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Lone Peak Tram ‘one hell of a birthday present’ for resort’s 50th 

Big Sky Resort cuts the ribbon on new tram, soon to abutt new Explorer Gondola and expand base-to-peak scenic tourism   

By Jack Reaney 

As the new Lone Peak Tram climbs above Lone Mountain’s Alto Ridge, the Madison Range rises into southern sight. The 11,166-foot summit has been served by tram for almost 30 years, but the ride now follows a different path with different views.  

On Tuesday, Dec. 19, Big Sky Resort celebrated a successful two-year construction process with the tram’s grand opening. Public riders climbed aboard the new, 75-passenger cabins and oversaw Lone Mountain from a new vantage point, inspecting the bowl and the gullies, while being hauled at a top speed above 22 miles per hour. The peak remains closed for skiing, so riders took a two-way scenic trip.  

At 9:45 a.m., resort executives spoke from atop the bottom terminal.  

The Lone Peak Tram opened to the public on Dec. 19, carrying riders 2,142 vertical feet. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

“You know a new tram doesn’t get built in North America but about once a generation,” Taylor Middleton, Big Sky Resort president and COO, told an eager crowd. “And I’m one of the lucky people that’s had two in my generation, and I am stoked about that. I’m stoked about all of you.”  

Middleton said the vibe and personality on Dec. 19, 2023 was not too different from the resort’s grand opening on Dec. 15, 1973—he segued to recognize Mark Gary and Tony Martel, who happened to purchase Big Sky Resort’s very first lift tickets on that opening day 50 years ago; both now stood near the front of the tram line for another grand opening. Middleton said the effort to cut the ribbon on a new tram while celebrating 50 years was no accident. 

Stephen Kircher, president and CEO of Boyne Resorts, reinforced that point—the goal was to get it done for Big Sky’s birthday. He said it was done on time, and for the most part, on budget.  

“It’s indeed a milestone for this Big Sky’s 50th anniversary birthday, and as someone told me earlier, it’s one hell of a birthday present for the resort,” Kircher told the crowd. Now marks the first days of the next 50-year chapter, he added.  

“And it’s special to share it with all of you, the loyal customers,” Kircher said. “In the end, it’s your commitment to us that allows us to reinvest and pay for these things. So really, thank you.” 

Resort GM Troy Nedved prompted Kircher’s eight-year-old son, Finn, to cut the ribbon. Following Austrian tradition—the tram was constructed by an Austrian company, Doppelmayr, and Swiss gondola builder Garaventa—Nedved and Middleton rang the bell to signify a new chairlift.  

“Looks like we’re ready to load the first cabin. Welcome,” Nedved announced.  

The first riders handed off their champagne glasses and prepared to enter. Among them were participants in Big Sky Resort’s auction for three local nonprofits, which raised $50,000 to be split evenly between the Gallatin River Task Force, Big Sky Community Organization and Morningstar Learning Center.  

With quiet speed, the black tram accelerated up and away. Music followed, and scores of the waiting public began beeping through the gates.  

“I heard it’s gonna be a whole new view,” said local skier Kenzie Goff as she prepared to board one of the first cabins. “I think everybody is excited. I think people are stoked for sure. I am.”  

Twenty-winter local Shane Knowles, a former tram operator, gave his impression as his tram approached.  

“Pretty stoked. Yeah, it’s pretty exciting… It looks pretty snazzy,” Knowles said.  

A frequent visitor from Texas, 10-year-old Eli described the new tram.  

“It looks really… agile,” he said. Upon returning, Eli gave his review: “Amazing.”  

“It was amazing,” agreed Pat Milner of Massachusetts. A first-time Big Sky visitor, the experience reminded her of Europe.  

Inside the new tram, energy buzzes. Passengers bounce around in the relatively large cabin, pointing out the windows. At the halfway point, someone gasps. 

“Whoa,” utter a few.  

“Holy **** dude,” another says, as the opposite cabin flies by at a combined 45 miles per hour. 

The tram rolls smoothly over its only tower, crawls past the retired top terminal of the first tram, and docks a few feet higher in a top station that will include a glass-floored viewing platform as a finishing touch.  

An investment beyond skiing 

Kircher sees the new Lone Peak Tram surviving at least 50 more years. In an interview with EBS, he explained that with components replaced as needed, the tram’s life expectancy could approach 100 years.  

“For sure it’s 50-plus,” Kircher told EBS, knocking on wood for effect. He said each iteration of track rope will last about 25 years, and some electronic upgrades will be in order, but the core mechanism is here to stay. “… There’s many installations in Europe that are six, seven decades [built with] older technology. Not of this vintage.”  

With a new tram, Kircher sees new possibilities. Not only for the skiing—the new tram’s location is directly accessible from more peak descents—but for scenic adventure tourism. With the forthcoming completion of a two-stage Explorer Gondola, non-skiing guests can reach the peak in whatever footwear they desire, summer or winter, and perhaps the months between. 

Resort GM Troy Nedved said the tram is the anchor point of many upgrades from the base to the summit.  

“Three different food and beverage operations contemplated within that [gondola and tram] corridor… It’s really the first step, even though it’s a really big step,” Nedved said.  

As for cost of the Lone Peak Tram, Kircher won’t talk numbers.  

“It’s a lot,” Kircher said. “The largest investment we’ve ever made in Big Sky is this tram. And the next project, the gondola, will be bigger than this. And the restaurant infrastructure is bigger than that. I mean, we’ve got some heavy lifting to do here.”  

He pointed out that isn’t a hobby; it’s a business that needs to make economic sense. Big Sky Resort’s economic model needed to transform to enable such dramatic infrastructure upgrades. 

With lift connectivity from base to peak, Lone Mountain’s summit will become far more accessible to paying guests—the old tram catered largely to advanced skiers. 

“Having it be something that could be beyond skiers, and transform the summer experience for southwest Montana and Big Sky is really what allowed us to get over the hump and make the commitment to do this,” Kircher said. “… If you look at the European model, it is certainly that. It’s a much broader perspective on the mountain experience.”  

While the advanced technology of Big Sky’s newer lift infrastructure gets a lot of attention, Kircher emphasized his view of the real meaning behind that: “high tech is code for comfort and reliability,” he said.  

“It’s called lift ticket for a reason,” Kircher said. “You’re paying for a lift ticket. So why shouldn’t the lift experience be the best possible for a rider?”  

This story originally appeared in the Explore Big Sky newspaper, a sister publication of VIEWS. Magazine. Jack Reaney is the Associate Editor at Outlaw Partners, publisher of VIEWS. and Explore Big Sky.