Get your fill of authentic big-mountain skiing and riding from the top of Lone Mountain, where you can also take in views of the Madison and Gallatin river valleys.
Advanced skiers appreciate that Montana's Big Sky Resort has some of the world's most extreme in-bounds terrain. Couloirs, chutes, and bowls -- take your pick of your route down from the top.
The main question: How vertical is too vertical? Not that Big Sky is expert-only -- you'll find gentler terrain on the adjacent Andestite and FlatIron mountains. If you're counting, that's 3,832 acres in all, with a 4,350-foot vertical drop from the top. (The longest run is a full six miles.) Add in the adjoining slopes at Moonlight Basin, and you've got more than 5,500 acres, a.k.a. the Biggest Skiing in America (www.biggestskiinginamerica.com) -- accessed with one lift ticket of the same name ($98 per adult if purchased at the window).
But it's not just about what's on-mountain at Big Sky; it's also about what surrounds the slopes. For cross-country skiers, Lone Mountain Ranch is just a few miles down the road. This longstanding guest ranch is not shuttered in the winter -- it is arguably the best Nordic ski area in the country, with more than 50 miles of trails spread over 2,000 vertical feet. (That's more vertical than many downhill resorts.) You're also a short drive away from Yellowstone National Park. You can embark on a snowcoach tour from West Yellowstone, or go on a ski or snowshoe tour on one of the lesser-used trailheads off of U.S. 191.
You're also less than an hour's drive to the hip college town of Bozeman (shuttle to Big Sky is $5, and the ride back to town is free). Recuperate here for a day (spending the evening at one of the many terrific restaurants downtown), then head up to Bridger Bowl. This prototype small ski area, about 20 miles north of town, has some hike-to terrain that's especially extreme for a mom-and-pop resort.
What's New at Big Sky Resort
Big Sky has added more than 20 acres of terrain this season in the form of five new gladed runs on Andestite Mountain. In the village, Solace Spa & Salon opened in the Huntley Lodge at the beginning of the season. For kids, there's also a new winter laser tag game in the village.
Also new this season is Big Sky Replay, a smartphone app that tracks the user's ski days and cumulative vertical feet, awards virtual medals for milestones, and connects and shares stats with friends.
Best Ski Deals at Big Sky Resort
Ski-and-stay packages at Big Sky start at $350 per person for three nights of lodging and two days of lift tickets. In response to the dearth of snow at many Western resorts, Big Sky is also offering free lift tickets to those in possession of Vail Resorts' Epic Pass through the end of January, as well as discounted lift tickets for two of the passholder's compatriots.
Sleigh and Stay Package at Lone Mountain Ranch gets you one night's lodging, a sleigh-ride dinner with food and entertainment, and breakfast ($159 per person per night). Considering that typical stays are a week and run $1,000 per person or more, this is a steal.
Save the Dates
If you like a side of Americana and bluegrass music with your skiing, Big Sky Big Grass is Feb. 17-19. (Lodging deals start at $109 per night.) Many Big Sky Saturday nights bring outdoor bashes at SnoBar, a bar made entirely of snow and ice. Check the events calendar for current happenings.
Wash down a plate of nachos or a bowl of jambalaya with the eminently quaffable microbrews at the Lone Peak Brewery (http://lonepeakbrewery.com) in Meadow Village.