Big Sky Montana, The Ultimate Enduroists Family Vacation?

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By Ali Goulet — Big Sky, Montana. For some it conjures up images of open vistas, the Yellowstone club, Warren Miller or other famous “residents”. What the locals know, is that Big Sky is a hidden gem, chock-full of rowdy lift accessible mountain bike trails and a fun mountain town full of activities.

For years my friend Chaz Boutsikaris, co-owner of Brothel Bikes, Big Sky's most notorious bike shop, would often regale me with tales of amazing mountain biking and fun times at Big Sky, always pressing “you've got to come up, bring the family.”

Ethan on the Snake Charmer run at Big Sky Resort, Montana. Photo by Ali Goulet

Finally in the year 2016, August to be exact the stars aligned in a trifecta of sorts. There was to be a Montana Enduro Series event held on Big Sky Resort itself, Chaz has been wanting us to visit for a while, and there was potential for a fun long weekend, with activities to entertain the kids. This was something I could sell the wife on. “We'll visit Chaz, see Montana, I'll do this Enduro, there's a pool, it will be a fun family trip…” I guess it was a convincing pitch, the wife agreed “Montana?” and so not unlike the Griswolds, we loaded up the family truckster with bikes and kids and pushed off on the short 5 1/2 hour drive to what would become my Wally World.

Being just a half day drive from Salt Lake City, we arrived with plenty of time to get settled at our digs in the Huntley lodge, located in the village at Big Sky Resort proper. This was the perfect place for us, the “Mountain Village” was right out our door, offering rock climbing, zip line, scenic chairlift tours, the enduro would be right here and we had a pool!

In Big Sky, The dominant feature on the horizon is the massive Lone Peak. Jutting toward the sky, topping out at 11,166 feet, and without so much as a tree on it, it's not hard to imagine why anchorman Chet Huntley saw so much potential here. During the winter Big Sky boast the most skiable acreage in North America at over 5,700 and I can just imagine the shreddable opportunities accessed via the Lone Peak Tram.

Bryson Deppe of the Highliners-Bingham Cyclery Team rides beneath Lone Peak in Big Sky Resort, Montana. Photo by Ali Goulet

Thursday night's concert series in the park offered us a family friendly hang before spilling over into a late night (for me anyway) at Brothel Bikes, which is just as much of a bar as it is a bike shop. In fact “The Brothel” as it is also known, became a central hub for me. It's the place to get your bike serviced, you can grab a beer while you wait, and it happens to be at the bottom of 8 miles of flow trail and just around the corner from public transit, that shuttles you back to the resort.

Brothel Bikes is a brothel turned into a bar and bike shop. Photo by Ali Goulet

Big Sky originally opened to mountain biking with advanced terrain more suited to a Downhill or Enduro bike. More recently they've brought in Terraflow Trail Systems, adding more intermediate level flow trails and opening up the mountain to a broader skill base.

For the XC crowd there is plenty of riding as well. Scenic routes like Madison and Ulery's Lake Loop, feature ribbons of single-track lined with lodgepole pine, and a lake of course. Or, there are more strenuous trails such as Coolridge and Ambush Loop that offer wide open “Big Sky” backdrops for your suffering.

Despite there being 40 miles of lift accessible trails on resort, it was all I could do the get my seven-year-old out of the pool, he was obsessed…of course. I was, however, able to dry him off long enough to get in a few laps. Our favorite of the new flow trails quickly became Snake Charmer. Hands-down one of the best flow trails I've had the pleasure of riding. The berms and tabletop jumps were all manageable by my seven-year-old on his 20-inch wheeled trail-bike and yet I was able to take advantage of the trail design, finding plenty of lofty air and opportunity for doubles and triples. No sketchy gap jumps, just miles of flow that can either be linked back to the resort or taken all the way down to the “Mountain Meadow” and The Brothel. Isn't that convenient?

Ali pops a wheelie at Big Sky. Photo by Chaz Boutsikaris

Being based at the resort made balancing family time and enduro time fairly easy. I could quickly transition from being at the pool with the kids to cutting laps with the seven-year-old, to training for the enduro race. Not to mention the village had multiple dining options, a mini-mart and a coffee shop that pumped out Starbucks (I'm into that sort of thing).

Race day looked to be a disaster, it began with cold alpine rain and a 30 minute weather hold due to potential lightning. Thankfully the weather did a complete 180 and thirty minutes later competitors set out to enduro under partly cloudy skies, with moderate temps and freshly moistened tracks. And a proper enduro it was. The physical and technically challenging timed stages, combined with brutal transfer stages and mandatory hike-a-bike action, made for a rewarding day on the bike, clocking 6700 ft of descending and 3300 ft of climbing in 19 miles!

Ali (right) and Paul Gougen tackle Snake Charmer at Big Sky Resort in Montana. Photo by Chaz Boutsikaris

On one transfer stage, we were routed straight up a double black diamond ski run to the Andesite Mountain summit. In the midst of that transfer I vowed I would never return, the sun had finally started to beat down, my nutrition was failing me as was my general fitness and apparently my mental stamina. It was in those moments that I recalled Everett's 8800 Mountain Top Restaurant, the home of my new goal, an ice cold Coca-Cola. The thought of that tasty beverage kept me going all the to the peak and Everett’s…but I was shattered. After imbibing 20 ounces of cola, I gathered myself up for the final stages of the day and came to grips with the fact that I did enjoy the challenge and was already entertaining thoughts of taking revenge on this course next year.

For my part, I did ok, landing just inside the top 10 Pro/Expert on unfamiliar trails.. But I had more pressing matters to be concerned with: Like loading up the family truckster and bolting for the city of salt. So we loaded up and bid farewell to Big Sky, but not forever, you see, we're already planning our return and this time we're bringing friends!

Travel to Big Sky

  • Travel distance from Salt Lake/Boise/Jackson/Bozeman = 368mi/436mi/175mi/41mi
  • Accommodations: Huntley lodge $275 per night – pool/hot tub/free wifi/55 feet from chairlifts (bigskyresort.com). There are many other lodging options in the area as well. See visitbigskymt.com/lodging/ for more information.
  • Family/kid activities: bike tours $58 youth day bike camps for ages 8 to 17. Adventure mountain pass $52 all-inclusive day access to adult and kid rope courses zip line, climbing wall, scenic lip rides and more
  • Info about travel to Big Sky Montana can be found at www.bigskyresort.com or contact Big Sky Chamber of Commerce at 406.995.3000 or visit: visitbigskymt.com
  • Summer mountain biking at Big Sky runs from June 3 – September 25 daily 9-4 PM, adult lift passes $38, Junior passes $30, more information regarding the bike park can be found on Big Sky's website (bigskyresort.com) or by calling Different Spokes bike shopa at 406-995-5849The Montana Enduro Series is a five race series with events in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. More information can be found at montanaenduro.com

 

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