Big Sky 2025: A $150 Million Vision for the Next Decade on Lone Peak

1000X300_LIFTS

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.

IMG_2358

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.

IMG_1283
Phase one underway this summer includes the new Challenger Triple, Lone Peak Six and upgrades to Ramcharger and Lone Tree.

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.

Mid-term (2018-2021)

midtermmap

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)

longtermmap

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.

Advertisements

23 thoughts on “Big Sky 2025: A $150 Million Vision for the Next Decade on Lone Peak

  1. tjskiloaf17 August 24, 2016 / 2:31 pm

    well I guess I can count out any chance of sugarloaf getting any new lift ever again. ugh.

    Like

    • Max Hart December 13, 2016 / 3:09 pm

      Agreed. Both Sunday River and Sugarloaf aren’t going to be getting any new lifts unless they have to replace a lift that has had a catastrophic mechanical failure.

      Like

      • Doppelmayr FTW! December 13, 2016 / 5:53 pm

        To be fair, CNL owns those resorts so it is not within boynes power to replace those lifts. Hopefully they aquire them with CNL selling those resorts.

        Like

  2. Doppelmayr FTW! August 24, 2016 / 8:01 pm

    Great post peter! Super exited!

    Like

  3. Cameron August 24, 2016 / 9:02 pm

    Very cool. Out of curiosity, what’s the current status of Big Sky’s assets being repurchased by Boyne Resorts? To my knowledge, CNL still owns Big Sky and has been trying exit the ski business for two years now and only one of its resorts have sold which was Bretton Woods. If CNL still owns Big Sky and they want out of the business, it would be interesting to know who is paying for the expansion.

    Like

    • Peter Landsman August 24, 2016 / 9:16 pm

      CNL owns Sugarloaf, Sunday River, etc. but not Big Sky. The entire CNL portfolio remains for sale including non-Boyne operated mountains like Northstar. This new plan is 100 percent Boyne.

      Like

  4. PeterK August 24, 2016 / 9:14 pm

    “Big Sky Resort will operate the second largest lift fleet in North America this winter second only to Whistler Blackcomb” and

    “…Big Sky 2025 will transition the resort from one with the most lifts to one with the best lifts…”

    This is simply not true on numerous counts;

    1) Park City has 32 lifts (19 high speed or gondola)
    2) Whistler has 29 lifts (18 high speed or gondola)
    3) Big Sky has 26 lifts (9 high speed or gondola/tram)

    Big Sky is THIRD in lifts (and not very high quality lifts compared to WB & PC).

    If you measure skier days, it gets even worse:

    1) Whistler – 2.2 m visits
    2) Park City – 1.25 m visits (estimated)
    3) Big Sky – 0.5m visits

    Not even TOP TEN in skier visits.

    Furthermore acres are also not in Big Sky’s favor:

    1) Whistler – 8,100 acres
    2) Park City – 7300 acres
    3) Big Sky – 5,800 acres

    THIRD in acres.

    This kind of Trumpian/Republican alternative reality that ignores the facts simply makes Mr Kirchener lose all credibility. You can’t pretend your neighbors in the Wasatch to the south and the Coast Range to the North don’t exist. This press conference is nothing more than a forward looking fluff piece to encourage real estate investments. None of it is based on reality. A resort w/ 0.5m skier visits cannot sustain itself in its present configuration, let alone a future fantasy state that only puts them in further debt (which will just lead Vail to pick up the pieces and get it for cheap).

    Like

    • Peter Landsman August 24, 2016 / 9:42 pm

      I wrote the part about having the second most lifts. That was not claimed by Mr. Kircher or anyone else from Big Sky. I have corrected the article to reflect that Big Sky has the third most lifts (it depends on whether you count magic carpets, rope tows, etc.)

      I don’t think anyone wants or expects Big Sky to ever dance with Vail or Whistler on skier visits. However, this slide from today shows Big Sky’s impressive growth in visitation since the recession.

      There was minimal talk about real estate today. To the contrary, Moonlight and Spanish Peaks’ dependence on real estate in the 2000s was talked about and how unsustainable it was. Stephen Kircher specifically mentioned how Big Sky’s Mountain Village will never be big but will be thoughtfully designed. This plan is about Boyne’s core businesses which are skiing and destination travel. If you want to read about real estate check out Whistler’s Renaissance plan!

      Like

      • Doppelmayr FTW! August 24, 2016 / 10:47 pm

        Well said Peter! (Not PeterK)

        Like

    • sabatoa August 25, 2016 / 9:47 am

      I hope Big Sky never reaches those visitor numbers. It’s perfect as it is.

      Like

      • ah August 25, 2016 / 10:09 am

        +1. No shame in not being #1 in skier visits! Peter L probably has run the numbers, but maybe their claim is “most lifts per skier” – which actually is a more robust claim to make than just “most lifts”

        Like

    • Tracey Hamilton August 27, 2016 / 6:43 am

      PeterK,
      No need to bring politics into this… I suggest you loosen your man bun and have a cocktail.

      Like

  5. Alex August 26, 2016 / 11:40 am

    I am interested to see what they will do with the Lone Peak Tram. Seems like a 3S Gondola is too much capacity, thus seems like their options (assuming they are going all Doppelmayr) are either a classic reversible Aerial Tramway or a Funifor. Does anyone know the pros/cons of each? Seems like they are very similar.

    Like

    • Doppelmayr FTW! August 26, 2016 / 3:51 pm

      The big issue is the size of the peak, it is so small anything more than 30 at a time will overcrowd the peak. That is why it would make more sence to only marginally improve the capacity of the tram and put a high speed quad up the liberty side running like 1800 pph that would keep the peak much clearer, prettier, and less expensive.

      Like

  6. Mike Turley August 27, 2016 / 9:08 am

    Where are they gonna find all the lift mechanics needed for all those new lifts ?

    Like

  7. Robery K Neine August 31, 2016 / 2:18 pm

    “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.”

    On paper, yes. In reality. No. To ski that vertical means skiing the N. Summit and that terrain will be a challenge to keep covered in snow. It already gets skied off with the limited access that is in effect. Add to the the very technical nature of the descent, maybe 5-10% of skiers can negotiate the middle section. Once you are off the upper 1800 vertical the remaining terrain is pretty flat, subject to wind scour and will most certainly require extensive snow making.

    Quite frankly this is marketing bullshit.

    Like

    • Peter Landsman August 31, 2016 / 2:35 pm

      Isn’t there already a route from the top of Shedhorn to the bottom of Six Shooter on a cat track? Big Sky might need to do some grading or build a bridge near Moonlight Lodge but it seems possible. Not that you would want to ski 10 miles of cat road.

      Like

  8. Roberty K Neine September 1, 2016 / 6:49 am

    That route gets you to the bottom of Six-shooter already and traverses what is purported to be the longest ski bridge in the world.

    The lift in question would start at the Moonlight Basin Golf Course and to get 4500′ vert. you would need to ski to the bottom of that lift.

    Perhaps if they could make their claim with an asterisk. ;)

    The point being, you get off the Tram and JHMR and can really ski 4000′ vert.

    Like

  9. Charlie October 18, 2018 / 11:36 am

    They should replace lone moose with a detach quad

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s