Montage Big Sky hotel opens, taking Big Sky to a new level | National News

From a collection of ski and golf condos carved out of the forest in the 1960s and ’70s, 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 cherry on the side of Lone Mountain’s vanilla sundae slopes.

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

Drawn by the excellent skiing offered at Big Sky Resort, the remote area has previously attracted other high-end private residential clubs including Moonlight Basin, the Yellowstone Club and Spanish Peaks. Setting Montage apart is that it will be open to the public, mostly those who are affluent.

“We’re a combination of leisure and group guests, mostly corporate right now,” said Lori Rippstein, Montage director of sales and marketing. “We are hopeful we will attract Montana residents to come and do a staycation.”

It’s projected Montage will create 500 jobs in the community.






Montage Big Sky is stretched across the hillside with the Spanish Peaks in the background. Cranes still surround the lodge as work continues in the area.




Linked developments

Tying all of these developments together is CrossHarbor Capital Partners LLC, a Boston based investment firm founded in 1993 specializing in commercial real estate. Running the show for CrossHarbor at Big Sky is Lone Mountain Land Co., the same group that last year purchased the “Marlboro Ranch” at the southern end of the Crazy Mountains.

Montage chairman and CEO Alan J. Fuerstman touts the Big Sky property as one of several his company has planned around the world over the next two years. Fuerstman learned his craft at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas before setting out on his own. Rippstein joined the company after working at resorts in Vail, Lake Tahoe and the Middle East.

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

“To see that commitment … 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 at $1,745 a night

Individually, the hotel’s touches are distinctive. There’s the white slippers offered to skiers coming indoors. The custom hat shop, seven restaurants, 10,000-square-foot spa and a four-lane bowling alley. More than 100 pieces of art created by Montanans decorate 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 privately owned rooms designed to the owner’s taste. Another 139 rooms offered to the public, all containing a gas fireplace and large balcony, have been completed. The entire structure is built on the foundation of another lodge that went bankrupt after construction started.






guest room

Every room in the hotel features a gas fireplace and balcony.




Visitors arrive on the second floor, with the lodge’s two wings spread across the mountainside. A large ballroom and conference rooms are set up for weddings and corporate gatherings. Huge windows in a room bookended by fireplaces and overstuffed furniture provides a quiet place to marvel at the view of the Spanish Peaks. On the opposite side of the lodge is Big Sky Resort with the nearby Lewis and Clark lift offering quick access from the sport shop.

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

Such beauty, comfort and access is expensive. A room with two queen beds costs $1,745 a night in February and climbs to $7,995 for a Spanish Peak suite with one king bed. The residence rates begin at $4,495 for one bedroom and rise 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 middle-class ski town with walk-on lift access to being more like Aspen where only the elite hang out, said one former Big Sky worker. The locals are 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 inside Montage Big Sky.




playing in wild country

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

Winding roads veining the mountainsides once hauled logging trucks, but now lead to multi-million-dollar mansions, golf courses and club houses.

Now home to about 3,000 full-time residents, Big Sky can accommodate more than 15,000 during the peak winter ski season and summer months, according to the Big Sky Chamber. To keep the resort, golf courses, restaurants, shops and schools running, about 4,200 workers are needed. This winter, some were recruited from South America, arriving on the J-1 visa program. Others are commuting an hour or more from the nearby Gallatin Valley.

As a result, the traffic on Highway 191 down the narrow canyon is the worst that one 20-year resident has ever experienced. Big Sky is feeling the pressures of tourism with lack of housing and pay to compete with the rising costs to live in this beautiful place, he said.

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






The Summit

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 a lack of affordable housing for workers, new apartment complexes were built or are being constructed. Hotel rooms have also been rented out or purchased to accommodate workers. Lone Mountain Land Co. alone is committing more than $350 million to provide 4,000 beds, for workers, according to the Montage’s public relations firm.

The building boom continues. A 2,635-unit development is proposed on more than 500 acres at the northeast base of 8,800-foot-high Andesite Mountain. One&Only Moonlight Basin just announced construction of a lodge with 73 guest rooms and suites along with 19 villas, a ski lodge and a spa.

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

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

“There are more than 600 billionaires in the US, and who knows how many people with hundreds of millions,” he said. “If only a small percent are attracted to Montana then this will and has continued.”






Mounting locations

This screen shot of Montage’s online magazine shows locations of the company’s resorts around the United States.




Popular

Despite the threat of climate change and some wonky recent winters, snowsport visits continue to remain strong across the United States, totaling 59 million in 2020-21, according to the National Ski Area Association. That number ranks fifth overall but is still down from a record 60.5 million in 2010-11.

One Gallatin Valley resident said every time an episode of the Kevin Costner television series “Yellowstone” airs, Big Sky real-estate agents receive inquiries about homes for sale. Maybe Montage Big Sky opened at just the right time to capitalize on the region’s growing fame.

Rippstein said the community’s support of her employer has been “tremendous 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.

“Once you come here you’re kind of spoiled,” Mesuda said. “It’s so much more chill.”

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