When Dave Stergar started skiing at Montana’s Big Sky Resort in the early 1990s, few lifts had safety bars, and most moved at a snail’s pace through 15-degree temperatures and 30 mph winds. After offloading, he’d then have to hike an hour to reach the extreme runs off the 11,166-foot Lone Peak.
Stergar, a 54-year-old retired middle school teacher from Helena, Mont., was one of the many die-hards happily willing to forgo the comforts of a full-amenity resort to race down Big Sky’s 50-degree chutes; narrow, no- mistakes couloirs; and leg-burning, 6-mile bowl runs all by himself. With more skiable acres than Telluride and Jackson Hole combined—and 4,350 vertical feet—it rivaled anything he’d experienced in France or Italy.
Now, some 30 years later, Big Sky has a lift system to match. When Stergar checked into his vacation home there in December, he found himself zipping along on a heated chairlift (shielded by a wind-resistant bubble) to his favorite double blacks in the high alpine terrain.
In 2016, Michigan-based Boyne Resorts, owner of Big Sky, unveiled a 10-year, $150 million capital investment plan to transform not just the resort but also the small mountain community bearing the same name from a remote outpost to a full-fledged luxury destination.
Boyne Resorts was founded in 1947 by late visionary Everett Kircher. It purchased Big Sky in 1976. Since then it’s acquired other properties such as Sugarloaf in Maine and the Summit at Snoqualmie in Washington, making the family-owned company the third-largest ski operator in North America behind conglomerates Vail Resorts Inc. and Alterra Mountain Co.
Now run by Kircher’s son Stephen, Boyne is looking to make Big Sky more of a diamond and less “in the rough.” Fast, comfortable chairlifts are just one part of the enhancement plan. The Chamonix-inspired lifestyle—with its posh après-ski spots and leisurely, on-piste lunches—is up next. “Our goal is to be America’s Alps,” says Kircher.
His dream has a ways to go. But on opening day this year—slated for Nov. 25—the resort will welcome the fastest six-person chairlift in North America as well as two huge hotel renovation projects. On Dec. 15 the area’s first five-star resort, Montage Big Sky, will open with 150 rooms and ski-in, ski-out access. The town itself will get an ice rink this season, just one piece of a $20 million community center that’s expected to open by March, complete with a climbing wall and art galleries.
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