Friday, December 12, 2014

Big Sky, Montana: Where winter and nature come alive

Snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park  (wikipedia)
BIG SKY, MONTANADecember 12, 2014 – In Big Sky, Montana all eyes peer heavenward searching for the first ambitious snowflakes of the season

Yes, Big Sky really is a place and not just a slogan. The resort was founded in 1973 by noted NBC newscaster Chet Huntley and it hasn’t been the same since. Four decades later skiers in the know are leaving the powdery slopes of their native Colorado for the “cold smoke” of Montana.

Big Sky's landmark, Lone Peak  (wikipedia)
With 25 daily flights into Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) from various U.S. gateways, Big Sky is easily accessible. Upon arrival, simply drive 38 miles north on U.S. Highway 191 through scenic Gallatin Canyon until you reach Big Sky.

Part of the canyon is Ted Turner country, meandering past grazing herds of bison, elk and other assorted gifts of Mother Nature. There is a primeval quality to it all, as if you are at the midpoint of creation amid surroundings that appear much as they did when Lewis and Clark trudged through the region more than 200 years ago.

Big Sky residents like to point out, “The only rule here is that there aren’t many rules.”

Mother Nature's playground  (wikipedia)
Big Sky takes a bit of an adjustment, but once indoctrinated, it is a world unto itself. It is a place where roads are few and only take you where you need to go. A place when residents call in prescriptions 48 hours in advance so they will be ready when the pharmacy opens. A place where the post office is the most popular gathering spot in town because there is no home mail delivery.

Don’t be misled, however. Big Sky is destination of rustic elegance featuring spas, galleries, entertainment and all the contemporary facilities modern day sports enthusiasts require. The community may be small, and growing, but the mountains and amenities are larger than life.

Big Sky's majestic slopes with 5,800 acres for skiing  (Taylor)
Skiing, of course, is the anchor activity. Thanks to three interconnected mountains in Big Sky, there are more than 5,800 skiable acres make it the biggest skiing region in America (Vail comes in second at 5,200). Lone Peak has the highest elevation at 11,166 feet. 

Big Sky features a  wide range of accommodations to suit any budget and lifestyle with a favorite for skiers being the “ski in, ski out” facilities.

Rustic charm of 320 Ranch  (Taylor)
For a wilderness-style experience, 320 Guest Ranch, just a few miles down the road from Big Sky, conjures images of the Old West with log home accommodations nestled within the serenity of flowing streams and mountainous vistas. The ranch, which features the best breakfast buffet in Montana, derives its name from two 160-acre properties that merged into a single nature lover’s getaway.

Visitors to Big Sky will find cuisine to suit any taste, but remember, this is Montana where the bacon is crunchy, the steaks are charred and the burgers are bison.

The magic of Big Sky is the extensive range of activities available for non-skiers. Among the favorites are snowmobiling, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, dog sledding. snowcoach tours through Yellowstone Park, backcountry skiing, fishing and, even, big game hunting.

Dog sledding is a favorite activity in Big Sky  (Taylor)
Outfitters abound in Big Sky offering any activity imaginable. Spirit of the North dog sled adventures is a unique experience that allows guests to work with the huskies and participate in rigging the sleds before heading into a picturesque winter wonderland. Half day tours glide through pristine wilderness with only the sounds of the runners on the snow and the enthusiastic barking of the dog teams.

Don’t expect elaborate facilities. Prepare to meet your guides at a crossroads in the snow and take off from there. After all, that’s the way a snow adventure should be, pristine, unadorned and natural.

Snowmobiling into pristine wilderness  (Taylor)
Another popular outing is a trip into Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone in winter is paradise without people. It is a natural wonderland filled with streams, waterfalls, wildlife and geysers where thermal steam blends with cold smoke to create an ethereal beginning-of-the-world atmosphere.

Bombardier ready for action  (Taylor)
Snowmobiles are probably the favorite way to visit Yellowstone, but the big, red “Bombardier” vehicles of Yellowstone Alpen Guides offer accessibility to Mother Nature plus protection from the elements. With capacity for only eight passengers, a Bombardier excursion also gives visitors access to a driver/guide naturalist with encyclopedic knowledge of the park and environs.

Big Sky Montana is paradise found. It is a year-round destination where the golf course will open the 2015 summer season with a full 18-hole track.

An all American symbol  (wikipedia)
Outdoor lovers seeking something new and unique will be captivated by Chet Huntley’s dream where the Big Sky is the limit.