Iron Horse – Big Sky, MT

Enterprise model bottom terminal and lift line.
Looking down on the base terminal.
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Another view of the base.
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Riding up.
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Upper lift line.
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Top bullwheel and lift shack.
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Bottom terminal and line.
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Top bulwheel.
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Lower section of the line.

38 thoughts on “Iron Horse – Big Sky, MT

  1. Philip Wensley October 18, 2019 / 3:08 am

    We are not coming back to big sky until this lift becomes an express. My wife loves moonlight, as do myself and our kids, but we can only access it on a painfully slow chairlift. We would also have skied the blacks and glades on this chair but not it is a fixed grip. Big sky is going to build an entire gondola that covers the same terrain and less than swift current when the most important connecting chair at big sky is slow so never gets used


    • Doppelmayr FTW October 18, 2019 / 9:47 am

      The entire lift layout on the moonlight side is poorly thought out and makes access to the best terrain slow and painful. there are many reasons for this but it for sure needs to be addressed. Big sky has said they plan to fix this however there aren’t many specifics out there. But seeing as Iron Horse is one of the worst offenders, some upgrade is likely in the cards.

      Liked by 1 person

    • skitheeast October 18, 2019 / 11:32 am

      This lift and Pony Express should be replaced with a single detachable lift from the base of Pony Express to the top of Six Shooter. This would allow beginner skiers to have an all green access trail to get from the main base to Madison and vastly improve the skier flow in the area.


      • Doppelmayr FTW October 18, 2019 / 1:17 pm

        That alignment is difficult because of the houses to the left of iron horse, ideally a new iron horse would go up all the way to six shooter and that moves the line left even more. The lift would likely need an angle station to avoid the houses and that could be problematic. plus, beginners can already get to iron horse via the moonlight lodge access trail.


        • Philip Wensley October 19, 2019 / 8:00 pm

          If adding an angle station to the lift is problematic and is expensive, then you could just make iron horse and express that goes to the top of the six shooter. Then you could simply make a tbar or poma that starts from the bottom of pony and reaches the bottom of iron horse. Pony express would obviously no longer be needed. This would mean no angle station and beginners can still reach the bottom of iron horse.

          But if you moved the starting point of iron horse to just beside where pony express is now, maybe you could make it to the top of six shooter with just the slightest swing in the line.


    • Collin Parsons October 18, 2019 / 12:18 pm

      I didn’t like this lift, or any of the Moonlight side lifts for that matter (although there’s great terrain over there) when I visited Big Sky. However, I feel it’s a stretch to say you’ll never return till this lift is replaced.

      Big Sky is so huge that one could ski a week there, never go to Moonlight, and still not hit all the other terrain. With the Biggest Skiing in America, there are so many options for what to ski, so either explore everything and enjoy it for what it is, or pick the sections you like best and lap them till your legs give out. No lift lines to hold anyone back either.

      Given the massive success of improving utilization of the Shedhorn/Dakota areas simply by replacing an old slow lift, I think Boyne will be looking to do similar projects with other underutilized areas of the resort.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Donald Reif October 18, 2019 / 1:09 pm

        The Moonlight part of the mountain needs the following improvements, in my book:

        * A high speed quad from the Madison base area up to the top of Lone Tree. (With Lone Tree being retained to allow Headwaters traffic to get to those trails without having to go all the way down to the base)

        * Increased capacity on Six Shooter

        * What skitheeast was suggesting about having a single high speed quad consolidate Iron Horse and Pony Express and run to the top of Six Shooter.


        • Collin Parsons October 18, 2019 / 1:32 pm

          The only way to consolidate Iron Horse and Pony Express would be to have an angle station where Iron Horse begins now. The problem with that is first the cost, and second the location of the mid load ramp. It works best to put it on the outside of the turn rather than the inside, but the outside is in a less convenient location for skier traffic. The top of Six Shooter is also space constrained, but there has to be a way to fit another lift up there.

          While relocating Swift Current to become a lift from the base to the top of Lone Tree makes sense, it would result in having two nearly 9000 foot lifts without bubbles on what is possibly the coldest part of the mountain.

          I agree with keeping the existing Lone Tree if a full length lift is built from the base. Removing it would defeat the purpose of Iron Horse ending at Six Shooter.

          Another thing on the 2025 plan is to replace Headwaters with a lift starting from the bottom of the existing Lone Tree.


        • skitheeast October 18, 2019 / 3:07 pm

          I don’t know precisely where the land borders are for the houses, but you can draw a straight line (no angle station) from the base of Pony Express to the top of Six Shooter without going over any of the houses. Worst case scenario, you may need to slightly angle the line (without a full angle station, look at Baldy at Snowbird or Six Shooter at Big Sky) to avoid land boundaries.

          For liftline reference, draw a line in Google Maps from (45.294652, -111.417174) to (45.288836, -111.434651)


        • Doppelmayr FTW October 18, 2019 / 5:53 pm

          @skitheeast you can see the lots on that development on this map: (might need to zoom in a bit) but to avoid the house property the lift would need a pretty significant turn.


        • Thomas Jett October 18, 2019 / 6:26 pm

          There acually isn’t a plan to run a lift from the base to the top of Lone Tree; their plans seem to indicate two lifts. One will run from the base to the top of Moonshine, and one will run from the junction of Meriwether and Ice House to Lone Tree’s top. That may be convenient enough for skiers coming from Iron Horse that Lone Tree will be unneeded.

          On the subject of an Iron Horse/Pony Express replacement, are we forgetting that we solved the problem of property rights two years ago with Supreme? They could just put in a mid-line turn where the Iron Horse drive terminal is, and forget about a mid-station.


        • Collin Parsons October 20, 2019 / 9:50 am

          The curve would be far sharper than the one on Supreme if you assume using the existing route of both lifts. I’m not sure it makes sense for skier flow purposes to send people to what is now the bottom of Pony every run.

          I like the idea of just starting the new lift at the current location and having a T-Bar or platter replace the lower section of Pony.

          Another option instead of replacing Iron Horse would be to simply extend the current lift to the top of Six Shooter and add a loading carpet. That could increase the speed to 485 fpm and I think it runs at 400 or less now. The loading carpet works great for Challenger, but I’m not sure if it would work as well at Iron Horse which serves green and blue terrain instead strictly of expert only.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Tony Johnson (@sundoglighting) July 19, 2020 / 11:10 am

          According to the Big Sky 2025 Plan:


          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

          So, they obviously are seeing the same issues with the Pony Express / Iron Horse combo which are:
          a) as currently laid out both lifts are needed to serve dense condo/townhome areas, but are extremely low use throughout the day
          b) if you want to get anywhere besides Madison Base from the bottom of Pony Express, you need to also take Iron Horse (which is painfully slow)
          c) ideally, Iron Horse would extend all the way to Six Shooter.

          The perfect solution, of course, is a High Speed 4 that replaces Pony Express and Iron Horse and runs from the base of Pony to the top of Six shooter. Heck, they can use some of the leftover parts from the upgrade of Swift Current from a 4 to a 6.

          But…. we might have some issues with adjacent private property.

          If you draw a direct line from the bottom of Pony Express to the top of Six Shooter it DOES go over a couple properties, one of which would be impacted quite a bit. There are a couple things that could be done to avoid this. 1) Obviously the new “Pony Horse” wouldn’t run exactly to the top of Six Shooter. It could be shifted a little to the right (looking up the mountain) without impacting what can be accessed from the top of the new lift. But the big one is not starting it exactly from the bottom of the existing Pony Express. There’s no reason to start it all the way down there. You could start it 250′ up the mountain (about 1/4 of the way to the bottom of the existing Iron Horse) and not lose any access. Accessibility from the condos/townhomes would not be affected one bit. Doing both of those things avoids the private property and avoids the need for a mid-lift angle.

          Team Pony Horse


  2. rebecca October 20, 2019 / 12:18 am

    Yeah they don’t need an entire mid station, because the bottom is only like 500 feet away


  3. Dave December 30, 2019 / 5:13 pm

    Yeah iron horse and all of big sky suck. That peanut tram sucks too. It sucks you have to hike headwaters & A-Z chutes. I advise all go to vail, much better.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. skiz January 7, 2020 / 3:49 pm

    here are a bunch of ideas for a lift on iron horse/pony express.

    a hs4/hs6 from a bit to the right of current pony with 90 degree loading. this lift would have a half mid station along the route with a new trail cut from the bottom of riffle to the mid.

    opt. 1B
    same as 1A only mid would be served by a trail from the bottom of iron horse

    opt. 2
    the same as 1A and B, only no new trails or mid station

    opt. 3
    a lift from the bottom of pony to the bottom of iron horse, mid load and turn, continue to the top of iron horse.

    opt. 4
    a lift sort of like opt. 3 only with the mid turn at the top of pony and unloading, then continue to the top of iron horse.

    opt. 5
    surface lift from bottom of pony to bottom of iron horse, iron horse upgraded to hs4/6



    • Teddy's Lift World January 8, 2020 / 10:15 am

      Why bother even replacing them? It is not a very popular part of the mountain, only really used to get people from Big Sky into Moonlight Basin. I was just at Big Sky and the current lift system is fine. Iron Horse isn’t a long ride at all and Pony Express really only serves as an access lift. I appreciate the effort you made to put together the map, but realistically I just don’t see Big Sky putting money into this area. I would much rather see them invest in Mid-Mountain dining and other infrastructure improvements.

      In my opinion, here are the lifts that need to be replaced:

      – Swifty (already planned)
      – Explorer (detachable quad or six-pack. Maybe bubbles. Not a fan of gondola project)
      – Lone Peak Tram (Still keep it a tram, but bring more capacity, not a ton, but more than the pathetic capacity they already have)
      – Six Shooter (Bubble retrofit and capacity increase or new lift altogether. If possible, I’d like to see an angle station that allows the lift to continue to the top of Lone Tree)

      IMO Explorer needs to be the first of these projects


      • Donald Reif January 8, 2020 / 10:48 am

        I’d keep Six Shooter as is with a capacity increase, while building an all-new high speed quad for lapping the trails that require taking Lone Tree to access.


        • Doppelmayr FTW January 8, 2020 / 11:05 am

          The issue with that is nearly all the terrain would be more easily accessed by the new longer lone tree and thus six shooter would be relegated to a big sky return lift. Which would be kind of a waste for a 6 place. Knowing Big Sky a bubble lift is likely the plan for that area. which would mean either just lone tree gets one and you still need to take a cold lift to return to big sky, or six shooter gets the bubble and the lift people would want to lap would be cold. Its an area that has one lift of skiing but needs two lifts to access. Which is why I personally favor the all new lift with a mid station that could serve the purpose of both lifts.


      • Doppelmayr FTW January 8, 2020 / 11:18 am

        The Main issue with iron horse is it doesn’t get you anywhere, you still have to ski down and ride up six shooter to get to lone tree or headwaters. The bare minimum would be an extension and re-alignment up to the top of six shooter. Most likely it will be replaced with a high speed because it would be nearly 4,000 feet long at that point.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Max Hart January 8, 2020 / 5:49 pm

          4000 feet is not long. CLF4 with a carpet would be fine.


      • Ryan Murphy January 8, 2020 / 9:08 pm

        Obviously I have my own personal preferences, I differ a little from you. I love the 2 stage gondola idea, it puts a main lift out of base closer to the parking lots, and adds backup to that area. Swifty causes a bottleneck on that catwalk, and I’d prefer just to avoid it if I’m going to the Moonlight side. I think the next biggest problem is Lone Tree. I’d personally like to just see an HS Quad along the already cut line, but really anything to smooth that area out and let you avoid Sixer would be nice. Headwaters and Iron Horse realignments would be really nice to see, and Horse could probably go detach. Explorer and Lone Tree are the main culprits that badly needs upgrades after Swifty though, anything else should be off the immediate priority list.

        Controversial opinion here, I don’t actually want them to touch the top. Liberty already gets skied out, and putting more people into the other areas on the peak just sounds like a bad idea to me. Marx/Lenin require either a traverse that’s already occasionally a problem, or the Otter Slide and they’re the next easiest runs. I’d like to see more promotion of day tickets without Tram included, like they do with season passes. Perhaps more controversially, removing Ikon and Mtn Collective access to the Tram, with a small upcharge to add it back, would probably also reduce traffic up top.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Doppelmayr FTW January 8, 2020 / 10:57 am

      Very Interesting, option 3 to 5 are all doable, but 1a 1b and 2 have some issues. First is the lift line crosses over residential property, it doesn’t go near the houses, but the lots extend to the ski access road that alignment crosses, so permission would be needed from at least 2 other parties. The other issue is the trails you have described would need to go significantly uphill to get from rifle or the bottom of iron horse to the mid station.

      I would guess the most likely solution would be a variant of option 5 but instead of the surface lift Pony would stay as is. Which is a shame because the names for such a combined Iron Horse and pony Express lift are all gold!

      Iron Pony
      Horse Pony
      Iron Express
      Horse Express
      Pony Iron

      Liked by 5 people

  5. Sam Wendles January 11, 2020 / 7:09 pm

    I think option five is the best a most practical. I think replacing pony for a surface lift is a fair waste of money- the only purpose being to shorten the ride time. I don’t like the idea of simply adding a carpet because it barely feels like the one on challenger shortens there ride time. However, if option 1 was possible with no midstation that would be best in my opinion. Lift definitely needs to go to six shooter.

    I feel that since big sky did no lifts last years a simple capacity increase in one is probably not sufficient and they should annonunce another. The only lifts that are as important as this upgrade in my opinion are lone tree and tram. Either Lone tree or iron horse should come with swift 6.


    • Skiz January 11, 2020 / 10:06 pm

      Not too long ago they announced swift current six d line, bubbles, and heated seats. I would bet that is all for next year


  6. wolf November 4, 2020 / 11:12 am

    Iron Horse doesn’t look too long, and the Explorer double being a double, does NOT have enough capacity so BS needs to invest in that instead. Lone Moose needs a retrofit or complete replacement too.


    • Tony Johnson November 10, 2020 / 1:14 pm

      The long term plan is to have Explorer replaced by a gondola that runs to powder seeker, but has a mid-mountain station to serve the terrain Explorer used to cover.
      I think replacing both Pony Express and Iron Horse with the remnants of Swifty along a new lift route makes some sense.

      If I was ranking the Swifty options…

      1) New lift serving the Lone Tree side of Madison base
      2) New lift running up Liberty bowl to near Lone Peak
      3) Replacing Pony Express and Iron Horse
      4) Lone Moose lift Replacement
      5) Dakota Lift replacement


      • Ryan Murphy November 10, 2020 / 1:42 pm

        My $0.02. Dakota and Lone Moose are fine as far as rider experience goes. As long as parts continue to remain available, they’re fine for the long haul. Lone Tree needs help. The already cut liftline needs a little trimming, but would be a huge improvement on that side of the mountain. Horse needs to happen at some point. It needs to end at Sixer, but I’m not particularly partial to where it needs to start.

        I’m of the opinion that any extra skiers on the south side of Lone Peak would be a bad idea. Liberty can get pretty bumpy as is, and Lenin and Marx getting bumped out sounds like a disaster. There aren’t any good options for reducing tram lines, but I’m not sure I want to sacrifice snow quality up there.

        I’m hoping Big Sky will take a page out of Snowbird’s book, and sell a chairs only day pass, like they do for season passes. Ikon and MC having to buy up to the tram would also probably help a lot. The idea being that if you want to ski the tram, you need to plan for it. No wandering up Seeker and deciding to go up top.


        • Myles Svec November 10, 2020 / 3:44 pm

          Also to buy up to the tram a Big Sky season pass could be used too.

          Also Lone Tree like you suggested really needs some help. It could be useful if it was a hsq.

          No one here surprisingly is talking about headwaters. Headwaters could use a hsq replacement and a extension to the bottom of Lone Tree. The only problem I could see here is wind and there is not much space to put a hsq terminal at the top of headwaters. Maybe they could do something like Little Cloud at Snowbird and have a smaller terminal with 90° unloading.


        • Donald Reif November 10, 2020 / 3:53 pm

          Headwaters is a double for a reason. That’s a very narrow ridge and I don’t think beginners should accidentally end up there.


        • Myles Svec November 10, 2020 / 4:12 pm

          Headwaters could stay a double but be extended down to Lone Tree for an easier access but how long do you think head waters would need a replacement in?


  7. Tony Johnson November 16, 2020 / 3:27 pm

    Yeah… The “Mid Mountain Moonlight” lift, as I’ve seen it called some places, is #1 with a bullet. It’s shown from near the bottom of Moonshine up to the top of Lone Tree. This isn’t actually where the lift line is already cut in. The pre-cut lift line you are referring to is now the Pine Marten run, which is much lower on the mountain. I haven’t seen that lift on any future plans.

    I’m not sure there’s any perfect single lift location to serve that side of moonlight basin, other than if there was another 7000ft’er going from say, the bottom of double jack up to the top of lone tree. That’s the only way to avoid having to go back to Six Shooter if you ski anything from Whiskey over.

    There’s so much good terrain over there that’s kind of a pain to get to and get back to. Ultimately maybe that’s not such a bad thing and it makes for a “Dakota-like” area that rarely gets over skied.

    Not sure what this has to do with Iron Horse… but it’s a good discussion :)


    • Sam December 25, 2020 / 9:30 pm

      regarding the lone tree lift, the perfect solution is to build a two-stage d-line lift starting from base of six shooter, first station where ice house meets lone creek. and then angle from their up to lone tree. This solution allows for glades such as broken heart, shaftway and white witch to be lapped at the mid station and double jack, lookout ridge, horsehoe nad others to be lapped without needing to go up six shooter. Finally, these exact station placements are the only way for a lift to not go over any gladed runs, thus retaining the outback feel of this area

      This lift does certaintly need replacement, as lone tree serves some 20-30 runs and you have to take two lifts to ski these runs. Furthermore, the only two runs (Highline and meriweather) allow you to get to lone tree, meaning these runs become some of the iciest and most skied out.

      Ive alos seen alot of people saying iron horse is mainly a real estate serving lift and not much used throughout the day, this is simply not true. For intermediate skiers, iron horse is the only intermediate way to moonlight area, which is known for its rolling blue runs. For beginners, iron horse and pony are again the only way to moonlight, which has one of the only two beginner areas in the whole resort. furthermore, advanced skiers such as myself and my family love skiing blacks. Thus we would love to lap iron horse, which serves many many blacks (bad dog, bad dog gully, iron horse, iron maiden, deadwood, both bearcat gullies, dogwood, sticks and stones, hollywood and woodward). Unfortunatley we can’t do this because the chair is painfully slow and thus wastes the whole day of skiing on a mountain with a supposedly modern lift line.

      Thus, I believe that a new lone tree and iron horse are the two most needed lifts at the resort. And to be honest, at least one should be ready for next season as the big sky 2025 plan requires 1 or 2 lifts to be built every summer, yet no lifts have come in the past two summers. therefore, this summer should bring at least 2, though it should bring more like 4 new lifts to catch up


      • Myles Svec December 25, 2020 / 10:02 pm

        All they have confirmed for this summer is the Swift Current Replacement. The next thing happening is either the D Line explorer gondola or a 6 pack D Line Southern Comfort replacement.


  8. The Skier January 21, 2022 / 12:42 pm

    I definitely agree that Iron Horse needs replacing but I don’t feel that it is necessary to combine it with Pony. The existing Pony Express can remain as an access lift and Iron Horse can then become a HSQ from its current base to the top of Six Shooter. This would have been a great use for the old Swifty, but that was sent out to Sugarloaf.


    • The Skier January 22, 2022 / 4:11 pm

      Just a thought- Maybe the reason why they didn’t use Swifty here is because they are wanting for iron horse to go D line. Iron horse is a fairly major lift as far as navigating the resort since it is needed to get to Moonlight for anyone who doesn’t ski challenger or tram. Big Sky is trying to build a brand on amazing lifts so it wouldn’t surprise me if this crucial mid resort link went D line eventually


  9. Michael Stahler May 19, 2022 / 1:10 pm

    Quick question about this CTEC lift and other similar vintage CTEC fixed grips. On the bullwheel at the drive-side, there are white plastic tabs that “click” as the bullwheel spins. Burke’s Willoughby Quad had these white tabs. It looked like there was an anti-rollback mechanism with teeth were near the plastic tabs. These bullwheel had teeth that hit the plastic tabs (that were angled). Anyone know what the reason for the white tabs is? Is it to make an audible sound so that operators and lift mechanics know that it the bullwheel is turning and roughly how fast it is spinning? Is it related to the anti-rollback system? Both? Thanks,


    • pbropetech May 20, 2022 / 8:55 am

      It’s the rollback detection system; if the lift does roll back the tabs break off and cause the rollback dog to drop. The audible clicking is a byproduct of the design. As an operator you start to hear the clicking in your sleep :)


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