Originally Posted by Veloscente
The family and I are going to be in Big Sky for 8 days at the end of February, and I was looking for some local intel. on:
1) where to find sweet less-tracked expert terrain (inbounds or sidecountry) that I can hit in "solo strikes" when I get an hour or two away from the family to charge hard on my own?
I was planning on buying tickets for the Big-Sky & Moonlight Basin interconnect for at least a day or two. Is this a "must do" upgrade worth the additional $20 a day, or not?
How workable/fast is the interconnect? Is it something I can hit for 3 hours in the morning and still be back noonish to pick up my kids from the Big Sky Ski school?
Is there "must hit" expert terrain or other benefits to skiing on the Moonlight Basin side for experts in search of variety, challenge, and perhaps the odd unplundered stash?
Are there compelling reasons to upgrade my intermediate wife & take her over there as well?
I'm not a local, but I have made three very good trips to Big Sky, so take what I say with a grain of salt. A big advantage of Big Sky is that they get so little traffic that powder sticks around for a good long while. I'm not sure of your skiing ability, but the true expert terrain at Big Sky is equivalent to most anything you'll find in North America.
There's three areas of expert terrain that I've explored and skied. The first is off of the Challenger lift. This is an old and slow double fixed grip chair. It accesses some relatively steep terrain; you can ski down along the Moonlight boundry, or over the ridge into numerous steep lines. Or you can ski Big Rock Tongue, which is plenty steep, particularly if you enter from the top, although I've preferred the more dependable snow that you get by coming in from a bit down on the skier's left. Challenger often is filled in by the wind, so the snow can be quite lovely days after the last dump.
You can also hike to the A-Z chutes off of the top of Challenger. Many of these lines have real consequences if you fall. It's not a place to be if you aren't on your A game.
Off of the tram, you have Liberty Bowl, a lovely, steep bowl with an average gradient in the upper 30's. The view is fantastic, and I've had some of the best powder skiing in my life in Liberty Bowl; every turn I went under. My avatar photo is from a run on Liberty Bowl for which I acquired the nickname "snowblower." But you can also take the Yeti traverse near the top of the bowl into the dictator chutes (Marx, Castro, and Lennin). These chutes are long and damn steep -- probably around 1500 feet of vert in the 40's. If you take the Yeti traverse on past the dictator chutes, you come to the gullies: steep relatively narrow chutes with consequences if you fall (there's consequences of falling in the dictators as well, but generally there's not the rock bands that are in the gullies).
The third area is to ski the signature runs off of the tram: the Big Couloir and the North Summit Snowfield. You have to have a Moonlight pass to ski the North Summit Snowfield. You also used to be required to have a probe, shovel, and transceiver for the NSS, but no longer. You do have to sign out with the Moonlight patrol at the top of the tram, and you have to have a partner (I believe). I intended to ski the Big last year, but the snow was crummy and we skied incredible wind-groomed powder in the NSS instead. As a result, I'm not exactly certain what the restrictions are for the Big, but I believe you need a Moonlight pass and have to sign out with the Moonlight patrol as well.
It is feasible to ski these areas in the morning and get back to the base around noon. You might, if lucky and you are a good skier, be able to make two laps off of the tram, but probably not more.
As for Moonlight, the good expert terrain is a few lines off of the Headwaters Chair, which is on the other side of the ridge from the Challenger chair. I had a delightful afternoon 2 years ago making laps on the chair and skiing the two chutes that are up there -- the locals claimed that the terrain was 47 degrees. It is steep, and lots of fun as long as the coverage is good.
Other than the Headwaters chair, most of the terrain at Moonlight is oriented to intermediate skiers. It is worth the price to access the NSS for an expert and to gain a few hours to play off of the Headwaters chair, but otherwise the expert skier is going to enjoy Big Sky more (IMO). An intermediate skier, paticularly a lower intermediate skier, will enjoy Moonlight. Also, as Moonlight is on the north face of Lone Peak, it tends to have better snow when its been warm and now is cold.
That's what I can provide, but perhaps some of the locals will correct any misperceptions I have conveyed.
Oh, and you'd be well advised to get a guide/lesson. I highly recommend Ursula Howland; she is phenomenal and can really show you the terrain and give you excellent instruction as well. She posts here from time to time as Little Bear.