Giddy up and go

Here’s a cool story: Two Montana ranch hands buy up 39 square miles of logged land and turn it into a ski resort. The result, MoonlightBasin, opened in 2003 with eight lifts (including “the six- shooter” six-person chairlift), a fabulous log lodge and spa with cascading outdoor pool, and regal but rustic mountain homes throughout the Montana resort.



What do ranchers know about skiing? For one, location is key. MoonlightBasin borders more famous Big Sky Resort, and the two share a lift. In 2005, the two ski resorts began offering a common ticket “The Biggest Skiing in America” that gives skiers access to a combined 5,512 acres. That’s greater than Vail (5,289), or Alta/Snowbird (4,700) and nearing Whistler Blackcomb (8,100).




During a recent trip to Big Sky, we skied and stayed at MoonlightBasin for a few delightful days. Moonlight’s 1,900 acres of protected north facing terrain (on the backside of Big Sky’s 11,166-foot Lone Peak) offers groomed undulating cruisers, an ideal Pony Express family area, and upper mountain Lone Tree quad where we discovered dozens of snow stash glades, and bowls that remain fresh long into a powder day. Moonlight’s Headwater double chair climbs the steep flank of LonePeak serving nothing but ATL NFT (above tree line, no fall terrain).  For us, Fire Hole was crazy and exciting with must make turns as we descended a narrow corridor full of soft snow.



We enjoyed Moonlight’s soft snow and pure solitude, particularly as we skied past massive mountain homes, most unoccupied. Moonlight feels like a private club with posh lodging to match, akin to the nearby Yellowstone Club, only less pricey with deals like $40 a day for a five-day ticket. Moonlight’s general manager Greg Pack said Montana’s 16 ski areas combined get less skier visits than Breckenridge, Colo. alone. Moonlight’s lack of lift lines is evidence of that.


On our last day at Moonlight, we skied over to Big Sky (the combo ticket is free your fourth day with a three-day purchase), rode the Lone Peak Tram up to the  looming 11,166’ summit where the air is thin and the views are breathtaking as far as the Grand Tetons. After the required sign in with Patrol, we ventured off the North Summit Snowfield (in timed intervals to prevent avalanche danger). Not since Zermatt have I skied such out of bounds, out of this world terrain. It was a 4,000’ vertical run on spectacular summit snowfields leading to the steep chute of Great Falls, to wide open Deepwater Bowl, then glades and groomers back to Moonlight’s base. My knees were shaking, my heart pounding, and my teeth were showing from a huge grin.




Moonlight Basin has an additional 500 acres scoped for future ski terrain, but that’s on hold as the resort’s finances must be addressed. Now there is just one former rancher, Lee Poole, who owns Moonlight and He’s struggling to hold onto the reigns between buying out his partners and dealing with debt to bankrupt Lehman Brothers, but that’s another story.  



Après ski at Moonlight Lodge was a perfect ending for our epic Montana ski trip. As the last light cast over the slopes, we soaked in the stunning steamy outdoor pool where waterfalls cascade over native rocks. Inside the magnificent timber lodge (ranchers know how to do beautiful post and beam), we had drinks by the crackling fireplace which is so big that Billy goats are perched on the huge rocks above sumptuous leather couches. At Timbers restaurant, we dined on elk and bison in a relaxed rocky mountain setting. We suggest you giddy up to Montana and don’t miss Moonlight. 



Heather Burke is our family ski guru, for more of Heather’s family ski trips and tips go to: Photos by Greg Burke

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