In late January 2022, I enjoyed my first proper “winter vacation,” complete with skiing and snowmobiling! While I had been to Big Sky twice before, both previous trips were during the summer months. I was excited to experience this beautiful mountain destination in a new season. We flew to Bozeman and were picked up by my aunt who drove us southbound, down the Gallatin Gateway to the Big Sky.
Before this trip, I only had ever skied on hills in Minnesota, an experience that I can now say is nothing compared to being on a mountain. While I won’t say I am a “winter vacation” convert (please get me to a beach!) I definitely now have an appreciation for traveling to cold places in the winter and would love to visit Colorado and more mountain towns during the snow season. Here are some of the highlights of our long weekend in Big Sky.
Winter Hike at Ousel Falls
First things first, get used to the altitude and crisp mountain air with a hike. We went to Ousel Falls, a hike I’ve done several times, but never before in the winter. It’s a relatively short hike, and isn’t too difficult even if you’re out of shape. A lifesaver on this hike were the crampons we put on over our boots to get traction – they come in sizes that accommodate a range of feet, and were well worth it to not slip. If you’re into winter hiking or even just walking on icy surfaces, these are a must-have. I plan to invest in some to make use of Minnesota’s state parks in the wintertime.
Skiing & Snowboarding at Big Sky Resort
As mentioned, before this trip, I had never gone skiing outside of Minnesota. Minnesota isn’t exactly known for mountains or steep terrain. While we have some decent ski areas, they are nothing in comparison to the vast expanse of slopes and runs in places like Montana and Colorado. Skiing here was truly amazing. We went to Big Sky Resort for a full day on Monday, and had a ton of fun exploring the slopes and seeing the views of Big Sky.
My advice would be to buy your lift tickets in advance and make sure you have all your equipment ahead of time so you can get to the mountain early. Park in the lot, ride the trolley up to the resort (it’s constantly circulating, you won’t have to wait long to get onboard) and then head to a kiosk to get your lift ticket printed. Even though we went on a Monday, which was nice because it was cheaper than the weekend, it was still pricy and the resort was still very busy. Thankfully, their staff is super organized and we never had to wait too long for a chairlift.
Lunch at Montana Jack in the Exchange
There are many different restaurants and pubs around Big Sky Resort – it’s a huge mountain with several areas of chalets and buildings with different places to eat, drink, and shop. We chose Montana Jack for lunch – after a full morning of skiing, a burger and a beer sounded amazing to me. The food was good and the service was friendly. I had the tangy bang burger and it was delicious. This is a popular place – the service was a little slow but I was happy to relax and sit down for a minute and give my legs a break.
If you’re planning to go skiing and snowboarding during multiple days of your stay in Big Sky and want to maximize your time on the slopes I’d recommend bringing your own food. Many people we saw did this and were eating at communal tables in The Exchange and other buildings around the resort. It is more efficient and a lot cheaper, but I was happy to enjoy a cold drink and a hot meal since we only had one day of being on the slopes.
Snowmobiling Tour of Yellowstone
If you’re visiting Big Sky in the winter, this is a must. Even if you’ve visited Yellowstone National Park before, if you haven’t gone in the winter, you have to go again. It’s a whole new experience. Personally I had visited the park twice during the summer/fall months. It was like a whole new place to see in January. We saw bison, Old Faithful, stunning waterfalls, geysers, thermal pools, and the trees covered in sparkling snow. It was an amazing experience. Sharing a snowmobile was also a nice way to go – I got to drive a little bit, but also relax and enjoy the scenery when I was sitting on the back.
My #1 tip for anyone looking to enjoy a snowmobiling tour in Yellowstone is to book well in advance. We went with the company Yellowstone Vacation Tours and I highly recommend them as an operator. They had all the gear we needed, our guide was awesome, and the entire experience felt very professional and organized.
Bozeman Hot Springs
After days of skiing and snowmobiling and using your muscles to hike around, stop at Bozeman Hot Springs to soak and relax. It’s about 45-minute drive from Big Sky. We visited here on our way to the airport before flying home, and it was the best way to end the trip. A soak of sore muscles in hot and cold pools, it was perfect for relaxing before a flight. It’s very affordable, and they have indoor and outdoor pools. The facilities are no-frills but they have showers and lockers (bring some quarters) to secure your belongings. It’s less than a 20-minute drive from the airport, so perfect for a pre-flight soak.
Restaurants and Bars in Big Sky
Happy Hour at Tips Up
This is definitely a local favorite amongst skiers and snowboarders. It has a retro vibe and events going on all the time – live music, trivia, bingo, it seemed like there was an event happening every night of the week.
Their happy hour deals were great, and there is even a tiny casino if you go to the way back of the restaurant. The service was friendly and it was a fun atmosphere. They had a pool table and other bar games as well. Tips Up is a great stop for younger groups looking to unwind after a day on the slopes. We had chicken wings and I had a Moscow Mule. It was a delicious snack and was a cheap, no-frills option in Big Sky.
Dinner from the River House
Fried chicken, ribs, mac and cheese – what more could you want after a long day of exploring around Montana? The River House has an awesome vibe and is probably my favorite spot I’ve been to in Big Sky. It has a huge bar, live music and dance floor, and amazing food at cheap prices. I’ve been before during the summer and it has an awesome outdoor area to sit and have a beer too. Don’t miss out on their amazing fried chicken dinner special.
Beehive Basin Brewery
There are a few breweries worth checking out in Big Sky, the one we stopped at to get a growler was Beehive Basin Brewery. It’s a small space serving a huge range of beers, and it was packed so we sat outside. With the patio heaters they have, it wasn’t too cold to enjoy a flight of beer while being outdoors. The brewery did not appear to have food service of any sort, so I wouldn’t come here if you were super hungry, but the might have food trucks at other times.
Big Sky, Montana Winter Travel Tips
- Keep an eye out for wildlife. Especially if you’re driving at sunrise or sunset. We saw elk, a moose, bison (in the park) and bald eagles. It’s so cool to see these animals in the wild – but be careful to avoid accidentally hitting a critter that runs across the highway.
- Bring layers. It will be super cold in the mornings but warm up considerably in the sun. Even with snow around you, you can work up enough body heat on a hike to warrant taking off a sweater.
- Don’t forget sun protection. It’s super easy to get burned from the reflection of the sun off the snow.
- Drink lots of water. It’s super easy to get dehydrated at high altitudes and this can cause altitude sickness, headaches, or even worse. Fill up a water bottle and re-fill it often.
- Bring a good moisturizer and chapstick. Mountain air is so dry so you want to bring the right products to keep your skin quenched.
- Bring pain relievers. Even if you’re in good shape you’ll be sore after a day of skiing or snowboarding.
Overall it was an amazing trip that sparked in me a curiosity to travel to more winter destinations. While I won’t commit to trading the beach for the mountains, a winter adventure in a mountain destination is a wonderful style of travel to have with friends or family.