Sean Jansen

Big Sky Resort History


   ~Sean Jansen


My keys insert into the ignition and turn to start the engine. The six cylinders of my Subaru slowly crank with the single digit temperatures outside my house in Bozeman. I hadn’t planned on leaving for the mountain for another 15 minutes, but it was necessary to get the car warmed up, windshield defrosted and heater cranked for a marathon day on the mountain. Today wasn’t just any day on the mountain however, today was the fist day of the season and opening weekend of the 2019/2020 season at Big Sky Resort. With a fresh dumping of light and fluffy powder, I wanted to be sure I was there towards the front of that first lift line.


The drive through the canyon was unlike any other day of a commute from Bozeman to Big Sky. The outrageous traffic Highway 191 receives with the added wrinkle of the overnight snow creating a layer of ice over the road, making the drive slower than usual. On the slow and frustrating drive to Big Sky, it dawned on me that I had no knowledge of the history of the mountain as a ski destination, and pondered how I could enjoy the runs without ever knowing how they got here. So after some wonderful powder runs with more snow continuing to dump after the first day of the season, I went home and promised I would at least read up on the mountain. Here is what I found.


The Louisiana Purchase was a landmark day in U.S. History. The purchase acquired much of the land of the central United States from Louisiana north to Montana. Though Montana was purchased in 1803, the land wasn’t homesteaded or began to become ranched until the 1890’s, Big Sky being one of the ranch areas.


For the next 80 years, the Big Sky valley was ranched and homesteaded with people living off the land and enjoying the splendid beauty of the surrounding area and Lone Peak standing in solitude. In December of 1973, NBC Newscaster, Chet Huntley, the same Huntley as the Huntley Lodge at the base of the mountain, purchased and started Big Sky Resort. Though the ski destination and resort were Huntley’s dream, he sadly never saw it to its full potential as he passed a couple years before the resort began to take shape.


In 1976, Boyne USA Resorts acquired the property and spawned Big Sky as we all know it today. 20 years down the road in 1995, the Lone Peak Tram was constructed and still runs and carries skiers and view seekers up to the 11,167 foot Lone Peak summit. Further growing, it made history when Moonlight Basin was opened in 2003, creating acres of more mountain to ski, making it the largest ski area in the country.


Today, the town of Big Sky flirts with an annual population of around 3,000 permanent residents. We all know that Gallatin County is the fastest growing county in the state and easily on the top rankings for the country. So Big Sky’s quiet little homestead history has and still is quickly growing to super stardom with the growth and popularity of Lone Peak and the now numerous new chairlifts and high end homes, accessible to anyone with a wallet and a need for a powder filled vacation.


So we may be seeing growth with the Ikon Pass making things exponentially easier and cheaper for anyone to come on over and ski Big Sky. The traffic on Highway 191 is growing almost daily with accidents on the rise and sightings of wildlife decreasing with every day. And the prices of our local and quiet Big Sky are skyrocketing, making it difficult even for the die-hard ski bum to afford a lift ticket and place to stay. But if we look back at the history of how and where it all began, one mans dream with deep American history made this entire scene possible. Something I knew nothing about for nearly two decades of the Biggest Skiing in America. So the next powder turns you make cruising off whichever of the wonderful chairlifts we have on offer, smile and be stoked that it all came to fruition, and did so in the state of Montana.