Nearly 40 years old, Big Sky has seen changes

By MEGHAN O’NEAL/Montana State News

For 15 years the Tim and Kim O’Neal has made Big Sky resort their destination of choice for their family.  “It’s our yearly vacation,” says Mrs. O’Neal, mother of the family.  “We have a time-share on the mountain, so every President’s Day week we’re skiing!”

The family first came to Big Sky in 1997 when Tim O’Neal’s parents invited the group to their time-share at Lake Condos. Mr. and Mrs. O’Neal went to school at Montana State University and were eager to continue experiencing the world-famous skiing.

Big Sky was founded in December 1973 by Chet Huntley, an NBC newscaster, for whom the main lodge is named. In 1976, Boyne Resorts purchased the resort after Huntley’s death in 1974. Boyne Resorts owns and operates numerous ski resorts across the country including Crystal Mountain in Washington and Brighton Resort in Utah.

Since then, the prominent vacation spot has gone through a number of alterations.

“It changes a little every year,” Mrs. O’Neal says. “It’s been kind of fun to watch it over the years.”

When the O’Neal’s first came to Big Sky, a gondola – fondly referred to as the “flying apples” – ran alongside the Swift Current high speed quad chair lift, which leads to the main section of the mountain from the base.  Skiers would scan their tickets by inserting them into ticket stations at each lift.

“We had our tickets on little elastic things,” Mrs. O’Neal remembers. “It was always difficult to get through, especially for the kids. I was glad when they got rid of them.”

Skiers who donned the bright colors of the ‘90s controlled the mountain and rode longer and skinnier skis compared to those used today.

“There weren’t many boarders then,” Mr. O’Neal remembers.

The resort removed the gondola in the summer of 2008 as a result of safety concerns.

“We didn’t really use it, anyway,” Mr. O’Neal says. “It was too slow compared to the high speed quad.”

Currently, there are only two high speed chairs – the Ram Charger and the Swift-Current – which lead to Andesite Mountain and the main mountain.

The resort, in an effort to become more diverse, has added more activities besides traditional skiing.

“They always used to play ski movies during the week at the main lodge,” Mrs. O’Neal says, “but recently they’ve been holding more conferences there, so they don’t play the movies as often.  But they do have other activities to make up for it.”

Among these include the recent addition of a zip line which runs over the main base area.  “We’ve never tried it, but someday we might like to,” Mr. O’Neal says.

Recently, the Mountain Village area itself has grown with the addition of new restaurants and stores.

“We haven’t actually tried the new places yet,” Mrs. O’Neal admits. “It is nice to have the options, though,” she laughs. “We usually eat at Whiskey Jacks or the cafeteria at the main lodge. Whiskey Jack’s is really good, but it can be expensive. Our family will get a couple of plates of nachos to share. It’s a little better than the cafeteria because they seat you there. In the cafeteria it’s a fight just to get a table during the rushes.

“Whiskey Jack’s was there when I went to school in Bozeman,” Mr. O’Neal says, “But then it changed for a while. Now it’s back to Whiskey Jack’s.”

Many skiers retreat to Whiskey Jack’s once the ski lifts close for a chance to socialize and enjoy a beer. During the weekends, local bands play at the restaurant, providing inexpensive entertainment for skiers.

The O’Neal’s have enjoyed the changes and look forward to any new additions within the future.

“It’s been fun watching the resort grow with our family. When we first came, our kids were still in kindergarten and preschool and now they’re grown up. Big Sky has a lot of sentimental value. We love it here and we’re never disappointed.”

Edited by Samantha Middlestead

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