Montana has always felt unattainable yet the state continuously held a spot on my bucket list for reasons unknown to me beyond an unexplainable connection to this place without knowing or hearing much about it. I just knew that we had to make it to any part of Montana during our road trip. As you can imagine, when we crossed the state border I was giddy with joy that not only did we arrive at a place I have always dreamt of visiting but we did so by driving across the country to reach it. To me, making it to Big Sky, Montana proved that big dreams do come true.
Our experience in Montana exceeded all our hopes and expectations. The folks here are super friendly and hospitable. Everyone wears a mask. Everyone. We felt extremely safe and comfortable our entire stay here, which was a big relief after our Covid-19 exposure scares in Idaho. In terms of weather, I was surprised on a daily basis by how warm a high of twenty degrees could feel. I am not a fan of cold weather yet somehow it never felt too cold during our stay in spite of the low temperatures. In addition, the food scene here is incredible. We seriously had some mind-blowing meals in Big Sky.
Big Sky is aptly named as the blue skies here are endless, bright and even in the dead of winter, they are SUNNY. It felt so good to bask in the sunshine again. It has been over a month since we have been exposed to the sun regularly and the feeling of reconnecting was tremendous. The vistas here are stunning, the snow is as pure, powdery, and perfect as snow can be and the resort village, while small, explodes with charm. Our five nights here were heavenly. Make your way over as soon as you can!
Below are my insider's tips of where to stay, shop, and dine while in Big Sky.
Where to Stay:
The Village Center is a ski-in/out resort that lacks the crowded lobbies of The Huntley or The Summit (the other two ski-in/out properties in the ski village). I specifically chose this resort because I did not want a full-service hotel that offers people a reason to congregate. Village Center is more exclusive and literally in the heart of Big Sky Resort. While there is no bar or restaurant on the property, guests can order room service, enjoy the onsite gym and outdoor pool, walk a few steps to several dining options, and be tended to by the most welcoming staff. For our family of five, we booked two studio suites which both utilized the space brilliantly. The couch in the living area is a sleeper sofa and there is a queen-sized, very comfortable murphy bed. They were also able to add a rollaway into the kids' room so that all three could sleep comfortably. Each room had a small kitchenette equipped with a dishwasher, microwave, and fridge. Most notable were the beautiful views outside the rooms' windows. As an added bonus breakfast at The Huntley's Chet Bar & Grill is included in the rate. For a much quieter and more relaxing experience, I highly recommend this smaller property that offers easy access to the slopes, a tastefully appointed rustic décor, fantastic service, and a more serene environment.
Obviously, the biggest draw to Big Sky Resort is the roughly 300 powdery trails beckoning snowboarders and skiers of all levels to hit the slopes. Due to its remote location, Big Sky Resort does not get as crowded as other popular ski destinations. Even during winter break, which was the time we visited, the crowds were not overwhelming. In addition, we found the resort to be extremely well managed with a high staff to guest ratio. Especially fun was utilizing their brand new state-of-the-art lift. "The Swifty" quickly carries six passengers up 1,700 feet and is now the fastest ski lift in North America. Last ski season the mountain introduced the "Ramcharger" with heated seats, leg rests, and a drop-down shield on windy days. With two of the country's most advanced ski lifts, great weather (seriously, even at seven degrees it doesn't feel too cold here), perfect snow conditions, and a super laid-back vibe, it's a surprise more people don't make their way out here. The staff shared that they considered the mountain to be as busy as ever. Yet for us, it was a dreamy, harmonious balance between a plethora of trails and just the right amount of visitors to create lively energy without overwhelming the experience. Apparently, the resort purposefully keeps its crowds small by refusing to build more lodging to accommodate more people and by keeping its marketing budget small. They've created something pretty magical in doing so. Big Sky Resort should honestly remain a big secret.
Black Tie Ski Rental
This VIP ski gear rental service is a lifesaver. We pre-booked a time for them to deliver all our gear directly to our hotel room upon arrival. Their friendly staff was punctual and quick in getting everyone properly fitted. The gear stayed with us until we checked out at which point Black Tie staff returned to our hotel to pick up the rentals. No lines. No stress. No headaches. Brilliant.
The Five Best Places to Eat in Big Sky:
1) Pizza Works. Let's just say that our kids swear this was the best pizza they ever had and immediately planted a request for a future order. Seems like everyone on the mountain agrees as it took us over an hour to get our pies but it was sure worth the wait. The Margherita Pizza and Three Cheese Pizza (with artichokes and mushrooms that we added) were truly delectable as was the extra creamy and crunchy Caesar Salad. This establishment is take-out only but make sure to experience a pie or two here at least once.
2) Michaelangelo's Big Sky. This restaurant is a MUST visit while in town. Although it is fifteen minutes outside the resort, in the lovely town of Gallatin, it is absolutely worth the drive. They offer a very creative Italian menu that will leave you longing for more, and more, and more. In addition, their safety protocols are outstanding; they booked out less than half of their capacity which allowed us to kick back and devour our delicious meals worry-free. For starters, we dove into the sautéed squid cooked in roasted tomato, garlic, and Pinot Grigio reduction along with an herb polenta topped with grilled portabella mushroom doused in drunken goat cheese. For our mains, we selected ricotta and black truffle stuffed pasta in black tartufata cream sauce, gnocchi in hazelnut pesto sauce, a ricotta cavatelli, elk chops, and a bison filet. Honestly, I think this is the first time in a long while that we literally licked our plates clean. The modern décor, excellent service, perfectly implemented Covid safety protocols and insanely delicious meals make this one of our most memorable dining experiences during our five months exploring the USA.
3) Olive B's Big Sky Bistro. Also in Gallatin, a quick fifteen-minute drive from the resort, this restaurant offers fantastically fresh fare. The night's special ahi tuna dish was a creamy dream and the bison wellington, lamb chops, potato leek soup, beet salad, mashed potatoes, and Caesar salads were an equal delight and enjoyed by all. In fact, my husband couldn't stop raving about the bison wellington. The rustic interior with an open kitchen creates a warm atmosphere that ultimately delivers a delicious dinner. The only drawback is that although our meal started with ample spacing between tables, a table was seated adjacent to us during our last bites causing us to quickly finish a meal we would have liked to savor. Nevertheless, we had an outstanding meal here.
4) Peaks restaurant in the Summit Hotel offers delicious New American cuisine and is known for their perfectly prepared steaks. As soon as we entered this elegantly appointed establishment we were greeted by a warm waiter who took meticulous care to ensure that we were extremely satisfied during our entire visit. And we certainly were. The food at Peaks is fantastic. My older son literally groaned with delight as he bit into his wagyu steak and my husband vouched that the rib eye he ordered was incredible. Despite their focus on appealing mainly to carnivores, the restaurant offers some vegetarians dishes on their menu too. I ordered the squash bisque which was so flavorful I almost ordered a second bowl. We also enjoyed some salads and my younger two devoured their cheesy, dreamy, creamy macaroni and cheese dishes. Oh, and the tuna carpaccio was also so fresh, thinly cut, and beautifully seasoned. The restaurant is on the formal side, but not stuffy, and while many dressed up for their dinner there were also others who fit right in with their casual attire. If you ever feel like getting glammed up while on the resort, you can feel right at home doing so at Peaks.
5) Horn & Cantle at Lone Mountain Ranch, seven minutes outside the resort, provides an authentic mid-western ranch experience on their sprawling property where wildlife roam freely. On an especially snowy day, we all felt like we were dining in a snow globe as the pure, white landscape outside the windows was otherworldly. The property's restaurant, Horn & Cantle, offers an outstanding breakfast with interesting menu items prepared with the freshest ingredients. They take their utmost care to even perfectly present their beverages. My cappuccino's foam was perfection and the kids shrieked with delight when their hot chocolates arrived topped with marshmallows. As expected our entrees were incredible. We ordered three chilaquiles and two avocado toasts and all were beautifully presented by a delightful server. We left with overly pleased palates. Do not leave town without a meal here.
We also had dinner reservations at Cabin Bar & Grill, which did not make our list of favorite restaurants in Big Sky. Located on the third floor of the Arrowhead Mall on the resort, the rustic design of the restaurant is inviting and cozy but does not deliver meals worth their price point. A vegetable quinoa salad is $33 (we did not order it) and a so-so wild salmon special was over-priced at $45. My husband liked his bison meatballs but was not blown away by the preparation as he was in the previously mentioned restaurants. Similarly, our son enjoyed his elk tenderloin but not in an overwhelmingly satisfying way that he experienced at other Big Sky dining establishments and definitely not in a way that a $46 dish warrants. I'd say come here for lunch for a burger and beer or for apres-ski cocktails but otherwise despite the wonderful service, and convenient location on the resort property, it just isn't worth the costly dinner bill.
Although not the largest resort town, Big Sky Resort offers several restaurant options, an indoor food court, a couple of bars, and some great shopping. There was enough to keep me busy and entertained while my crew was shredding the slopes.
4 Best Shops in the Resort Village:
1) Hungry Moose. This local market, located in Vista Hall, comes in handy when stocking up on basics like snacks, toiletries, wine, and milk. They had a small selection of everything we needed and even things we didn't need but couldn't resist purchasing (like Montana Huckleberry Honey). Tip: go late morning once everyone is on the mountain or late evening. 4:00pm-6:00pm is packed with shoppers.
2) Provisions & Pendleton. Located in the upper lobby of The Summit Hotel, this well-curated shop sells high-end clothing for both men and women. They offer amazing brands that you may not find everywhere like Skhoop and Krimson Klover. It was difficult to resist the urge to shop but with our suitcases filled to the brim, I just couldn't risk pushing our luggage's capacity.
3) Big Sky Sports. Located in Vista Hall this one-stop shop has everything ski-related that you'll need for a great time on the mountain. From skis to coats to buffs Big Sky Sports has it all.
4) J.P. Woolies. Also located in Vista Hall this is the ultimate shop for a unique collection of Big Sky gear that isn't tourist tacky. In fact, I purchased my new favorite cap here (see below). I can't wait to walk around Manhattan with my Montana paraphernalia! J.P. Woolies also sells really special gift items that you aren't likely to find anywhere else. I guarantee you won't walk out their door without making a purchase.
Five nights was just the right amount of time to soak in Big Sky's winter wonderland. My older son and I repeated ourselves often saying "I can't believe we are in Montana". Although technically, Washington is further from New York and we did travel there, Montana just seems more exotic to us. Because I am not a skier I would unlikely have ever planned a trip out here in the winter. That being said, I now crave a visit to Montana in the summer season (shhh, I may be conjuring up another excuse for road trip USA version 2). That's the really cool thing about a road trip and surrendering to the unknown; if you keep your tank full and your heart open to opportunities you will end up in places you would have least expected and then suddenly everything begins to feel possible.