Big Sky Lone Peak Tram Sting: $A310 day passes!

snow action team 28.04.2021

We rate Big Sky’s Lone Peak Tram our #2 favourite ski lift in America, but from next season you are going to have to pay a premium to ride it – for Aussies Big Sky’s new Tram Access fee may push a day pass past $300!

The iconic lift is home to some of the ballsiest lift-accessed terrain anywhere, with no soft options down. It is more the type of access found in the Alps, not in the litigation loving US of A. At most major resorts lifts don’t even go to the alpine peaks, where those exist.

But it’s not fear of litigation driving Big Sky’s new pay-more-to-play policy for Lone Peak.

Spectacular view of Big Sky's Lone Peak Tram in winter.
Yep, they got us! “Drool, take my money .. ” © Michel Tallichet / Big Sky Resort

“This season taught us a lot. Through several operational adaptations, our goal has always been to deliver guests the most exceptional on-mountain experience possible. We hope to continue that effort by making a significant shift to our pass lineup and lift ticket model to maximize our guest’s ability to ski and ride the high-alpine terrain off Lone Peak and minimize wait times at the Tram” says Big Sky GM Troy Nedved in an open letter explaining the new policy.

“Ultimately, this quality versus quantity approach is a major shift in how we sell and manage access to our Tram. Our goal is to improve the guest experience and get the Tram line back to 30 minutes on average consistently. This requires strategic changes to make this a reality. The Lone Peak experience is like no other in North America, and we want to ensure a quality experience for all guests.”

We (affectionately!) called it the paint can lift. That’s what it looks like, and that’s as many people as it can carry, only 15 a time for the 4 minute, 1450 vertical feet hop to the top.

So the queues for it have kept getting longer, even if some of those in the line really should not be heading up there. The Ikon and Mountain Collective passes exacerbated the problem, bringing a whole new wave of keen skiers and boarders up for the challenge. Also they are on a mission to travel to max their pass value and push their limits.

Charging more for one of your lifts is a pretty novel policy. We really hope it doesn’t spread. Skiing is expensive enough already.

Tram Access is being offered in 3 day packs for $150 or 5 day packs for $225, plus 4% tax. Alternatively, if you enable the new ‘auto-charge’ feature you will be charged an estimated $20 – $80 extra depending on the day, on top of $160 or more again depending on the day.

A single day with Tram Access could work out around $240 therefore. That’s around $AUD 310 at the moment. Yep, welcome to $A 300 plus day passes!

Big Sky's Lone Peak Tram looks like a paint can
We love Lone Peak’s ‘paint can’ lift © Owain Price / snowaction.com.au

How does the new Tram Access system work?

“Starting Winter 2021-22, our lift ticket products, Ikon and Mountain Collective passes, and most Big Sky Resort season passes will not have access to the Lone Peak Tram included. Gold Passes will have unlimited Tram access included, and Double Black Passes will have 10 days of access pre-loaded onto their pass.”

To ride the Tram on a given day, there will be two options to purchase access: 
– Pre-purchased Tram Access Packs
– Enabling auto-charge on your pass or ticket to be charged on your form of payment when entering the access gate to load the Lone Peak Tram.

Trail map inset © Big Sky Resort

Will Big Sky’s new Tram Access policy work?

Well here’s the thing, there are apparently no day limits on Tram Access.

“Tram Access products will not be limited by number of riders per day, but we will be limiting the number of Tram Access products (Gold Passes and Tram Access Packs) to help mitigate the number of guests with unlimited Tram access.”

So on a good powder day what happens if all the locals and Ikon/Mountain Collective etc visitors decide to lob over to the tram? Anyone with auto-charge enabled can go ride it, simply paying if they scan once at the tram RFID gate.

Which means on any given good day there’s still going to be a good chance it will get pretty busy. The goal stated by GM Nedved of keeping average wait times to 30 minutes is worthy, but bad luck if you hit when it’s above average effectively.

Powder skiing off Big Sky's Lone Peak Tram
Local freerider Gracely Speth enjoys another lap © Owain Price / snowaction.com.au

No refunds for Tram Acess

One scanned ride counts as a full Tram Access riding the tram. There are no refunds if it shuts later in the day.

Equally, there are no refunds or credits for any unused Tram Access days – so for a destination visitor who adds it to their package then cops bad weather for their stay you could miss out altogether.

Quite the lottery.

On the bright side, the Lone Peak Tram usually opens in December and runs through to close, averaging 90 days a season versus Big Sky’s 150 days total.

It’s true there is a lot of other terrain here © Big Sky Resort

Earn-Your-Turns Lone Peak Cheat

All is not yet lost for the impecunious. Lone Peak will remain open (when the terrain is open for safety reasons obviously) via the bootpack option up from Liberty Bowl. That is only 45 minutes or so for the fit.

Here are the details: Hiking & skinning access is accessible from the top of the Dakota Lift to the Yeti Traverse on the south side of Lone Peak. A bootpack, and when possible, a skin track, will be open on the looker’s left of Liberty Bowl. Enter through the gate at the top of Dakota. The route ends at the Yeti Traverse, with an area to transition to downhill gear. The bootpack will be open when weather and conditions permit; check the Trail Status page for daily information. The bootpack closes with the Dakota lift. Hikers and skinners must start uphill travel by 2:45 p.m. Must have a valid pass or lift ticket media, but a pass with Tram access is not required. 

The Headwaters ridgeline provides a similar, if shorter, experience for tight (very!) lines between rocks if you don’t have Tram Access. The north aspect glades off the back side here hold good snow if you are over threading rocks.

Liberty Bowl bootpack route to Lone Mountain, Big Sky.
The hard yards route up © Big Sky Resort
Plenty of tight triple black lines off Headwater too if you don’t have Tram Access © Big Sky Resort

Best Tram Access options for visitors?

Big Sky like to emphasise the massive terrain options otherwise. Before Park City absorbed Canyons it was the biggest resort in America at 5,850 acres. No question, they have endless groomers, glades and cruising. They are steadily adding the latest lifts to access them too, with another state-of-the-art heated Doppelmayr bubble 6 pack replacing the existing Swift Current quad over summer for the 2021-22 season.

Which all helps make it a great all-round all-levels resort in a spectacular setting.

But for anyone up for a challenge, Lone Peak is the #1 reason to come to Big Sky.

If you are planning on a short visit as part of a bigger roadie using an Ikon or Mountain Collective Pass, the pay-on-day pre load charging is probably the best option.

For anyone coming for a week or more bit the bullet and buy a pre pack.

Higher up on Big Sky is one of the rockiest places I have ever skied. Even with good snow you are picking lines between rock bands a lot. It is seriously gnarly. So a few days riding the paint bucket may well be enough for you.

One final point, common sense would dictate picking the good visibility days and getting out there early on those. But it’s so steep up I actually felt more secure in white out mist on the top section while following the local young guns showing me round than I did when I could see the scope of the exposure as we emerged from the mist. A man’s gotta know his limitations, right?

Top of Lone Peak Tram Big Sky
Call me chicken, but I was less scared lapping in the mist © Owain Price / snowaction.com.au

Could it happen Downunder?

Collective groan.. Well let’s hope not!

Fortunately, even if the bean counters are getting excited in Australia the resorts just don’t have enough options, or the extra chunks of terrain, to make it a viable option. It would be like Thredbo finally putting in the Golf Course Bowl lift and then charging more for it. Surely not?

Paying a premium for cat or sled access would work well though. People don’t mind paying, as Steve Lee so successfully demonstrated at Mt Mackay. Get on to support Lee’s fightback fund from his devastating stroke last September on the link.

Hotham has huge potential for more of this, which would be easily realisable. Thredbo, Charlotte Pass and Perisher have options on the doorstep that would work well too, but it’s highly unlikely the NSW NP service would allow it.

Guess $300 plus for a ‘full’ day pass makes $170-odd in OZ look a bit better.

The steaks are good value in Big Sky though . We ran into a couple of old Newcastle ski mates one of whom got onto the area early, buying up property after the GFC. No wonder he’s laughing now. Surcharge or no surcharge, it’s still one more area to put high on your bucket list. We drove up Utah via Jackson Hole before finishing in Whitefish.

Check our Big Sky feature for more on the area. Resort site here.

Big Sky, big steaks! © Carmen Price