circus nonetheless. And it’s a circus that has been purposefully designed to cater to a specific income strata, joining a growing list of ski resorts like Vail, Beaver Creek, Steamboat, Whistler, Aspen, Jackson, and others that have all but redefined the kind of “local” they want skiing at their resorts (eg adding residential chairlifts).
I’m forever grateful that I had the privilege of skiing at Big Sky when it was truly a skier’s wet dream—I wish I’d had the gumption to move there and make it work back in the day. In all likelihood, I probably won’t ever return. Big Sky has been placed on my list of "resorts I don't need to return to".
Outstanding episode. Really is nice having someone put the color on 40+ years of history. I hope these podcast episodes someday find their way into ski museum / historical society archives. Also, what a gem of a story about not having permission from the CEO/father building the tram.
Excellent interview, I wish he ran Vail, he had all the right ideas and isn’t on a mission to pack the mountain with skiers.