Cash-Free Flow

Big Sky biking on the cheap. 

In case you haven’t heard, Big Sky has some new biking trails. Many of them are only accessible by chairlift, but the longest and perhaps best trail in the system—Mountain to Meadow—can be ridden without forking over cash for a haul pass. Now, you might ask, “Why would we spend the time and money getting up to Big Sky when there’s plenty of excellent riding that’s closer and cheaper?” And that’s a fair point, but with a little creativity, you can spend a day biking Big Sky cheaply and efficiently, and enjoy a little time outside the Bozone. Here’s how it’s done. 

The Shuttle
One big expense of traveling to Big Sky is gas, and driving up and down the canyon has never been less enjoyable, mainly due to the non-stop construction traffic headed to and from the Yellowstone Club. Solve both these problems by taking the bus. It’s five bucks and you can sleep or read on the way down, and you won’t have to limit yourself at Lone Peak Brewery on the way back. Taking the bus also means you can shuttle the Mountain to Meadow ride without driving a car up and down Lone Mountain Road. The local Big Sky bus service is free; it’ll pick you up in the meadow and shuttle you back to the trail’s start at Big Sky’s base area. 

The Ride
Usually, riding at Big Sky involves buying a Bike Haul pass. Now, truth be told, we usually spring for a pass, because the new singletrack is well worth the price of admission. The key is to pick your spots and pay attention to the weather to get your money’s worth. Go a day or two after a rain, when the dust is at a minimum, and don’t wait too late in the season to ride. As summer wears on, the trails get ridden more, increasing the chances of jolting brake-bumps, eroded berms, and sandy corners.

Big Sky biking

To really penny-pinch, stick exclusively to the Mountain to Meadow trail. If you ride the cross-country connector from Big Sky’s base area, you don’t have to pay to play. The climb is mellow and short, and after that, it’s all downhill—for almost eight miles and 2,000 vertical feet. Again, once you’re at the bottom, use the free shuttle to get back up. Lapping this one trail will prove more than enough entertainment. 

The R&R
So far, you’ve spent $5 to ride some of the region’s best built-for-bikes terrain. It’s time to splurge, and by splurge we mean split a burrito at the Wrap Shack. The fully loaded ’ritos are indeed rolled fat, so half is more than enough, especially if you plan on riding more after eating. Plus, you’ll save room for the warm cans of Gallatin Pale Ale that have been bouncing around your packs all day. 

Option B
Riding bikes in the mountains around Bozeman is actually a pretty cheap endeavor. (Okay, maybe buying a full-suspension rig, all the necessary protective gear, spare parts and apparel, and fueling up once a week to get to the trailhead isn’t cheap, but the riding part is free.) Every once in a while, it won’t break the bank to pony up for some extravagance. If you do make the trip to Big Sky, bike for free but shell out a little cash for a meal and a beer at the resort. If you make it over to the Moonlight side’s cross-country trails, stop in at the Moonlight Lodge (call for summer hours) and sit at the bar. If you’re riding lifts, beers on the patio at Montana Jack’s is the way to go.

Big Sky Resort plaza

To really up the ante, stay over night. We’ve all spent a weekend skiing at Big Sky; why not do the same come summer? There are more trails every year, and riding isn’t all the resort offers June through October—ziplining, a ropes course, and other activities satisfy the need for variety. Lodging deals can be found at the base area, and condo rentals are cheaper than in winter. Use that as an excuse to tick off some bucket-list activities, like climbing up Beehive or hiking in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.