By Sarah Peruzzi | Photographs by Jonathan Finch
This winter there’s a running list of what we shouldn’t do indoors, but in Big Sky there’s a bigger list of things we can do outdoors, like fat-tire biking, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, winter fly fishing, alpine skiing and snowboarding, ice skating, and more. Thanks to their ingenuity, Big Sky retailers have created new ways to do business that will keep employees and customers safe and at ease.
Ride the Skinny Skis
Classic cross country and skate skiing at Lone Mountain Ranch
Ranked the number one Nordic Ski Resort by Cross Country Skiing magazine, the 105-year-old Lone Mountain Ranch is a bucket list destination for Nordic enthusiasts. Day guests can enjoy 85 kilometers of maintained trails operated under a special use permit with the Custer Gallatin National Forest. There’s plenty of solitude to enjoy once you get one kilometer out on the trails. Seasoned skiers should head to Walking Jim’s Way—a roughly two hour out-and-back trail that travels through pristine mountain forest. Beginners can get their skis under them on the Ranch Loop, which takes skiers on a one and a half hour loop in the sun. Bring a thermos full of warm hot chocolate and enjoy one of the three fire pits.
This year, if you have your own gear, buy your pass online; keep your receipt on your phone, and head right to the trailhead. “It’s the perfect sport for social distancing,” says Nordic Manager Laurie Spence, who has 24 years experience in the Nordic industry. For those in need of gear, Lone Mountain Ranch has a fleet of brand-new waxed and ready classic and skate ski packages for rent. They also rent snowshoes for the 25 kilometers of snowshoeing trails. Day passes run $30, and season passes start at $195.00. Kids under 12, and seniors over 70 are free.
Make the Pain Go Away
Expert alpine skiing advice, tuning, and all-important boot fitting at Grizzly Outfitters
For specialty shop service on all your alpine and backcountry skiing needs, head to Grizzly Outfitters and take advantage of the retailer’s deep institutional knowledge and renowned boot fitting services. You don’t need to ski in boots that hurt. “We always have a lot of returning employees; a great group,” says Sales Manager Sam Giffin. “That’s in part due to the ownership. They’re great guys to work for.” Need fresh edges and some glide? Grizzly Outfitters features one of the most advanced “Crystal Rock” tuning machines by Montana Sport International of Switzerland. The only such machine in the country, it delivers a factory finish.
During the time of occupancy restrictions, call ahead to book appointments for rentals of alpine, snowboard, Nordic, and snowshoe gear. And book a time for boot fitting as well. Open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Grizzly offers one of the biggest selections of hard goods in town—and a demo program that credits up to two days of cost back to purchase.
Explore New Country
Mix up the adventuring with light touring XC gear and fat bikes from Gallatin Alpine Sports
Looking to stay out of avalanche terrain while you ski locally or in Yellowstone? Gallatin Alpine Sports rents 100 millimeter wide light touring Nordic skis with cross-country bindings and metal edges. The fatter light touring skis—the style of skiing is also lovingly called “squirrel chasing,” “poke-and-go,” and “bushwhacking,”—offer better float than traditional (64 millimeter wide) Nordic skis and make finding your own way far from groomed trails easier. For those with the avalanche knowledge and gear, Gallatin rents backcountry skis and splitboards—they’re a Burton Demo Center—with climbing skins.
Ready to try fat-tire biking? Gallatin rents bikes with helmets in a variety of frame sizes from XS to XL. “You can ride right from the shop to Ousel Falls or ride from Town Center to Hummocks Trail or Uplands,” says Tom Owens, Gallatin owner. This season they’re taking online reservations for alpine, Nordic, and snowboard rentals, and also are offering delivery services. A wall tent outside the shop will help accommodate traffic and promote social distancing.
Don’t Stop Fishing
Winter fly fishing is way more approachable than you think with the help of Wild Trout Outfitters Fly-Fishing & Guide Service
It looks hard-core, but on a sunny day with the correct layers beneath your waders, winter fly fishing is actually a pleasant way to spend a day on the water. The rivers are nearly deserted and the fish are hungry. Wild Trout guides first-timers through expert level anglers on guided half and full-day trips on the Gallatin, Madison (which fishes well in winter), Yellowstone, and in Yellowstone National Park. “Part of what makes us special is that we teach and instruct,” says Wild Trout owner J.D. Bingman. The only prerequisite? You should have some passion. “We want to take people that like to fish,” he says.
All of Wild Trout’s guides are handpicked with more than a decade of experience. Since getting his outfitters license in 1988, Bingman has built a reputation as an old-school guide known for providing authentic experiences and proprietary fly patterns. “We get many repeat customers and rely on word of mouth,” says Bingman. Last winter he took a father and son on a full-day trip that began with temperatures reaching 17 degrees below zero. They fished all day even though the highs only reached the single digits. “Winter fly fishing in those temps is for people with an addiction,” says Bingman.
This winter. Wild Trout will have clients drive separately to the river to social distance, but they’ll offer the guidance, flies, and rental gear to make it a memorable experience.
Hone Your Mountain Sense
Outfit yourself for avalanche safety and spring ski mountaineering with the alpinists at Black Diamond Equipment
This past November, Black Diamond opened a flagship store in Big Sky Town Center. The storied company, originally founded by Yvon Chouinard, doesn’t make such moves lightly. Before Black Diamond debuts a new retail location, it applies stringent search criteria to find a suitable locale. “We have to make sure we’re a good fit for the community, and the community is a good fit for us,” says Director of Retail Devin Battersby.
In their new home, that means Black Diamond won’t be offering ski demos, boot fittings, mounts, tunes, or other shop services. “We didn’t want to interfere with other retailers or step on their toes,” says Battersby. Instead, Black Diamond will focus on its alpinism offerings and know-how. Visit the community area section of the store to find avalanche-focused products, snow safety tools, and learn about backcountry and avalanche safety. And be sure to check out the Athlete Wall which will feature BD athletes and their favorite products. First up: Moonlight Basin and BD athlete Parkin Costain and the Mission Ski Shell, JetForce Tour 26L Avalanche Airbag Pack, and Boundary Pro 115 Ski.
Ski, Cast, Skate
East Slope Outdoors offers customers everything from all-inclusive guided fly fishing excursions to ice skate rentals
The folks at East Slope Outdoors have shared their enthusiasm for outdoor pursuits since 1986. Now in their new digs in Town Center they have doubled their retail space to serve the stoke. The shop offers an amazing selection of gear to rent or purchase. An Orvis authorized dealer, East Slope focuses on making fly fishing fun and approachable for beginners. Half and full-day all-inclusive guided trips take anglers to the Gallatin or Madison with all the know-how and gear necessary for an unforgettable outing. Need ski gear for a short vacation? If you feel like traveling light, leave the equipment at home and rent a high-performance demo package that includes brand new top-end skis, boots, and poles for $50 dollars a day.
If you’re hoping to keep the kids busy outside until bedtime, the Big Sky Skating and Hockey Association (BSSHA), operates the Rink in Town Center from December until March 21st. Open seven days a week, visitors can open skate, join a drop-in hockey game, or learn how to curl. BSSHA requests that skaters drop $5 in the donation box at the rink. Rent your skates for $7 a day—and helmets for $9 a day; they’re required—next door at East Slope Outdoors.
The Faherty Brand, makers of fine apparel for relaxed settings, opens a new storefront in Big Sky Town Center
Faherty is a family-run brand creating high-quality, sustainably-minded clothes. As a family business, their mission is to elevate comfort and build a future where joy and conscious design lead to positive change for all. The pandemic—and the upswell of remote work that followed it—has seen so many people moving out of big cities to spend more time in nature. That’s why Faherty is excited to open in Big Sky—and to connect with all the people here, whether they’re newcomers or born-and-raised Montanans. “I think Faherty will be a great fit for the area,” says Alex Faherty, co-founder and CEO. “Whether it’s cozy winter flannels or our more performance-focused summer fabrics, we make seasonless clothing with a real focus on comfort that’s a perfect match for the year-round outdoor lifestyle in Big Sky. We are excited to have secured a spot in Big Sky’s Town Center.”