Big Sky Resort plans to build the most high-speed, high-tech lift network in North America over the next ten years, the company announced at media event this afternoon. Boyne Resorts Principal Stephen Kircher outlined Big Sky 2025, a $150 million road map for capital investment that includes a new North Village gondola, replacement of core lifts with bubble six-packs and additional lifts to serve new terrain. Enhanced snowmaking, new on-mountain dining and improvements to the Mountain Village will complement the massive investment in new lifts.
The rise of Big Sky from Chet Huntley’s four-lift outpost in 1973 to the Biggest Skiing in America with 26 lifts owes in large part to the Matterhorn-like mountain named Lone Peak. Boyne Resorts bought Big Sky in 1976 and slowly grew it into America’s largest ski resort by 2013 with the purchase of Moonlight Basin and the Spanish Peaks Mountain Club. Mr. Kircher noted none of the three mountains were financially sustainable in the 2000s and the uniting of the three has been transformative. Now with 5,800 acres of terrain, Boyne seeks to elevate the ski experience to match the grandeur of its mountain that is unmatched in North America. “We have a unique opportunity with the high alpine terrain here at Big Sky,” he noted.
With $13 million of construction underway on the mountain, Big Sky Resort will operate the
second third largest lift fleet in North America this winter behind Whistler Blackcomb and Park City. The sprawling complex already includes two six-packs, five detachable quads and the famous Lone Peak Tram. This summer’s new lifts are just the beginning of a plan that includes the return of a gondola and ten more lifts (eight with bubbles) within existing boundaries and beyond. Big Sky 2025 will transition the resort from one with nearly the most lifts to one with the best lifts featuring loading carpets, bubble chairs, head rests and heated seats that skiers have become accustomed to in Austria and Switzerland but rarely find in the States.
2018-2021 will see a new gondola, replacement lifts for Ramcharger and Shedhorn and upgrades to three existing lifts:
- A two stage, 10-passenger North Village Gondola will connect Mountain Village directly to the Bowl. Big Sky had at least one and sometimes two gondolas from the resort’s opening in 1973 until 2008. The return of a gondola will elevate Big Sky back to the top tier of American skiing. A mid-station on the gondola will replace Explorer, Big Sky’s oldest lift and be home to a large new restaurant. “This will be the best beginner lift ever built,” said Kircher. The gondola will be timed to open along with a new hotel at the North end of the Village around 2019.
- A 6-place bubble chair will replace Ramcharger, Big Sky’s second oldest lift. Ramcharger is arguably Big Sky’s most important lift connecting Andesite and Lone Mountains. Bubble chairs will better serve Everett’s 8,800 diners day and night. When Explorer and Ramcharger are retired, Big Sky’s oldest lift will be a 1993 high speed quad.
- A long-overdue detachable quad will replace Shedhorn, a Heron-Poma double chair relocated to Big Sky in 1995. This will likely use Ramcharger’s old equipment.
- A new lift below Six Shooter in Moonlight Basin will give Big Sky a 4,500′ vertical drop and top Jackson Hole and Snowmass for the largest continuous lift-served vertical in the United States.
- Bubble chairs will be added to Six Shooter and loading carpets to Iron Horse and Lone Moose to improve the lift experience.
Long term (2022 and beyond)
The third phase focuses on new lifts in new places, mostly within Big Sky’s existing footprint with up to 8 new lifts:
- A Swift Current six-place bubble chair will replace one of Big Sky’s workhorse lifts that will be 30 years old in 2026. Swift Current is nearly 9,000 feet long and a cold ride on an exposed ridge. The six-pack will combine with the new North Village Gondola to better serve the heart of the mountain.
- A six-place bubble chair will replace Thunder Wolf which is nearly 6,000 feet long and serves some of the best intermediate skiing in North America. The current high speed quad will be 30 years old in 2023 and due for replacement.
- A new lift on the South Face will serve Liberty Bowl above Dakota. This lift has been talked about for years to serve the best terrain on the upper reaches of Lone Peak without the need for skiers to brave the tram line.
- A high speed quad will replace Iron Horse near Moonlight Lodge. This lifts was built by Moonlight Basin before it opened its own ski resort on the north side of Lone Peak. A high speed lift will be a welcome addition to an area seeing more traffic near the center of the combined mountain.
- A high-speed mid-mountain Moonlight lift will connect to the top of Lone Tree. This will likely use equipment from the replaced Ramcharger and Thunder Wolf quads.
- A Moonlight Basin West expansion lift will be added as planned but never completed before Moonlight’s bankruptcy.
- An extended Headwaters lift which was also scrapped during Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy will start lower and higher than the current one. The Headwaters double was listed on Resort Boneyard and scheduled to be replaced back in 2007. The new, longer lift will start at the base of Lone Tree.
- Boyne is looking at several options for the future of the Lone Peak Tram. The current tram can only haul 200 skiers per hour, making it the lowest capacity aerial lift in all of North America serving a massive amount of terrain. Capacity could be modestly increased but a whole new tram is the long-term solution.
All in, the Big Sky 2025 vision includes a new gondola, replacement tram, three six-packs and seven other new lifts. For that to happen by 2025, Boyne will need to install 1-2 new lifts every year for the next nine which is unprecedented in the modern era of North American skiing. A reporter at the press event brought up the issue of real estate sales impacting the phasing of the plan. Stephen Kircher countered that the Big Sky 2025 vision does not rely on revenue from real estate transactions or from other Boyne Resorts.
Big Sky has always flown under the radar despite being one of of the largest ski mountains in the world outside of the Alps. A dozen modern lifts, new dining options and an expanded village will go a long way towards bringing the Biggest Skiing in America to the next level.