A quick whoosh through Big Sky

IT would take a week to check out all the nooks and crannies of the side-by-side resorts in Big Sky, Mont. But an intermediate skier can get a good feel for what the hill offers in a day. Here's a tour of the two resorts:

From the Mountain Village base at Big Sky Resort, warm up with a run down Mr. K. Take another lap on Lower Morning Star, both beginner runs with interesting bumps and turns.

With muscles loosened up, jump aboard the Ramcharger high-speed quad up to Andesite Mountain and grab a grooming report. Two long, beautiful runs, Elk Park Ridge and Big Horn, are smoothed out every other night. Both are steep. At Elk Park Meadows, halfway down Elk Park Ridge, the trail is wide and half-groomed, allowing you to test some powder. Return to groomed runs when you want.

Back up to the top of Andesite, try Ambush, Silver Knife and Tippy's Tumble, interesting little runs between the trees. Head back up on Ramcharger, then grab lunch and give the legs a rest at Pinnacle Restaurant, a new spot at the top of Andesite.

Start the afternoon by hitting runs at the far edge of the resort, wide runs such as Deep South, Sacajawea or Ponderosa, then work your way back to Mountain Village.

Now you're headed up to Lone Peak, by way of the Swift Current high-speed quad, then transferring to the Lone Peak triple. These will be your first above-the-tree-line runs, a great test. If you're comfortable here, take the Lone Peak Tram up to the summit. (Don't worry; you can ride it back down if the runs look like more than you can chew.)

For intermediate skiers, Liberty Bowl is your best bet off the summit. It's labeled a black-diamond run (highly difficult), but once you get past the first, funky 200 feet, it is a great run and appropriate for intermediate skiers.

Now you're ready to work your way toward Moonlight Basin. Take the BRT trail to Blue Moon, and stop for some hot chocolate and a breather at the cushy Moonlight Lodge.

Moonlight, you'll soon find, offers a different type of experience, skinnier runs that are more like the runs you find on the East Coast. But both offer some great steeps.

Start by taking Iron Horse to the top, then take Elkhorn back down to the base of the Six-Shooter lift. Ride Six-Shooter up and take a cruise on the Meriwether trail. The Lone Tree lift will take you to some sweet runs too: Horseshoe and Lookout Ridge.

More accomplished skiers should work their way up to Headwaters, nine expert runs off the top of Moonlight Basin. They are 50 degrees in pitch on long, dramatic terrain with shoots and drops.

It's nearing 4 p.m. now, and the lifts are closing. If you need to get back to Big Sky, you have a couple of choices. Six-Shooter will drop you off at Fast Lane, which leads you back to the base. Or grab a beer at Madison Lodge and take the free shuttle back to Big Sky.

Either way, you've had a great day of skiing, worthy of a toast.

-- Chris Erskine

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