Big Sky, Montana, calls itself “the biggest skiing in America” and for good reason. With 5,750 skiable acres, this giant ski resort would take weeks to fully explore. However, astronomical lift ticket prices have made skiing here for even a few days over the holidays prohibitively expensive. With lift ticket prices at a whopping $129 during peak season, we’ve come up with some alternative activities that won’t break the bank. When in doubt, remember there’s no sales tax in Montana, so you can always shop ’til you drop.
Pretend You’re in the Wild West at 320 Guest Ranch
“Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh…” You won’t be able to get “Jingle Bells” out of your head after experiencing a snowy sleigh ride at a dude ranch. At 320 Guest Ranch, two of the biggest and most beautiful draft horses you’ve ever seen team up to pull a 12-passenger sleigh over hills and through the snow to a canvas tent heated with a woodstove. There’s homemade elk chili, snacks, hot chocolate, and fancy hot cocktails in the tent and a roaring bonfire outside.
Insider Tip: Bundle up. Montana is frigid and the sleigh rides take place at night.
Get Delightfully Tipsy on Some of Montana’s Best Craft Brews
Montana is a beer drinker’s heaven, with a brewery around every corner. Stop by Big Sky’s Beehive Basin Brewing to sample some of the brewery’s fresh beers. They have their standard lineup (cream ale, IPA, porter, and pale ale) on tap alongside experimental, seasonal, and one-off brews. It’s a dog-friendly bar and there are board games available, so it’s a great place to spend an afternoon.
Insider Tip: Choose your beers wisely; since breweries don’t have a liquor license, Montana law prohibits bartenders from serving customers more than 3 pints of beer.
Eat the Best Damn BBQ in the Rockies
No visit to Big Sky is complete without a visit to Gallatin RiverHouse Grill, the best BBQ restaurant in the West. The menu is pretty extensive, with standard BBQ staples like ribs and pulled pork, but there’s also salmon, fried chicken, and all the best BBQ sides, like fried okra, mac ‘n’ cheese, fried pickles, coleslaw, and cornbread. If you’re hungry and you came with a friend, your best bet is to order the BBQ sampler platter with ribs. You won’t regret it, but make sure you’re wearing stretchy pants.
Insider Tip: The restaurant often has live music of the country/Western/folk/bluegrass variety, adding to the Wild West ambiance.
Have Lunch with a View
Even if you’re not skiing, you can still do your best ski bunny impression and hop on the lift for a ride up to Everett’s 8800, one of Big Sky’s most sought-after lunch spots. Located at an elevation of 8,800 feet at the top of the Ram Charger and Thunder Wolf lifts, this restaurant is not your average on-mountain cafeteria—there’s table service and a full bar. The restaurant is a modern take on the log cabin, with ski lodge staples like big stone fireplaces and huge windows alongside a sleek bar and design-forward chandeliers and light concepts. The menu offers a twist on European and American ski lodge classics, like Swiss rösti and elk Bolognese. However, the food is not the focus; if you don’t want to break the bank on an overpriced and mediocre meal, opt for a drink and a plate of fries at the bar, where you can watch skiers whiz by.
Insider Tip: The restaurant is also open for dinner. While it’s exciting to ride the chairlift at night, you’ll have a better view (and better people watching) during the day.
Zip Line through the Trees
Even on the mountain, there’s more to do than just ski. Ride the Explorer chair to the top of the zip line course and zip your way down on four different lines 150 feet off the ground. For the finale, you’ll go whizzing over the crowds at Mountain Village.
Insider Tip: Get your photo taken by the pros at Crystal Images. You’ll be able to pick up prints of your adventure the next day.
PLAN YOUR TRIP with Fodor’s Big Sky Guide