Montage Big Sky hotel opens and takes Big Sky to a new level |

From a collection of ski and golf apartments carved out of the forest in the 1960s and 1970s, the Montana mountain community of Big Sky has steadily grown more exclusive. In December, the opening of the new ultra-luxury Montage Big Sky resort took the area to the next level.

The $416 million, 520,000 square foot post-and-beam lodge is the latest icing on the cake of Lone Mountain’s vanilla sundaes.

“It just confirms that Montana is catching up in places like Jackson [Wyoming] and Park City, Utah,” said Jerry Johnson, a political science professor at Montana State University who has studied Big Sky.

Attracted by the excellent skiing on offer at Big Sky Resort, the remote area has previously attracted other upscale private residential clubs, including Moonlight Basin, the Yellowstone Club, and Spanish Peaks. What makes Montage special is that it will be open to the public, especially the wealthy.

“We are a combination of holidaymakers and group guests, currently mainly for business,” says Lori Rippstein, Director of Sales and Marketing at Montage. “We are hopeful that we will attract residents of Montana to come and do a staycation.”

Montage is expected to create 500 jobs in the community.






Montage Big Sky is stretched over the hill with the Spanish peaks in the background. Cranes still stand around the lodge as work continues in the area.




Linked developments

All of these developments are brought together by CrossHarbor Capital Partners LLC, a Boston-based investment firm founded in 1993 that specializes in commercial real estate. The show for CrossHarbor in Big Sky is run by Lone Mountain Land Co., the same group that bought the “Marlboro Ranch” on the south side of the Crazy Mountains last year.

Assembly Chairman and CEO Alan J. Fuerstman touts Big Sky’s property as one of several plans his company has planned around the world over the next two years. Fuerstman learned his trade at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas before going it alone. Rippstein joined the company after working in resorts in Vail, Lake Tahoe and the Middle East.

Fuerstman was hands-on in getting the Montage Big Sky open, she said, interacting personally with the staff and the first guests to set the tone.

“To see that dedication… was pretty impressive,” Rippstein said.






Assembly management

Lori Rippstein, director of sales and marketing for Montage Big Sky, joins the company after working in other resort communities, including Vail, Colorado and Lake Tahoe, Nevada.




Rooms for $1,745 per night

Individually, the hotel’s accents are distinctive. There are the white slippers offered to skiers coming in. The custom hat shop, seven restaurants, a 10,000 square foot spa and a four lane bowling alley. More than 100 works of art created by Montanans adorn the walls.

“That’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” Rippstein said.

Work is still underway on some of the 39 residences, she added, which are private rooms designed to the owner’s taste. Another 139 rooms offered to the public, all with gas fireplaces and large balconies, have been completed. The entire structure was built on the foundation of another lodge that went bankrupt after construction began.






guestroom

Each room at the hotel features a gas fireplace and balcony.




Visitors arrive on the second floor, with the lodge’s two wings spread across the mountainside. There is a grand ballroom and meeting rooms equipped for weddings and business meetings. Large windows in a room with fireplaces and overstuffed furniture provide a peaceful place to marvel at the view of the Spanish peaks. On the other side of the lodge is Big Sky Resort with the nearby Lewis and Clark lift providing quick access from the sports shop.

“We have 3,200 acres of beginner and intermediate terrain,” said Stacie Mesuda, marketing manager for Big Sky Resort. “I think you can spend three days exploring all the ski runs and not the same one twice.”

Such beauty, comfort and access is expensive. A room with two queens costs $1,745 per night in February and goes up to $7,995 for a Spanish Peak suite with a king bed. Housing rates start at $4,495 for one bedroom and go up to $16,995 for a five-bedroom suite.

With the influx of Yellowstone Club members and high-end hotels, the atmosphere has changed from a mid-range ski town with a lift-accessible lift to more like Aspen where only the elite hang out, said a former Big Sky employee. The locals are being pushed out and the billionaires are kicking out the millionaires, she added.






living room

Floor-to-ceiling windows make the living room a popular place to relax in Montage Big Sky.




Playing in the wild land

What sets Big Sky apart from other resort communities is that it is surrounded by one of the wildest places in the lower 48 states, just an hour from Yellowstone National Park. As proof, Big Sky Resort once stopped its paintball course because the pellets attracted a grizzly bear.

Winding roads that ran through the mountainsides once attracted loggers, but now lead to multi-million dollar mansions, golf courses and clubhouses.

Big Sky is now home to about 3,000 full-time residents and can accommodate more than 15,000 during peak winter and summer seasons, according to the Big Sky Chamber. About 4,200 workers are needed to run the resort, golf courses, restaurants, shops and schools. This winter, some were recruited from South America and arrived on the J-1 visa program. Others commute an hour or more from the nearby Gallatin Valley.

As a result, traffic on Highway 191 through the narrow canyon is the worst a 20-year-old resident has ever experienced. Big Sky is feeling the pressure of tourism with a lack of housing and payment to compete with the rising costs of living in this beautiful place, he said.

Commuting in Big Sky is aided by the Skyline bus, which carried 68,000 passengers to and around the community last year. However, due to a lack of drivers this winter, the Big Sky Transportation District has had to cut some routes.






The top

The rooms at the Summit hotel, owned by Boyne Resorts, have been updated, along with the nearby Huntley Lodge and Vista Hall.




Worker housing

To address the lack of affordable housing for workers, new apartment complexes have been or are being built. Hotel rooms have also been rented or bought to accommodate workers. Lone Mountain Land Co. alone is putting more than $350 million into providing 4,000 beds for employees, according to Montage’s PR firm.

The construction boom continues. A development of 2,635 units is proposed on more than 500 hectares at the northeastern base of the 8800 meter high Andesite mountain. One&Only Moonlight Basin has just announced the construction of a lodge with 73 rooms and suites, along with 19 villas, a ski lodge and a spa.

Keeping up with its neighbors, Big Sky Resort has just completed the renovation of its Summit Hotel and Huntley Lodge rooms, along with a $13 million upgrade last year to its mountain shopping mall, now called Vista Hall. In addition to a new high-speed six-passenger chairlift and worker residences, the resort has other plans it will soon announce as part of its $150 million planned capital plan that runs through 2025.

Johnson sees no end in sight to the growth at Big Sky, pointing to Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport’s new record 1.94 million passengers in 2021 as one reason why.

“There are over 600 billionaires in the US, and who knows how many people are hundreds of millions,” he said. “If only a small percentage are attracted to Montana, they will continue to be.”






Mounting locations

This screenshot from Montage’s online magazine shows locations of the company’s resorts in the United States.




Popular

Despite the threat of climate change and some shaky recent winters, snowsports attendance in the United States remains strong, totaling 59 million in 2020-21, according to the National Ski Area Association. That number ranks fifth overall, but is still lower than the 2010-11 record 60.5 million.

A Gallatin Valley resident said that every time an episode of Kevin Costner’s television series “Yellowstone” airs, Big Sky brokers are asked about homes for sale. Perhaps Montage Big Sky opened at just the right time to take advantage of the region’s growing fame.

Rippstein said community support for her employer has been “huge and heartwarming”. After spending 20 years in and out of the Colorado resort community of Vail, she said she’s happy to be in a small town.

“You’re a little spoiled once you get here,” Mesuda said. “It’s so much chillier.”

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