Big Sky to Transform Base-to-Summit Lift Experience

The final chapter of Big Sky 2025 will be the largest yet, with a new gondola and tram connecting Big Sky Resort’s Mountain Village to Lone Peak. This multi-year project will cement Big Sky as a leader in lift technology among North American resorts.

Big Sky embarked on the 2025 initiative six years ago to enhance the mountain experience with a focus on lifts and dining. Boyne Resorts partnered with Doppelmayr to bring North America’s first eight place and fastest six place chairlifts to Big Sky in 2018 and 2021 and now the companies will build two more signature lifts leading up to 2025.

A new Explorer Gondola will load at the north end of the village and replace Big Sky’s last remaining original Heron-Poma lift which turns 50 next year. Together with Ramcharger 8 and Swift Current 6, three high capacity D-Line lifts will all load in the village. An intermediate gondola station will house a new ski school center and underground parking for cabins. This station will also include a direct drive powering both gondola haul ropes via a double-grooved bullwheel. Cabins will turn 22 degrees before ascending to a second new lodge near the top of Big Sky’s original Gondola One. Unlike Boyne Resorts’ five other D-Line lifts, the Explorer Gondola will feature squared glass enclosures, matching the style of the new tram stations and Bowl restaurant. The architecture alone will be unlike anything else in North American skiing.

Garaventa will build the reconfigured Lone Peak Tram, which will start at the new mid-mountain hub and operate year round. Large cabins will pass one tower before arriving at a glass-enclosed terminal at 11,166 feet. The new tram will be nearly twice as long as the current one but also faster and more capable.

“The new lift system from the base area to the summit of Lone Peak will revolutionize the way we access ‘America’s Matterhorn’ in both winter and summer,” said Big Sky Resort president and COO Taylor Middleton. “In creating this must-do experience accessible to all, we will offer the premier high-alpine experience on Montana’s highest scenic overlook.” Although tram cabins will be able to accommodate more passengers at once than the current 15 person tram, Big Sky plans to carefully manage throughput depending on conditions and season.

“We couldn’t think of a more significant and emblematic series of initiatives to close out the transformation we’re accomplishing with the Big Sky 2025 vision,” noted Stephen Kircher, CEO and president of Boyne Resorts. “Coupling a truly world-class tram experience with the most architecturally thoughtful on-mountain food and beverage and Mountain Sports facilities will set a new standard for mountain communities in North America. This innovative project will kick off an exciting new chapter in transforming the future of tourism in Big Sky and across southwest Montana, and sets the stage for planning Big Sky’s next steps.”

Construction will begin this summer although a project of this size will take multiple construction seasons to complete. The current Lone Peak Tram and Explorer lifts will remain in service throughout the process with the new tram set for completion in Fall 2023.

59 thoughts on “Big Sky to Transform Base-to-Summit Lift Experience

  1. Tommy Boy February 15, 2022 / 10:14 am

    Impressive. Any cost estimates for the project?

    Like

  2. Evilcamels February 15, 2022 / 10:14 am

    Will miss the iconic span with no towers, I would wager this change will not be popular with ‘old timers’. Interested to see if they will retain the new ticket policy regarding tram usage.

    Like

    • ah February 15, 2022 / 12:06 pm

      Seems like “managing throughput” will almost certainly require it. 5x tram capacity (though granted a trip time that’s probably 2x including loading) may reduce lines but can the summit handle that?

      That said, it would be nice if they could find a way to do it without tram price add ons.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Skier February 15, 2022 / 6:15 pm

        When they introduced the tram price add on, they claimed it was to reduce the tram line. If this is actually true, I would expect them to get rid of the tram add on and have it included in a standard lift ticket since a 75 person tram will definitely reduce the line

        Like

        • Yup March 7, 2022 / 8:15 pm

          Sounds like the tram price add on is here to stay.

          Like

  3. skitheeast February 15, 2022 / 10:26 am

    This will be quite an impressive project. It is pretty apparent that summer visitation is in mind here, with an emphasis on pedestrian access from base to summit year-round. This comes as no surprise given Big Sky’s proximity to Yellowstone. I know Jackson Hole (or at least the town) gets more visitors in the summer than in the winter, and Big Sky is smart to copy this idea.

    It is a good tagline to mark this as the closing of Big Sky 2025, but I would be shocked if this is it for the next while. The Flatiron real estate project has proposed making Lone Moose a detachable quad and Thunder Wolf a combi/telemix, and something needs to be done about Six Shooter being the sole out-of-base lift from Madison and Lone Tree having an absurd amount of terrain to itself. Boyne has shown a willingness to develop its resorts in recent years, and I have confidence that they will continue to develop Big Sky for a number of years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Blake February 15, 2022 / 10:42 am

      The entire Madison Base is being rebuilt. I expect all those lifts and terrain expansion to occur in the 2025 to 2030 plan.

      Like

    • ah February 15, 2022 / 12:13 pm

      Yeah, it’s called the “final chapter” but the 2025 plan included other lift upgrades. Probably not as sexy, but ThunderWolf, Southern Comfort, and Six Shooter at least were all on the list for replacement in earlier iterations of BigSky2025 (seems to be removed now).

      (Dug this off of wayback machine:

      LATE STAGE PROJECTS
      More improvements are in the works before 2025. These projects include:

      Southern Comfort upgrade
      Iron Horse Replacement & extension
      Madison Base Area lift replacement
      Madison side terrain and lift expansion(s)
      Lone Moose upgrade

      Like

    • Myles Svec February 20, 2022 / 12:25 pm

      The gondola will definitely help, Swift current had 20 min lines all day today.

      Madison base definitely needs a second lift going to the top of Lone Tree as Six Shooter’s lines were 25 minutes today.

      For Lone Moose/Thunder wolf they should move the Thunder wolf HSQ to Lone Moose and give it the Shedhorn treatment and then build a 6/10 D Line bubbles & heated seats Chondola on Thunder wolf.

      Like

    • The Skier March 8, 2022 / 5:55 pm

      I would bet that when 2025 comes around, Big Sky will roll out a 2035 plan with the things you mentioned above that they didn’t get to. Boyne did a similar thing at sugarloaf when they transitioned from their 2020 plan to their 2030 plan.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. MavRat February 15, 2022 / 11:03 am

    Interesting that they are calling this the final project of Big Sky 2025… what happened to upgrading the rest of the Andesite lifts? I keep hearing that the new real-estate development at the bottom of Lone Moose plans to replace Lone Moose with a high speed quad.. not to mention Big Sky’s plans early on in the 2025 plan to upgrade T Wolf & SoCo… also, what happened to plans to put in a second lift out of Madison base to relieve pressure off of Sixer?

    Like

    • The Skier February 15, 2022 / 2:20 pm

      They really should have done one of the projects you just mentioned instead of Swifty. The swift current hsq would have been perfectly fine with this gondola running parallel

      Like

      • Ah February 16, 2022 / 9:13 pm

        This really isn’t a substitute for Swifty. Unless they massively regrade the base area this is uphill from most of the outruns on andesite and off Swifty other than a couple beginner trails.

        This will primarily serve:
        – ski school and beginners
        – Parkers in the lot for their first run
        – hotel guests in new hotel to be built in part of parking lot (plus guests at current hotels at that end)
        – scenic trips and dining
        – summer traffic

        Like

  5. Bruce February 15, 2022 / 1:03 pm

    The already silly expensive lift ticket prices will continue into the stratosphere….

    Like

    • pbropetech February 15, 2022 / 9:36 pm

      I’m not sure where to go with this. At a bare minimum, lift tickets include maintenance wages and supplies, in addition to the lifties y’all see every run, plus energy costs. There are other costs associated, such as ski patrol. I’m sure you want to feel safe riding said lift. As most of you know, the jobs market is pretty competitive right now and competent maintenance technicians can command more in other comparable industry sectors than they can in the ski industry. The days of ‘getting paid in scenery and free passes’ are gone, and most s.ki areas recognise this. Those that don’t will in due course. TL:DR- skiing costs more because of the technology involved and the knowledge required to operate it.
      If this sounds like a rant, it is and I’m sorry. I’ve lost coworkers due to this economic math. I’m in the fairly decent position of being able to make a go of it on subpar ski area wages. I continue because I love my job and my spouse makes a decent wage as well. There are many who are not as fortunate.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Ryan Murphy February 15, 2022 / 10:39 pm

        Just to add to this, the median home in Bozeman costs over $700,000 now, and Big Sky (town) is even pricier. We are one of the most expensive base markets out there, along with Jackson, Telluride, and Aspen.

        Like

      • MavRat February 16, 2022 / 7:55 am

        It costs well over $200 for a single day ticket at Big Sky. That is just as bad or even worse than Vail.

        Their ticket prices aren’t about ensuring employees get paid decently (resort employees at Big Sky still get paid absolute shit, especially compared to the cost of living in the area), it’s about Boyne raking in as much money for their executives back in Michigan.

        Big Sky used to brag about being one of the most affordable major destination resorts out there, but anymore they have looked to increasingly cater to the rich and well-to-do while screwing over and pricing out locals and Middle class tourists.

        Like

        • Ah February 16, 2022 / 9:17 pm

          The current lift ticket model everywhere is a joke. You now have to buy a pass – whether season for your home resort or Ikon/Epic. The day pass rates are for people who ski rarely or didn’t plan ahead or who want to ski on blackout days. It’s weird Economics because it forces people into passes that lead to overuse.

          Liked by 1 person

        • jfoldno7 February 17, 2022 / 7:17 am

          No one on a budget should be buying day passes. Ikon/Epic/Indy passes are a must.

          Like

      • Barry pultz February 23, 2022 / 11:25 am

        I totally agree with all Your points , Just look at the MESS that Vail Corp is dealing with in employee retention and relations, it has massively impacted mountain ops , Ski town economics are totally screwed up and EVERYBODY from LO’s to Ski Patrollers need to be PAID MORE !!!!!!

        Like

    • Nathan February 19, 2022 / 9:03 pm

      Bruce is spot on about the negative impact to lift ticket pricing. Gondolas typically have the same capacity as a high speed six and trams as a fixed grip double but as a much higher price. Personally, I would have preferred a simple liberty bowl T bar which is at least 5 times cheaper.

      Like

      • Turd March 7, 2022 / 8:27 pm

        A liberty bowl t bar…. That’s a stupid idea.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Myles Svec February 15, 2022 / 1:57 pm

    Will extra capacity to Powder Seeker be added? It will definitely need it with the top of the new gondola and swift current 6 unloading there.

    Like

      • Donald Reif February 15, 2022 / 9:50 pm

        Still, it wouldn’t hurt to maybe add a few more chairs to Powder Seeker to give it a slight bump.

        Like

        • Ryan Murphy February 15, 2022 / 10:42 pm

          Donald, I’ve never seen the line at Seeker take more than 5 minutes. It’s almost always walk on. There’s not a huge amount of terrain off the lift, especially given that most tourists tend to avoid Turkey Traverse.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Ah February 16, 2022 / 8:28 pm

          Whether they should do it, they can. I believe it can take something like 50% more chairs

          Like

  7. The Skier February 15, 2022 / 2:18 pm

    I wish big Sky had gone with the square glass enclosures for Ramcharger 8 and swift Current 6. It looks way better and would allow all their d line lifts out of mountain village to match

    Like

  8. V12Tommy February 15, 2022 / 2:37 pm

    Looks amazing. I really like the boxy R2 style gondola stations. Not sure I’m really onboard with the design of the building at the top of the gondola, although their renderings look like the view from inside the building look great. All that must be costing them a fortune though.

    Like

  9. Thomas Jett February 15, 2022 / 4:35 pm

    So this will make it possible to lap everything to the skier’s left of Dictator Chutes?

    Like

    • ah February 22, 2022 / 1:14 pm

      It should. Just take Duck Walk back around (or the Bowl runout if hitting Gullies).

      Like

  10. Mi_skier February 15, 2022 / 6:00 pm

    when you say the tram will be completed in 2023, does that mean both lifts? if not, when will the gondola be done?

    Like

    • Peter Landsman February 15, 2022 / 6:01 pm

      Big Sky did not release a specific timeline for the gondola.

      Like

  11. skristiansen23 February 15, 2022 / 6:21 pm

    Big sky should have done the tram upgrade and a six shooter upgrade. No need for a gondola when you have a bubble six right next to it.

    Like

    • george February 15, 2022 / 9:29 pm

      grow the summer market too…..new seamless route to the top.

      Like

    • Dirt February 16, 2022 / 10:30 pm

      The gondola upgrade is huge for ski school and taking people out of the base. Have you ever been at the resort when swifty breaks down? With explorer double being the only lift to get onto the Lone Mountain side….. it’s a shit show. I don’t see a need to upgrade 6shooter for a couple more years.

      Like

    • G1 February 18, 2022 / 1:55 pm

      Big Sky has needed a new gondola since the old one bit the shit.

      Like

  12. Rico S. February 15, 2022 / 9:00 pm

    Looks very cool. A true European Alps style tram and engineering feat. However….they are likely going to have to scrape the top of the peak flat to build that top station and manage the new skier traffic, and it will turn Liberty, Marx and Lenin into bump fields.

    Like

  13. Chris February 16, 2022 / 6:53 am

    Tram return stations can be surprisingly small and are often built treste-style in high alpine environments, so I don’t think they’ll need much scraping. And yes, the south facing runs will get way busier, but at least for European standards there is plenty of space for the capacity of such a medium sized tram. Maybe they’ll also scrap the sign out and 2 person only every 15 minutes BS for the the big couloir to turn it into a proper bump run :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • nedakal February 17, 2022 / 4:50 pm

      That’s stupid. In that case they should just keep the existing lift.

      Like

      • pbropetech February 20, 2022 / 9:08 pm

        It appears the current lift will become untenable in a matter of years.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Somebody February 21, 2022 / 9:35 am

      This is why I can’t place BS up as one of the best ski areas in the country, all the challenging terrain is locked behind an $80 per day ($560 for a week) paywall. And that’s *including* your lift ticket (almost $1k for a week). Keep in mind that that’s for one person, for a family of four expert skiers you’re talking about $2250 for tram access alone or $6000 for lift tickets+tram access.

      The only way any expert can afford this place is to have the stupid $2k gold season pass or have an ikon pass and drop an extra $500 anyways on stupid tram access passes.

      Meanwhile that same ikon passholder can go to tons of other incredible resorts (Jackson, Alta-bird, squaw-alpine, revelstoke, etc) for free. BS is a really hard sell.

      Like

      • Peter Landsman February 21, 2022 / 10:01 am

        No tram pass required for Challenger/Lone Tree/Headwaters. Most skiers don’t ride the tram every day.

        No one skiing a week at a destination resort should be buying day tickets in 2022. There are so many better options – Ikon Base ($649), Ikon Session ($399) and Mountain Collective ($499) all work at Big Sky.

        Like

        • Somebody February 21, 2022 / 1:03 pm

          That’s fair, those three lifts do have some good advanced/expert terrain, but I don’t think their terrain alone really compares to places like Jackson, Snowbird, Alta, etc

          I will concede that Big Sky is great for the vast majority of skiers, even without the tram. But for those who want to ski that type of terrain as much as possible, the paywall is discouraging.

          Like

        • Munier Salem February 21, 2022 / 3:09 pm

          It’s a really interesting problem. Most people would agree access to Lone Peak should be restricted. The easiest way down (Liberty Bowl) would be a double black at most resorts. The summit has wind and snow-depth challenges (just take a look at the insane array of wind-fencing on google maps). A lot of the steeper runs would be downright unsafe if they got too skied out. And no one wants the easier routes to turn into shark-teeth bump runs.

          But what’s the best way to limit access? You could make it hike-to terrain. But that’s not really keeping with the “Alps of America” vibe. And there are plenty of other resorts that allow you to earn your turns.

          A jigback tram (even with 100 passengers) really limits access naturally. But then who gets to ride it?

          Until a couple years ago it was “whoever is willing to wait in line for 30-60 minutes”. This was really annoying for destination skiers who didn’t want to waste that much time in a line on their once-in-a-lifetime Big Sky adventure.

          Now they have a hefty surcharge. Destination skiers (like me) will pay it on one or two days, just to get in bucket list runs like Marx or Lenin. And that would be a great day, with rapid access to steep, empty runs (hooray!). Compared to airfare, lodging, and the inevitable “Big Rock” damage to my skis, $80 is not a huge deal. It’s better than paying $30 to park at Vail. Locals feel priced out. Honestly, that was probably part of the logic.

          Only so many people can ride the tram. It’s not a crime that the resort wants to prioritize tourists dropping hundreds of bucks on local businesses during their one solid week of skiing that year.

          If I were devising a system and was instructed to maintain similar priorities and goals, I’d personally opt for a Disney fast-pass-like option. Every day, skiers could swing by the tram, insert their pass in a kiosk, and get a time to come back to ride the tram at. You can get a new appointment after the first one had passed. Guests staying on property or at nearby lodging faciltiies could be granted access to online, advanced reservations for tram access.

          Ideally, this system means:
          – everyone gets at least one tram ride that day
          – no one waits in a giant terrible line
          – destination travelers / big spenders get more laps in
          – locals don’t have to deal with a massive upcharge

          Just my 2c.

          Liked by 1 person

        • The Skier February 21, 2022 / 6:06 pm

          @Munier Salem- your solution might be the smartest thing I have ever read on this website. I think you would have trouble finding someone that would be opposed to a system with no lines and where everyone has access to the tram included in their lift ticket… except maybe Boyne executives back in Michigan who line their pockets with the $80 per day tram tickets.

          Like

        • Somebody February 21, 2022 / 6:27 pm

          I don’t love your solution since it feels like a way to theme-park-ify skiing more than it already has been. Plus, with the ability to make reservations and ski away and come back later, you’re only getting 1-2 rides in max (since it’s so convenient to make a reservation and ski away), which is frustrating if you’re visiting for the tram’s terrain.

          My honest opinion is that they should add more terrain in off the top if possible, allow 70-80 people on the tram and just have a line. Some lifts could also be installed to cover some of the tram’s terrain without turning it all into a mogul field. I’m not sure why Dakota/Wyoming Bowl and the west side of the peak aren’t developed, it looks like there’s plenty of good terrain in there.

          At the end of the day, a line is just the most fair system. I’ve waited in line a fair bit for the Jackson tram and that system works well enough. The most dedicated skiers who really want to get to the top end up getting to the top. The line weeds out lots of people who would otherwise just go up for the picture and slip and slide down the bowl.

          Like

        • G! February 21, 2022 / 7:19 pm

          To the comment about Dakota and WYoming Bowl, Big Sky does not own that land, it is USFS land, which would require several hoops and hurdles to develop.

          Like

        • Nathan February 22, 2022 / 10:38 am

          I suppose the tram surcharge is preferable to hour+ waits but I’d rather just ski somewhere else.

          I don’t buy the argument that access to the peak must be severely limited. Liberty and the other southern exposures are vast areas that can support significant traffic. Some of the steepest areas might have to close during dry spells just like at other expert ski areas.

          Rather than waste big bucks on a new tram, I’d much rather see less costly lifts and/or expansion. Expanding to Dakota and Wyoming bowl would help spread people out without any new lifts required. Expansion onto the west face with a simple chairlift could be some of the best skiing with 2k vertical continuous steeps. A liberty bowl t bar would be a much more cost effective way to increase capacity. You could do all of these expansions for less than the cost of the Tram.

          Like

        • ah February 22, 2022 / 1:12 pm

          Whether pay or wait in line is “more fair” is eye of the beholder. Some people are happy to wait long periods to avoid having to pay something (free sandwich? Sure, I’ll wait an hour!). Others prefer to pay so that they don’t have to wait. Both are reasonable approaches, but neither is inherently more “fair”.

          As for how BS handles tram access, they’ve clearly decided better to charge to limit access than frustrate people with waiting, including those who would like to pay. Pretty sure they’ve done surveys of this, and the tram wait is a big frustration. And also pretty sure Ikon passes haven’t helped, as it’s shifted the mix of skiers to single trippers over repeat customers (not just at BS, but everywhere – the passes basically force you to limit visits at each resort and explore others).

          The fast pass idea is intriguing. So would giving one free tram ride for any multiday tickets (or for that matter single-day tickets). If you’re paying day-pass rates then throw in a ride for each one free. But every one after that.

          Like

        • Local big sky skier March 7, 2022 / 8:49 pm

          MUNIER SALEM The tram fast pass has been tried and it was a shit show. It didn’t work. I hope they never try it again.

          The tram charge has been awesome for everyone wanting to ski the tram. Been getting about 6 laps a day on the tram this year.

          As for Dakota Bowl and Wyoming Bowl…. It’s all rocks.

          Liked by 1 person

      • awconrad February 21, 2022 / 10:08 am

        I mean, there’s also some challenging terrain off Headwaters and Lone Tree, just less than the Tram. So not all the expert terrain is paywalled, just the most famous.

        Like

      • Myles Svec February 21, 2022 / 11:45 am

        The gold pass is also very hard to get, when it goes on sale it usually sells out in an hour.

        Like

        • Guy February 21, 2022 / 2:08 pm

          That isn’t true, it was available for purchase for almost 4 months pre season with many reminders of when it would be sold out.

          Like

        • Gold pass holder March 7, 2022 / 8:50 pm

          So not true lol.

          Liked by 1 person

  14. Joe Warner February 21, 2022 / 1:11 pm

    Big sky needs to do better about plowing/heating pathways as since they can’t use salt or cinders, a layer of ice is on all the paths in the mountain village and roads leading to it. They also need to add more on mountain dining options which is lacking right now.

    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 )

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