Montana Reflection #4 – Food!

So this be a fairly short blog because we literally ate at three places on our ski trip:  Mama Macs in Four Corners (Bozeman), Scissorbills Saloon at the Big Sky Resort and M.R. Hummers at the Mountain Mall (also at the Resort). Basically, if we like a place, we keep going back!

Mama Macs is an adorable stop at Four Corners on Hwy 191 on the way to Big Sky from Bozeman.  We stopped because it had good Yelp reviews (to which we added) and it seemed local and cozy. We loved it so much, we went there on the way back to Bozeman as well.  They had such delicious sandwiches!  My husband had the Pastrami on Rye which he enjoyed.  I had the TAB (Turkey, Avocado and Bacon…see picture) which was filled with veggies.  One daughter had the grilled cheese on sourdough with cheese so thick she could barely finish.  The other daughter had a hamburger which she declared to be one of the best ever (and she is a hamburger connoisseur).  All of the bread is homemade!  So, that fact alone makes this worth a visit!  Check it out!

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The TAB with the veggies of my choice! Yum!

Our first night in Big Sky we went to Scissorbills Saloon.  Basically, this is a bar, not a restaurant.  And it while it acts like it wants to be a restaurant, it really doesn’t.  The food was fine, but there was only one server for the whole place, so the service was rough.  If you are looking to grab a beer and eat some nachos after skiing, this is your place.  Otherwise, try M.R. Hummers.

So our favorite resort eats were from M.R. Hummers (M.R. stands for Moose River).  We discovered this place on the first day when we were literally frozen from a morning of skiing.  They sat us efficiently and served us cocoa in moments.  They give all the tables a pitcher of water to start off because they know that skiers get thirsty!  They have a full bar with lots of good selections too.  My kids ate hamburgers and chicken fingers which weren’t glamorous but super satisfying. They were sold out of the mac-n-chesse loaf both days, much to my younger daughter’s dismay.  For lunch both days I had soup that was delish (and not from a can).  For dinner, my husband had the filet and I had the roast chicken, both of which were great!  The service was so friendly and they started seating us at “our table” by the second day.  Go visit them and get the hot cocoa!

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Montana Reflection #3 – The Mountain

We are not highly experienced skiers, so forgive me for not being able to draw detailed comparisons to Colorado or Utah.  We have skied some in California, and in previous lives, a bit outside of California.  So just know that.  But, if you are like us and looking for some good family fun, Big Sky is worth a visit for sure!

The first thing we were struck by was how friendly everyone was…the employees of the resort as well as the other visitors.  I’m not saying people aren’t friendly other places, but we commented many times at the wonderful atmosphere at Big Sky.  The people who work there were so helpful…when I was carrying skis up the stairs (before ski valet), an employee offered to carry my skis for me.  I didn’t let him because I am too proud!  My husband said, “why didn’t you let him?”  Apparently I looked like I was struggling!  Haha!

The other skiers were nice too.  There was no pretense…this was not Hollywood on a hill like some other resorts (so I’ve heard).  The rumor is that “old money” skis at Big Sky…I don’t know about that because I didn’t go around and look at people’s money.  But we made friends and chatted with other families everywhere we went.  And they all said the same thing…Big Sky is special…don’t tell anyone! (oops!)

As I mentioned, we are not professional skiers.  Since our trip was short, we didn’t sign our kids up for ski school or any type of lessons.  So this was our first true family skiing vacation.  What a perfect location! Ramcharger and Swift Current (“Swifty”) quads were our starting point given where we stayed and from there, we had so many options for green and blue runs.   While we did wait in lines at the base of the mountain, the most we waited was 10 minutes or so.  Maybe it was the single-digit temperatures, but others said that Big Sky is so spread out that it’s known for shorter lines.  Once we got to the top of these quads (up 1,300 feet for Swifty), we had SO MANY options…the crowds dispersed and the runs were SO open.  After skiing in California during the same holiday week last year, I was shocked by how much space and quiet we had for just our family.

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At the top of the Ramcharger quad looking down the El Dorado run.

Our favorite green runs were off of Southern Comfort lift on the back side of the mountain.  We could traverse and practice without worrying about people “taking us out”.  Here is a photo from the line at Southern Comfort chairlift.

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I’m actually surprised so see this many people in the picture because we felt like no one was there!

There are so many other places to ski in the resort.  We only scratched the surface!  I see now why people can go there for a week vacation because there is always somewhere new to go.  Here is a link to the interactive map to check it out…but remember, don’t tell anyone!

http://bigskyresort.com/plan-a-trip/resort-maps

Montana Reflection #2 – Transportation and Lodging

The marketer in me thinks this title is a tad blah…I’ll have to spice up my titles in the future!  But, I promised to share about these two topics, and I keep my promises!  And you will want to know about our lodging…because our hotel was a repeater for sure!

TRANSPORTATION

There is not much to say about this except: 1) Flying direct is nice; 2) Be kind to the rental car agent; and 3) We were very lucky with our travel weather.

On our way to Montana, we flew direct to Bozeman at 7:30am.  It was WAY oversold and if we had given up our seats and flown later, we could have made $3000.  My heart still mourns the missed opportunity.  But our trip was short and we didn’t want miss a day of skiing (nor have an 18 hour travel day).  In hindsight, we made the right choice, as painful as it was to pass up the cash.

I understand why the flight was oversold.  In less than three hours we landed in Bozeman.  The flight in was gorgeous.  Hot tip…get yourself a window seat.

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View as we landed in Bozeman.

We were blessed with safe travel weather both ways.  The crew both directions said that the flight time is padded for icy conditions and poor visibility.  The fact that we arrived on time meant we were lucky.  But I would hope that anyone who flies in the winter expects that delays are part of the deal.

The airport in Bozeman is small and the car rental is inside the building…none of this “take a bus to an offsite location” craziness.  The rental car agent was slow because she was new…the line wasn’t long, but I could tell she was stressed.  Since everything had gone well for us, we were feeling gracious and it paid off.  A little kindness goes a long way when you travel. I have had my fair share of ugly moments, but as I have gotten older and wiser, I have tried to always start with grace…a smile, friendly conversation and good manners.  The manager came and helped our frazzled friend and hooked us up with a large SUV (when I had booked a much smaller one) because he knew we were going “to the mountain.”  Boo-yah!

At first we were a bit concerned we had taken a wrong turn…the airport is actually a few miles west of Bozeman.

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Sorry, couldn’t resist including this photo! This would have been a much different trip!  Haha!

But, once we got on the 191, the drive was super easy.  The highway was wide and lear, and until the last 15 minutes of the one-hour drive, it doesn’t even feel like you are on a mountain road…except for the scenery.

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Driving along the 191 toward Big Sky.

Again, we were very lucky with our travel weather…leaving Bozeman a few days later on Highway 90, we encountered some wind and snow drifts along the road.  We thought they looked super cool, but my cousin, a Montana native, said they are responsible for black ice in certain conditions.  It was sunny that day, so we were fine and enjoying the view!

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Heading east on Highway 90 towards Billings after leaving Big Sky.

While we were in Big Sky, we didn’t even drive our car (largely because where we stayed was so convenient).  If you could find a shuttle to/from the mountain from Bozeman (which I have to imagine they exist), you could probably get away with not having a car.  But, being Californians, we feel lost without our own car.

LODGING

Speaking of lodging, it’s time for me to rave about the place we stayed. We chose The Lodge at Big Sky, which had a top rating on Trip Advisor for Big Sky resorts.  I chose it because it had good value and the website said it was short walking distance from the slope…and it is.  But the walk is essentially in the road…with cars.  We made the walk several times in snow boots and it was fine…there aren’t any sidewalks with all the plowed snow, so everyone walks in the road.  My kids are 11 and 13 so they could handle it fine.  Next time I will bring a flashlight for the dinner walks.  My husband and older daughter made the walk more than once in ski boots (skis checked at the valet…see my previous post) and they said it was not a big deal.  I am too much of a wimp to walk that far in ski boots.

But, my carriage awaited!  They have a SUPER convenient shuttle that runs from 8:30 to 10:30am and 3:00 to 5:00pm for wimps like me!  It drops off/picks up right at the Mountain Mall/Basecamp entrance.  If the shuttle is full, they will come back around for you…you will not be left in the cold my friend!

There was so much more to like about this hotel.  The staff was super friendly.  The manager is very efficient and professional.  The common room is cozy with big leather couches and a fireplace.  An outdoor patio has a fire pit as well.  They have indoor and outdoor jacuzzis and an indoor pool, and while none of them is the height of luxury, my kids really enjoyed being able to swim after a day of skiing.

The rooms were ginormous compared to our expectations.  We had a beautiful view, two queen beds, a sitting area and a kitchenette (full size fridge, microwave and two electric burners…all the dishes, etc.) for $299 a night.  That was a high-season rate.  My only critique on the room was the lighting.  The ceilings are high so our lamps didn’t quite do the trick.

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View from our room…early morning with the moon still high in the sky.

They offer free continental breakfast in the morning.  It’s not fancy, but it has cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, muffins/bagels/toast.  They have hot options, the only one of which we ate were the pancakes (two thumbs up).  I will say that I will bring my own Starbucks Via instant coffee next time…but I am a coffee snob.  It is truly the kind of place where you can go to breakfast in your flannel jammies and not be alone.

They have daily Happy Hour fro 4:30 -6:30 and they have nachos (think ball park, not high-end mexican restaurant) and s’more kits.  Seth, the bartender, is the bomb!  He was so friendly and helpful and made happy hour happier.  The girls LOVED making their s’mores too!

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In the main room at The Lodge at Big Sky. We roasted the marshmallows outside with the snow falling and came indoors to enjoy!

Now while The Summit and Huntley hotels were literally steps aways from the lift, the shuttle, the people and atmosphere the Lodge at Big Sky made it a great stay.  We can’t wait to return!

Stay tuned for my third post about the mountain and our ski days!

Montana Reflection #1 – Packing and Gear

We had a fantastic trip at the end of December visiting Montana and the Big Sky Ski Resort.  Our family is reflecting on the fun times as we do laundry, head back to work and school, and jump into our normal routines.

I just finished reading my post from December 7th entitled “Thinking About Montana on a Monday,” where I discussed our plans and our gear. Here’s how it worked out.

GEAR

We rented skis right at the Basecamp of the resort.  We were really happy with the service.  You can find all of the information on the Big Sky website.  We picked up the skis the night before.  I wish we had known that we could have valeted the skis for $6 a pair right after renting them…then we would not have had to schlep them back to the hotel that first night.  But we did we did discover the service after the first day of skiing and the freedom was lovely.

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This was the only time we had to carry skis.  Once we discovered the ski valet, we were hands free!

We brought our own boots and helmets, for which I was grateful.  I came across another family that had rented boots only to find that they were wet (not sure where they rented).  Wet feet are not good.

So, if you read the last blog post, you’d know that we wore several layers. The temperatures were in the single digits, which even for seasoned Montana skiers, was a bit on the chilly side.  We ran into a lot of veterans who were just as cold as we were!  The day after we left, the temperature went back into the 20’s which is much more comfortable and normal for Rocky Mountain skiing.

The girls and I were grateful for the layers and they were the key to our fun.  My husband didn’t wear his down sweater layer and was fine…but he wears shorts and t-shirts all winter.  So, I don’t recommend that people use him as a gauge!  Lol!  The biggest issue was our extremities, which we had planned for.  We had some hits and misses in the gear department.

For faces, balaclavas were a MUST.  I also liked having the turtle fur for my neck.  I think the best gear item was the “Thick-n-Thin Headliner” we bought for my younger daughter that had the fleece neck with the headpiece attached.

For hands, the Hot Hands hand warmers were our life blood.  The Montana Mittens from North Face that we all had received from Santa worked for me, but not for my daughters.  The winner was a Burton GORETEX mitten that we bought instead for my oldest daughter.  They came with separate liners and a zipper on the top of the mitten (over the fingers) for hand warmers.  She didn’t complain about her hands the entire time.

For feet, the Therm-ic electronic boot warmers were 50/50.  My younger daughter, and arguably the colder one, said hers didn’t work at all.  My older daughter was satisfied with hers, but I’m not sure if they made much of a difference.  With a $80 price tag, I think we will stick with just putting toe warmers in the boots for next time.  With toe warmers, my youngest daughter was able to go two hours without a cocoa break, which suited me just fine. 🙂

PACKING

How does one pack all of that clothing and gear when traveling by plane? “Very carefully” is an understatement.  We had four boot bags stuffed with ski pants, ski boots, snow boots, gloves, helmets, goggles and other accessories.  Also, since these bags were checked, I put the shampoo and other liquids that I couldn’t take on the plane, which made packing toiletries so much easier than normal. (we are usually a carry-on crowd)

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All lined up and ready to go!

 

Honestly, it was super pricey ($25 a bag each way) to take our boots, and as I mentioned, I’m so glad we did, but I was not interested in giving the airlines any extra money for the rest of our bags.  In rolls our favorite travel item…the 19 inch, 360-rolling, hard-case suitcases we bought last year (each family member has their own).  Ours are Delsey, but other brands make them.  The 19 inch size is a must…big enough to fit a good amount of clothes, but small enough to fit in the overhead compartment with wheels first/handle out (instead of length-wise).  The 360 degree rolling is key, especially with kids.  I cannot stand walking behind one of my kids and tripping over the bag they drag behind.  The 360 rolling allows the girls to keep the bag next to them, control the speed, and weave in and out of people as we race to catch a flight!  As far as the hard case, I am surprised that I like it so much.  I thought the hard case would be less roomy or expandable, but we aren’t having that issue (and ours have the zippered expander).  I feel like my items are safer with hard case, and it has weathered a lot of travel so far.

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My 19 inch bag, with my favorite down sweater! Both traveled very well.

So my reason for sharing about suitcase was related to my issue of being cheap with baggage fees.  Instead of packing two large bags, everyone had their own smaller rolling bag that whizzed through security.  Once we arrived at the gate, the crew offered to check people’s bags free of charge. (which we still didn’t, much to my husband’s dismay).  You unfortunately have to learn to work the system.  While we easily saved ourselves $50 each way by having the smaller rolling bags, next time will use use a large rolling duffle for all of the boots, etc.  That will save us even more.

 

Stay tuned for Reflection #2 – Transportation and Lodging.

Thinking about Montana on a Monday

We are going to Montana in a few weeks, and I really need to get organized!  We decided in the fall that instead of visiting Mammoth to ski this Christmas Break, we would go and visit relatives in Billings and sneak in a couple of days at Big Sky Resort.

Now Big Sky was a bit intimidating for me.  This is Rocky Mountain skiing. My husband has skied in Colorado before, but the girls and I are California skiers (like totally fer sure).  Big Sky is Big Time!  When I called to make hotel reservations, I talked to a guy (sorry, he sounded young…I can’t call him a man) at the front desk about the skiing, both the conditions and the temperature.  He said that the powder is amazing, almost like flour, and is nothing like slushy California skiing (a bit judgemental, but I let it slide).  And he admitted, that yes, it’s a bit colder (a total understatement).  With that, knowing what I am up against, I am going into full planning mode.

TRANSPORTATION

Since, of course, it will be winter, I tried to limit our driving as much as possible.  I was able to book our flight so that we are flying into Bozeman and out of Billings.  Bozeman is the closest airport to Big Sky and a fun stop in it’s own right.  We stopped for a delicious lunch and micro brew at Montana Ale Works when we were en route to Yellowstone a couple of years ago!  We may have to eat there again!  We will drive along Hwy 191 and the gorgeous Gallatin River to get the ski resort (hoping the weather is good!).  For the driving, we rented a SUV which is costing us an arm and a leg.  They usually do in winter, but pick up and drop off in different cities is always pricier. I’m going to scour Hotwire over the next few weeks to see if I can get a better deal.

Looking at my flight reservations again, I see that I paid for priority boarding (I had forgotten!).  My husband will be so happy!  I also prepaid our in-flight internet access so that my kids will love me too!  When everyone else is happy, then I can settle in and read my book that I’m hopefully getting for Christmas (hint, hint).

ROOM RESERVATIONS

We are staying at the Lodge at Big Sky, numero uno on Trip Advisor.  As I mentioned, I quizzed the front desk staff about the convenience of the resort.  We do NOT like schlepping ski gear.  Especially when all of us are wearing ski boots (worst inventions ever).  The dude at the front desk assured me that the lift was only 100-150 yards walk.  However, 100 yards is still a football field…and that is still a long way in ski boots.  As a back up, they also run a shuttle to the lift every 30 minutes.

Of course, access to food on vacation is critical.  Note, I already told you I have lunch taken care of on day one…I’m not messing around!  I was happy to be about to get a double room with a kitchenette.  We always return from a day on the slopes STARVING, so it will be nice to have some snacks readily available.  Our room rate of $299/night also includes breakfast (continental plus hot food).  It’s hard to tell on the map how close we are to restaurants, but we will bust out our snow boots and go forage for food if we have to!

CLOTHING AND GEAR

Speaking of snow boots (and snow gear in general), I am preparing for dealing with a new level of cold.  I called in my friend Jen to be my gear advisor to understand just how many layers we need to take.  She introduced me to my new favorite thing:  the down sweater from Patagonia.  Oh how I love my down sweater (especially since I got it a REI for 25% off).  It’s warm but light.  And the material is slick enough that your ski jacket fits over it.

So back to the layering, this is what we plan to do:

Base layer (Hot Chilis always)

Quarter-zip fleece (picky about the thickness)

Down sweater (yum!)

Jacket (suitable for cold weather…no shells here)

The girls and I are getting mittens for Christmas (don’t tell).  I bought the Montana Mitten from The North Face (sounded appropriate)…and yes, I bought my own gift.  And I got a big box of hand warmers on Amazon.  The girls are also getting boot warmers for Christmas.  This is a total experiment so we will have to report on their effectiveness.  And if we don’t sound wimpy enough, we will have balaclavas for our faces…no skin showing here!

We are bringing our own boots and helmets (heck ya!), but will need to rent skis.  I spoke to a very nice gentleman (he sounded a bit older than a “guy” or “dude”) at Big Sky  and directed us toward the online rentals.  He recommended we arrive at 5pm the night before our rental starts to pick up the skis (4pm is too crazy).  I got my husband and myself high performance skis, which for me is laughable.  But at least I’ll look good!

We can’t wait to go!  I’m sure we will have a lot of report and many lessons learned.  Stay tuned!!