Winter, nature come alive in Montana

When winter comes to Big Sky, Mont., all eyes peer to the heavens searching for the first big snow of the season.

Yes, Big Sky really is a place and not just a slogan. The resort was founded in 1973 by noted NBC newscaster Chet Huntley. Four decades later, skiers in the know are leaving the powdery slopes of Colorado for the “cold smoke” of Montana.

Big Sky is easily accessible from Bozeman, Mont. Simply drive 38 miles north on U.S. 191 through scenic Gallatin Canyon until you reach Big Sky.

Part of the canyon is “Ted Turner country” – meandering, grazing herds of bison, elk and other assorted gifts of Mother Nature. There is a primeval quality to it all, as if you are at the midpoint of creation. The surroundings appear much as they did when Lewis and Clark trudged through the region more than 200 years ago.

Big Sky takes a bit of an adjustment, but once indoctrinated, it is a world unto itself. It is a place where the post office is the most popular gathering spot in town because there is no home mail delivery.

Don’t be misled, however. Big Sky is destination of rustic elegance featuring spas, galleries, entertainment and all the contemporary facilities modern sports enthusiasts require.

Skiing is the anchor activity. Thanks to three interconnected mountains in the Big Sky-Moonlight Basin, there are nearly 5,600 skiable acres that combine to make it the biggest skiing region in America (Vail, Colo., comes in second at 5,200). Lone Peak has the highest elevation at 11,166 feet, with the Mountain Village approximately midway at 7,500 feet.

The magic of Big Sky is the extensive range of activities available for non-skiers. Among the favorites are snowmobiling, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, dog sledding. snowcoach tours through Yellowstone Park, backcountry skiing, fishing and even big game hunting.

Yellowstone Park in winter is a paradise without people. It is a natural wonderland filled with streams, waterfalls, wildlife and geysers where thermal steam blends with cold smoke to create an ethereal beginning-of-the-world atmosphere.

Outdoor lovers seeking something new will be captivated by Chet Huntley’s dream, where the Big Sky is the limit.