More Montana Snow

More Montana Snow

England, Mike
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From the top of Big Sky Resort’s Challenger lift, the steep chutes, pitched ridgelines, and broad bowls of Lone Peak’s striking northern exposure come into view. A thousand feet below, undulating foothills reveal exposed meadows and sloping, powder-filled tree runs. Tumbling and weaving through the forested canyon floor is Jack Creek, carrying spring water and snowmelt to the Madison River some ten miles distant.

Gazing northward across this wide-open, untracked terrain, spellbound skiers have long imagined the beautiful lines and sweeping turns awaiting them below. But up until this year, a gaze was about all you got. Out of bounds and unpatrolled, the area had no lifts, trails, or public roads—so dropping into that tempting terrain meant either a long, arduous hike out, or a long, cold night in the woods. And that’s assuming you didn’t trigger an avalanche or get lost amid the timbered gullies of the Jack Creek drainage. Needless to say, most runs on the fabled “North Side” have remained, by and large, unridden.

Until now. This winter, the new Moonlight Basin ski resort will open its doors and turn on its turbines, unlocking 1,850 feet of vertical and 1,500 acres of skiable terrain on Lone Peak’s north side. Four lifts—including Montana’s first high-speed six-person chair—will whisk you upslope to a wide variety of terrain, from challenging chutes and steep faces for advanced skiers, to more moderate runs for intermediates and beginners. The more ambitious types can hike past the uppermost chair for another 1,200 feet of in-bounds vertical descent. And all around, the dramatic views of the Spanish Peaks, the rugged Lee Metcalf Wilderness, and Lone Peak’s extraordinary north face—long reserved for summer hikers and backcountry skiers hardy enough to scale the ridgelines near Beehive Basin and Indian Ridge—will remind you exactly why you live in Montana, and why you brave the bitter cold to tear up the slopes every chance you get.

Moonlight Lodge is the stately three-year-old centerpiece to the new resort, and its posh countenance gives a clear indication of the resort’s lofty standards. But make no mistake: this is no Yellowstone Club, where you have to be a Rockefeller just to get through the gates. Moonlight Basin’s atmosphere may be elegant, but it’s also friendly and inviting; in fact, Big Sky skiers have been welcome at the lodge since it opened, and Moonlight will continue to share its Iron Horse chairlift with its neighbor to the south. That means whether you ski Moonlight Basin or Big Sky Resort, you can still head to Moonlight Lodge for lunch, a comfy chair, and a roaring fireplace to warm your frozen extremities.

First-year lift tickets at Moonlight Basin are a reasonable $39. Their “Loyalty Program” gives you another $5 off if you present a previous day’s lift pass. For more information about this latest addition to Montana’s already-plentiful powder coffers, call 406-993-6000 or check them out online at www.moonlightbasin.com.
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