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We weren’t ready to give up on winter. That’s how our family ended up with a spring break trip to the frozen mountain village of Big Sky, Montana. The promise of fresh powder, gorgeous terrain, a wildlife safari tour of Yellowstone and some tasty steaks had us embrace the cold Montana mountains, even though it was the end of March.
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Big Sky To Yellowstone National Park
The West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park is only a short drive of 50 miles south of Big Sky, but that entrance is closed during the winter, which is still in full swing at the end of March. The West Entrance doesn’t open until May 30 each year for all those warm-weather outdoor activities. Our naturalist guide from Backcountry Safaris, Natalie Sawley, drove us the long way around partially following the Gallatin River to the North Entrance of the park for our winter wildlife tour.
We saw more animals than people during our day trip through the park. Bison walked right next to our SUV, and we watched herds of Pronghorn (also known as American antelope, but they aren’t antelope, their closest cousin is a giraffe) and herds of elk. We even saw a bear den, but the mama and cubs didn’t come out during our snowy visit. We also walked along the boardwalks surrounding the travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs, exploring one of the largest hydrothermal features in the park. Yellowstone has over half of the hydrothermal features in the world and the highest concentration in the United States.
Winter is a perfect time to experience the great outdoors for cross country skiing and dog sledding. We felt like we had the park to ourselves. Cross-country skiing is allowed throughout the park, and the hiking trails are perfect ski trails in the cold months. While dog sledding is prohibited inside the Yellowstone National Park, there are numerous tour companies like Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures that offer tours of the surrounding area.
What To Do In Big Sky, Montana
Big Sky Resort
The main draw to Big Sky is the world-class downhill skiing at Big Sky Resort. Over half of the 5,850 skiable acres are reserved for black diamond, double black, and triple black diamond runs. Many of the black diamond runs are accessed via the Lone Peak Tram. The mountain is so big that there is plenty of terrain for all types of skiers, with an abundance of easy and intermediate runs off of every lift, especially on the Moonlit Basin side of the resort. With over 400” of annual snowfall and 39 lifts, there are often more acres to ski than there are skiers on the mountain. The lift lines were short, the weather was cold and mostly clear, and I am now forever spoiled after a couple of days of the biggest skiing in the west at Big Sky.
The Best Thing to Do for an Awesome Time at Big Sky Resort
Big Sky Resort generously offered us a better way to explore all that terrain with our own private ski guide. Our guide, Heather Cordato, has been guiding for 11 years, and this is her 2nd year at Big Sky. She loves getting to strap on her own skis every day to go to work and helping folks get the most out of their time at Big Sky. A guide acts like both a concierge and a ski instructor. Heather showed us the best runs for our level and gave all three of us some helpful instructions. Not only was spending the day with Heather the best thing we did in Big Sky, but it was the best ski resort activity we have ever done. Ezra loved the runs that snaked through the trees that we would never have discovered without Heather’s help. My favorite run was Horseshoe, a 25-minute run that skirts the eastern boundary of the resort, which Heather promised was worth the effort to get to. She was right, of course, and we went back to Horseshoe on our second day when skiing on our own.
Most Scenic Adventure in Big Sky: Zipline Tour
When the blue sky emerged on our second ski day, we had booked a morning zipline tour, and I was not convinced that taking an hour away from skiing was a good idea. But the Nature Zipline Tour at Big Sky Resort was a delightful interlude. We hiked for about 10 minutes, first across the final descents of several converging ski runs and then through a wooded area to reach the zipline platforms. Sailing through the trees at high speed, 50 feet in the air, was a blast. The entire process only took about an hour, and we were quickly able to shift gears and click into our boots to ski for the rest of the day.
Nature Ziplines are open year-round so this is one of the many fun things to do for families who visit Big Sky in the summer. The summer season in Big Sky features incredible mountain biking, fly fishing, rock climbing, white water rafting in and around the area. Our family plans on returning for a summer visit soon.
DON’T MISS! 9 Wonderous Winter Vacations For Non-Skiers
Top Thing to do in Big Sky: Sleigh Ride Dinner at Lone Mountain Ranch
Visitors can live out their Western fantasies at the Sleigh Ride Dinner at Lone Mountain Ranch. The Wilson Hotel shuttle dropped us off just up the road at Lone Mountain Ranch, and from the main lodge, they hustled our family and about 40 other people onto wooden, horse-drawn sleighs.
Our 20-minute journey through the property ended at The Northfork Cabin, an oil lantern-lit dining room deep in the snowy woods.A local chef prepared our dinner on an 1850’s wood fire stove that helped keep the cabin nice and toasty. Bruce, the cowboy singer, entertained us with ballads of Montana ranch life as we ate a delicious three-course meal of soup, prime rib, roasted vegetables, and huckleberry cobbler.
Dining in Big Sky Village Center
“Next-level ranch food” best describes the delicious offerings at Block 3 Kitchen and Bar, a new chophouse located inside The Wilson Hotel in the heart of the Big Sky mountain village. Views of snow-capped peaks, Pendleton blankets, and a cozy fireplace gave the space a welcoming feel. I asked for a steak knife before taking a bite of the Braised Tomahawk Short Ribs. The knife was not needed; the meat fell apart with the lightest touch of my fork. My husband Seth ordered the Prime Rib, and it was enough food for all three of us to have shared. Our son Ezra ordered the burger. Of course.
The bar at Block 3 had a decent variety of classic and Montana-inspired cocktails. Perhaps our favorite part of the evening was after our son declared he was full and wandered back upstairs to our room, and the adults enjoyed a quiet moment with a digestif, dessert, and the moonlit basin views all to ourselves.
There are other restaurants in the resort town that offer a greater variety than what is available at Big Sky Resort. There are a couple of pizza joints, a sushi restaurant, a Thai place, and a few bars that also serve food. As far as we could tell, Block 3 was the most interesting, the most expensive, and best spot for dinner in Big Sky Village.
Don’t miss Cold Weather Tips for Warm Weather Families
The promise of fresh powder, gorgeous terrain, and a wildlife safari tour of Yellowstone had us embrace the cold Montana mountains. Don’t miss what we discovered!
When You Go
Getting To Big Sky, Montana From Los Angeles
During the winter months, both Alaska Airlines and United Airlines have direct flights from LAX to the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, which is about an hour’s drive through the canyon river run carved by the Gallatin River to the mountain village of Big Sky. American and Delta Airlines have one-stop service to Bozeman, often flying through Salt Lake City. Flight routes between LAX and Bozeman change dramatically during each season, so the direct winter flight might not be available in the spring or summer.
An excellent discount site for flights (and cars, hotels) is Expedia! This is where we start our research for the best deals!
If you’d like to be in the know for exclusive discounts to fly anywhere in the world, check out Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights). Their website shows current deals, and they send emails when they find new deals. Try out their free 7-day membership to save BIG money on flights. I’m not kidding. They have the best deals out there and we’ve tried them all, or so it seems. There’s no need to buy a membership (you’ll still have access to great deals with their free trial).
Getting Around Big Sky
Big Sky is a small mountain town with an easy and free hotel shuttle between Big Sky Town Center and the base of Big Sky Ski Resort, seven miles up the mountain. We opted not to rent a car during our visit. We caught the Karst Stage from the Bozeman Airport straight to our Montana home at The Wilson Hotel.
Where To Stay in Big Sky Montana
A Residence Inn Marriott property, The Wilson Hotel, is an excellent option for families who need a bit more space and want to make a simple meal in the room. The full-size refrigerator, stove, and microwave came in handy to heat up leftovers and to keep ice cream treats cold until we were ready to indulge. The Wilson serves a basic breakfast each morning with plenty of protein options to fuel our very active ski days up on the mountain.
The Wilson operates a free shuttle service to Big Sky Resort every half hour, leaving from the hotel starting at 8 am, with the final shuttle leaving the mountain at 5 pm. With prearrangement, they sent a shuttle driver to pick us up at 6 pm from the Big Sky Resort and to take us to and from our sleigh ride dinner at Lone Mountain Ranch outside of the regular shuttle times.
Our favorite part of staying at The Wilson was connecting with other guests during our après ski hot tub time. While we soaked our well-used muscles, we chatted with kind and friendly folks from all over the country. I loved getting to hear tips on where to eat, what part of the mountain to explore the next day, and how we must return in the summer for a completely different Big Sky experience.
Lodging in Big Sky is big business. There are many lodging options, from extravagant VRBO mountain homes to condos and slope-side lodges. We really enjoyed our stay at The Wilson, with its central location in the heart of Big Sky Village.
I was surprised to learn that rooms at the Huntley Lodge located at the Big Sky Resort are solidly in the mid-range, which seems quite reasonable when staying slopeside. If you are looking to splurge, The Montage Hotel offers ski-in/ski-out access to all the outdoor activities at Big Sky Resort and an array of dazzling amenities.
The best budget options are not actually in Big Sky. There is the Grey Wolf Inn and Suites in West Yellowstone (about 40 miles from Big Sky) and at La Quinta Inn in Bozeman, a 33-mile drive from Big Sky.
Find and book other lodging options here: