By Tess Weaver Strokes
Of the hundreds of reasons why skiing reigns supreme above other sports, perhaps the most underrated is the ability to travel with your child to practically any ski destination in the country and be guaranteed full-day child care and/or ski school. Think about it – surf breaks don’t offer registered childcare under the palapa. Mountain bike trailheads don’t include certified instructors standing by to take your kids for a three-hour lesson. Fly-fishing lodges don’t designate a room for kids and fill it with art supplies, Legos, train sets and trustworthy care givers.
One Thursday in January, my 5-year-old son, Hagen, and I flew out on a mid-morning flight from our home in Aspen, Colorado to Bozeman, Montana via Denver. After a scenic hour-long shuttle ride along the Gallatin River, we arrived in Big Sky and were swimming in the 103-degree outdoor pool at the Summit Hotel before dark.
The next morning we were suited up by 7:30 a.m. for Big Sky’s First Tracks program, which allowed us to load the new Ramcharger 8, North America’s first eight-seat chair with ergonomically-shaped, heated seats and a blue weather bubble, an hour before the public and ski four pristine runs with a guide from the resort’s Mountain Sports School. What once only included early access to Lone Peak Tram and expert terrain off the peak, the resort’s First Tracks program now includes intermediate terrain and ends with a gourmet breakfast at Everett’s 8800.
But it was Mother Nature who stole the show that morning, with a sunrise inversion for the ages. We crested the summit of Andesite Mountain just as the sun illuminated a fresh inch of glitter. The sensation of skiing above the clouds was an almost transcendental experience. Even Hagen took in the majesty of it all.
Post mountaintop bacon and cinnamon roll, Hagen and I skied right to the Summit Hotel to meet a sitter that the hotel had arranged. When I showed up four hours later, they were having a blast in the pool. In that time, I skied all over the resort, getting a lay of the land from boundary to boundary. The acreage alone would impress, but it’s the terrain that sets Big Sky apart. From the morning’s cruisers with Hagen (Big Sky boasts 2,300 acres of beginner and intermediate terrain) to the 4,000+ vertical shots off Lone Mountain to the hike-to A-Z chutes off Headwaters Ridge to the steeps off Challenger, it felt like I skied the widest spectrum of terrain a ski area could offer. While it hadn’t snowed in a few days, the chalk was holding up beautifully and the weather combined with the company made for one of those flow-state resort days.
The next two days, Hagen was booked at the Lone Peak Playhouse. The choice of a morning or afternoon ski lesson meant I could play it by ear and drop him anytime. Those four and a half hours each day allowed me to experience the best of Big Sky—all under bluebird skies offering endless views of this rugged corner of Montana.
You don’t have to scare yourself at Big Sky, but the opportunity is never far off. Lone Peak Tram accesses one of the most iconic lift-accessed runs in North America, the Big Couloir, a 50-degree, 1,400-vertical-foot shot that requires signing in with patrol, a partner, and avalanche gear. I had heard notorious stories of low-visibility and wind atop Lone Mountain, but my weekend at Big Sky was sun soaked, windless and suspiciously pleasant. When I picked Hagen up from the Playhouse each afternoon, we were both happily exhausted and ready for a quiet night in.
Hagen and I left Big Sky with tired legs and full hearts. It’s easy to stay home and ski where makes you comfortable, but skiing a new destination on my own and with a young child, re-invigorated my love for ski travel. There’s just something about getting off a lift and not knowing where your turns will take you. The sensation isn’t lost on kids—Hagen loved treating every run like an adventure. And thanks to Big Sky amenities like ski school and childcare, you can have a few adventures of your own, too.
Outside, among some of the most beautiful mountains in the country, sliding on snow, is a place I’m grateful to bond with my son.
Tess Weaver Strokes is a freelance writer and editor based in Aspen, Colorado. A former Powder editor and a senior contributor to Freeskier, Tess has penned stories for The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, National Geographic, Outside, Self, Bike, SKI, Freeskier, Backcountry and more. She also copy writes for brands like The North Face, Patagonia, Oakley and Billabong.