Big Sky Quietly Adds 27th Lift

The Stagecoach lift stands partially completed with Lone Peak looming in June 2016. After two owners, two bankruptcies, two names, two installers and almost a decade, it will open this winter at Moonlight Basin.

We’ve heard little about the two lift projects surrounding Lone Peak this summer, even though they will bring North America’s largest contiguous ski complex to a record 43 lifts before counting carpets.  As I covered before, the biggest development is at the Yellowstone Club, where a new Doppelmayr gondola, high-speed quad and triple chair will create one of the largest beginner skiing facilities in America, though few will be lucky enough to learn to ski there.

Most of the towers for Big Sky’s Stagecoach lift flew October 10, 2008. Skytrac recently installed the rest and a lot happened in between.

Over at Big Sky Resort, anyone with a ticket to the Biggest Skiing in America will be able to ride the new Stagecoach double chair this winter.  Stagecoach extends the long tradition of so-called lodging access lifts here, begun with Pony Express in 1995 and followed by White Otter, Cascade, arguably all five of the Spanish Peaks lifts, and most recently Little Thunder.  Amazingly, almost half of the 43 lifts on Lone Peak and the surrounding mountains exist to create ski-in, ski-out real estate.  At Big Sky Resort, most of these machines are seconds from other Boyne mountains and they have their own color on the trail map: purple.

Can you find it?  The approximate location of the new Stagecoach lift on the expansive Big Sky trail map is marked in red.

In the five years prior to the real estate bubble bursting nationwide in 2008, a crazy 18 lifts were built in Big Sky at four separate ski operations.  One of those, Moonlight Basin, opened in December 2003 as Lone Peak’s second public ski resort.  The development’s first two lifts had simply connected to neighboring Big Sky Resort in 1994 and 1995. Between 2003 and 2006, founder Lee Poole and his partners went it alone, adding four more lifts including Montana’s first six-pack.  Three of these were among the last CTECs off the line following the Doppelmayr merger.

Begun with some of $124 million in funding from Lehman Brothers, the construction of Moonlight’s seventh lift came at a bad time.  Work across Moonlight Basin slowed September 7th, 2008 when the resort needed to start making payments on the $100 million loan it had signed a year earlier.  Then, shockingly, the bank itself filed for Chapter 11 protection eight days later.  As lift towers flew the afternoon of of October 10th, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported Moonlight was laying off many of its workers.  The last two towers didn’t make it onto the mountain that day and wouldn’t for a very long time.

With no means to pay its largest creditor and others, Moonlight Basin Ranch filed for bankruptcy in November 2009.  Lehman Brothers foreclosed on the property in 2012 and for one year the famous New York bank operated a ski resort some 2,200 miles away.  Over the following few seasons, CrossHarbor Capital Partners of Boston bought stakes in the Yellowstone Club, Spanish Peaks Mountain Club and Moonlight Basin, while the Stagecoach lift sat half finished with sheave trains literally lying in the mud.

Today, Big Sky is a much more stable place.  Boyne Resorts operates the lifts at Big Sky, Spanish Peaks and Moonlight while Discovery Land Company runs The Yellowstone Club.  A subsidiary of CrossHarbor called Lone Mountain Land Company develops and sells real estate at Spanish Peaks and Moonlight.  Last year, the company selected Skytrac Lifts to finally complete the forgotten Stagecoach lift, which begins near the Ulerys Lakes and unloads along Peaks View Drive with a ski-out to Six Shooter and Derringer.

Back in 2007, Moonlight Basin purchased the Haymeadow lift, a 1980 Doppelmayr from the earliest days of Beaver Creek, to become Stagecoach.  At one point, it was to be called Ulerys Lakes lift but Stagecoach fit better with Moonlight’s western theme.  Foundations for the bottom terminal with counterweight tensioning were poured and two operator houses delivered before work abruptly stopped.

A series of skier bridges, one of which is probably the world’s longest, form a single run called Alpine Meadows which leads to the Stagecoach lift.

Fast forward nine years and Skytrac has changed course with a brand new Monarch drive-tension station up top and monopod Peak return terminal below.  While it will no longer be a classic ’80s Doppelmayr, Skytrac’s first project in Big Sky is well-suited to a company adept at adapting to other manufacturers’ equipment.  The lone run to Stagecoach won’t be compelling for most skiers, but seek this lift out if you ski at Big Sky by venturing behind Moonlight Lodge.  As you ride back up Moonlight Basin, ponder just how crazy the last decade was here and appreciate how much better things are now.  The new ski-in, ski-out cabins going up around Stagecoach are pretty sweet too.

18 thoughts on “Big Sky Quietly Adds 27th Lift

  1. Doppelmayr FTW! September 24, 2017 / 7:35 pm

    Great post Peter! I love to learn about the messy history of Moonlight Basin! they were actually building another six pack adjacent to six shooter as well, that’s what the out of place straight run leading towards lone tree is, they were cutting the lift line when the bankruptcy happened.


    • ah September 25, 2017 / 11:44 am

      +1. A nice comprehensive update for a lift I may never ski to, plus a great history lesson.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Peter Landsman September 24, 2017 / 7:58 pm

    I never noticed that other lift line! You can really see it in the Google Map above starting from the same spot as Six Shooter. Crazy how it just sort of ends like the Stagecoach project did.

    Unlike most of the places I write about, I grew up going to Big Sky often and feel like I watched all this happen. Still love going back to see how it has changed. The Big Sky story is definitely not over.

    World’s longest skier bridge at Moonlight.


  3. Cameron Halmrast September 24, 2017 / 10:08 pm

    When I skied Moonlight Basin in 2004, the ski area was a ghost town and lift tickets were only $32. We had our own private ski guide (mountain host) who told us about this future lift (six-pack) but they ran into financing issues and instead installed the Lone Tree quad. So I guess the project never died so it will be interesting if Boyne decides to install a future detachable in that location.


    • Mike September 25, 2017 / 11:28 am

      One of the more disappointing elements of the Big Sky 2025 plan was that it did not include a lift on this alignment. This is a shame, as the terrain to the West of the main Moonlight Basin runs offer some of the most promising expansion opportunities for the resort, with long, north-facing runs that can be hard to come by elsewhere on Lone Peak.


      • Doppelmayr FTW! September 25, 2017 / 11:38 am

        I just checked the 2025 website, it appears there is indeed a lift to replace Lone Tree in a similar alignment as this defunct lift, maybe they will do something there in the future?


      • ah September 25, 2017 / 11:50 am

        Good point – as it is now, most of that part of BS/Moonlight requires two lifts – Six Shooter and Lone Tree – to access. Not so great for doing laps. But unless you’re skiing into Stillwater Bowl it’s a long way back around. (No wonder it’s so quiet over there, though.)


      • RMurphy September 27, 2017 / 12:17 am

        The lack of North facing runs is probably the worst part about Big Sky. You’re pretty much stuck on Headwaters and parts of Lone Tree if you can’t get a North Summit time. Unfortunately, Bridger’s East facing, which means Bozeman is SOL on rough days.


  4. ah September 25, 2017 / 11:54 am

    @Doppelmayr FTW! – Yeah, you’re right, although curiously it appears to start up a bit from the Six Shooter base, so would still preclude many runs down from avoiding a two-lift trip. That said, that’s a “long term” plan so presumably they could adjust later.


  5. Cameron Halmrast September 25, 2017 / 1:28 pm

    Any word as to why Lone Tree was converted from a quad to a triple?


  6. WP September 25, 2017 / 3:28 pm

    Good to see they finally finished it. It always seemed that one of the tower foundations had settled over the years, and the tower had a little lean to it. It will be an exhilarating experience for homeowners as they get to hear the buzz and crackling while passing directly under the high voltage power lines!


  7. Peter Landsman September 27, 2017 / 9:10 pm

    Update: Big Sky is also adding four new carpets this summer as well as relocating/upgrading another:
    1. Current Middle Basin Carpet: this carpet is getting lengthened and being moved to replace the current Bear Basin Carpet. It is also getting a larger drive roller, and a forced warm air heater to blow on the drive roller to keep things from icing up allowing us to move more people on the carpet with less slipping.
    2. New Carpet 1: this will be an 80’ Magic Carpet brand carpet in the Big Sky base area kids bowl.
    3. New Carpet 2: this will be the same as “New Carpet 1”
    4. New Carpet 3: This will be a new Magic Carpet brand carpet installed in the same place as the current Middle Basin Carpet. This carpet will be covered with a “Big Sky Blue” tunnel and should allow us to more than double the capacity up that lift.
    5. New Carpet 4: this will be a new 150’ Magic Carpet brand carpet installed in the Madison Base Area. With the addition of this carpet, we will now have two carpets in the Madison Base Area allowing ski school to work on skills on steeper terrain before committing to the Derringer Lift.

    By my count that brings Big Sky to 11 surface lifts!


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