They call it "the biggest skiing in America," and for good reason. With 3,832 acres spread across two mountains, 4,350 vertical feet, and more butt-puckering gnar than you can shake a GoPro at, Big Sky serves up terrain as burly as Jackson Hole, as expansive as Vail, yet with nary a lift line to be found.

Founded in 1973 by NBC news anchor Chet Huntley, Big Sky is Montana's premiere resort, and one of the premiere ski resorts in the world. You might have been excused for overlooking it back in Huntley's day, but once the summit tram, which carries skiers to the top of 11,166-foot Lone Peak, entered service in 1995, there was no dismissing Big Sky as a cruiser's snooze. The tram opened up 1,200 acres near the peak and an additional 1,400 feet of vert, making for a massive resort on paper. But the stats don't even begin to capture the awesome proportions of the summit scene. It's huge, steep, and uncommonly deep. Essentially, Big Sky delivers lift served big mountain riding, the kind of rugged, high alpine thrills you usually need a helicopter to access. No wonder lines at the tram occassionally reach an hour long on powder days (making it pretty much the only lift on the mountain that ever requires a wait).

Without a doubt, the tram adds sizzle, but there's a very satisfying resort beneath it, with ripping groomers, scattered glades, and excellent lift service. Four high-speed quads handle the bulk of the traffic, but powder hounds make for the expert only Challenger double chair or the Dakota double chair on the southern flank of Lone Peak. Newbies will be drawn to the yawning bowl that dominates the east face of the mountain, but it's hard to catch it with good snow and good visibililty at the same time, and when conditions are right, it takes only minutes for the pow to get cut to ribbons. Better to explore the tree sking on adjacent Andesite mountain or the southern forests under the Dakota and Shedhorn chairs.

The resort amenities are commendable, but don't expect ultimate luxury. You'll find a diversity of lodging and dining options, some of them very good, some of them very basic. The gazillionaires have a strong presence, as evidenced by all the fancy homes climbing the ridges of the surrounding foothills, but compared to places like Aspen and Vail, Big Sky is still a bit rough around the edges. And that's just fine for most of the Montanans who love it.

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