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On This Montana Mountain Everything Is One Size Big

Big Mountain Ski and Summer Resort in northwestern Montana is BIG on everything a skier could want.

The mountain gets plenty of snow, offers a wide variety of skiing terrain, is big on hospitality, and also offers a wide range of non-skier activities.

There’s also a good selection of onmountain lodging, ranging from family-priced rooms to luxury suites. Diners have a choice of lively pub atmospheres, family-dining eateries or fine-dining restaurants. Apres-ski entertainment for all ages is available, ranging from dog sledding adventures to horse-drawn sleigh rides.

Visitors at Big Mountain don’t have to worry about setting a fashion statement. Blue jeans and flannel shirts are as popular as matching ski outfits.

Big Mountain is best known for its trail diversity, uncrowded slopes and short lift lines. Skiing options abound on every slope. Trails range from wide, well-groomed runs with gentle slopes for beginners to fast cruising lanes following the natural contour of the hill for the intermediate skier to steep and deep terrain for advanced skiers.

Skiers also can leave groomed runs and enter some of the best tree skiing and deep powder available in the Northwest, yet easily return to a groomed trail. Mogul fields, powder chutes and open basins complement the large selection of groomed runs. The mountain also has a new rating

system, using double green for easiest and double black for expert as an added safety measure for newcomers to the mountain.

Newcomers to Big Mountain should take advantage of the free Ski Host program, which provides guided tours of the mountain. This is the best way to learn how to use the extensive lift system to reach various skiing terrain.

Using the high-speed quad Glacier Chaser to reach the top, skiers can chose from runs sweeping down in a full circle of the mountain. Areas on the mountain are referred to as the North Slope, South Slope, West Bowl and Valley Side.

The Ptarmigan Bowl is the mountain’s centerpiece that faces the valley. The center of the bowl is groomed daily and most seasoned intermediate skiers will find it challenging but not threatened or discouraging.

The South Slope of Big Mountain is crisscrossed with intermediate and advanced runs. The intermediate runs are more demanding than those found on the valley side. Experienced intermediate skiers may discover that they can ski some of the advanced areas because of the excellent grooming conditions.

When you tire of the trails on the South Slope, move over to the North Slope. This is my favorite area, especially in the afternoons when the south facing slopes may get soft. The area offers long, uncrowded cruising runs. The seldom-discovered trails are well-groomed, and skiing the North Slope is like having your own private ski bowl. For those wanting a little adventure, many opportunities are available for skiing off all sides of the groomed trails to enter pristine powder tree-skiing.

Advanced skiers will find lots of challenging terrain. More advanced runs are available than listed on the trail map; just ask for directions. Chairlift Four (Great Northern) provides access to some excellent, but demanding gladed areas for the experienced deep powder, tree skier. Good Medicine is an outstanding field, where the powder often is knee-deep. The field parallels Big Ravine, an intermediate run, so you can get back on a groomed trail at any time. Snowcat powder skiing is offered for $35 a person for four hours (lift ticket not included). Skiers usually get five to six runs. The 1,200 vertical-foot descent drops skiers through virgin powder.

Snowcat skiers must be advanced intermediate level skiers and have powder skiing experience. The snowcat area is located in the mountain’s planned development area, so now is the time to ski it before chairlifts are built. Reservations are required.

The entire mountain is open to snowboarders. The only restrictions are that the boards can’t have fins and they must have edges and safety straps.

The resort complex has 10 restaurants or cafeterias, four lounges, a photography and gift shop, a chocolate shop, small general store, day care center and ski rental/school facilities.

Day care services (including children as young as newborns) are provided at the Kiddie Korner Day Care Center. Supervised indoor and outdoor activities are provided. Reservations are required for non- walking infants and is recommended for all others. Drop-ins are welcomed, as space and staff permits. Montana laws require proof of immunizations for children accepted at day care facilities. Rates are $4 an hour for children ages 14 months and older and $6 an hour for infants. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and 5-10 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings during the night skiing season. Call (406) 862-1999.

On-mountain activities for children include a family movie night, inner tubing and free dog sled rides on Saturdays, 2-4 p.m. Many ski clinics are offered to teach skiing techniques to alpine and telemark skiers and to snowboarders. The popular annual Women’s Clinic will be held Jan. 22-24 and March 6-10. It is a multiple-day clinic taught by women for women only.On Wednesday and Saturday evenings, skiers and non-skiers can ride comfortably in a gondola to the Summit House Restaurant, where they can enjoy dinners with unsurpassed views of Glacier National Park.

“Old West” adventures also come alive on the mountain. Doc Hammill, a veterinarian, horseman, historian and showman, takes visitors for a sleigh ride to an Old West camp, consisting of a log and canvas building with a sawdust floor, lanterns and wood heat. The roadhouse resembles the mining camps in Montana 130 years ago; guests enjoy hot drinks while Doc shows them how to spin a rope and solve horseshoe puzzles. The roadhouse is also the site for sleigh ride dinners on Thursday evenings.

The all-you-can-eat barbecue beef and chicken dinner is preceded by an old cowboy delicacy - Rocky Mountain oysters (beef testicles). The dinner parties have historic narratives, live music, games, and sing-alongs. For information, call (406) 862-2900.

Dog sledding trips are available near Whitefish. Sledders stay warm wrapped in comfortable elk furs as they glide along a twelve-mile loop through the forest. Call (406) 881-BARK.

Snowmobiling to and from the mountain and guided tours in the area can be arranged through several local rental businesses. Call one of the following for reservations and information: Adventure Motor Sports, (406) 892-2752; Columbia Saw Shop, (406) 892-2195; or Middlefork Outdoor Recreation, (406) 387-5556.

Ice skating is free at Big Mountain’s rink, located near the Outpost day lodge. Skate rentals are available.Snow tubing is available from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday through Sunday, adjacent to Chair Six. Tube rental is $5 for two hours.

Big Mountain has 10 kilometers of groomed and track set trails at its Nordic Center, located near The Outpost. Terrain is available for all skier levels. A new beginner loop was added for this season. Rates are $5 for adults, $3 for juniors (13-18) and $2 for children (7-12). Children 6 and under ski free when accompanied by an adult. The trails are open daily from 9 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. Trails conditions, Call (406) 862-3511.

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with this story under the headlines “If you go to Big Mountain,” and “Mountain statistics.”

Two sidebars appeared with this story under the headlines “If you go to Big Mountain,” and “Mountain statistics.”