Big Sky Chamber of Commerce Community Building Forum series
Big Sky Resort covers Swift Current 6, an upcoming gondola for additional tram access, workforce housing, remodels and the Montana Club
The Big Sky community showed real fortitude this spring, according to Brian Wheeler, vice president of Real Estate and Development at Big Sky Resort. The pandemic forced thoughts of prioritization for many people and businesses – an essential step when the world faced so much uncertainty. That time also allowed for core work to be done.
“A lot of work done back then is ready for harvest right now,” he said. “It’s going to be an exciting winter and we have no concerns right now with moving forward on a number of the things.”
Those projects underway include a push for workforce housing, beginning construction of the Swift Current 6 – what will be the fastest lift in North America, the first phase of the Montana Club, hotel remodels and also the first phase of the gondola project.
“Looking back at March 15, we all had to hit pause, not just Big Sky, but the world,” he said. “We had a lot of decisions to make and one of the biggest was how do we go ahead with the plans and the excitement that we had moving forward with the summer? We acted quickly and said let’s prioritize the things that we can do and the things that we should do – we separated wants and needs.”
He emphasized they have great teams moving forward.
“Everyone had the same situation where they had to think, ‘What do we do?’ A lot of people just stopped and paused. What a community, though, that just geared right up and moved forward,” he said, noting the resort’s excitement to execute all the projects discussed and how it is “ actually ramping up even more.”
Swift Current 6
“Probably the biggest item that we prioritized was moving forward with Swift [Current] 6,” he said. The uniquely designed lift will be the fastest in North America at 1,200 feet per minute and about 25% faster than the current experience.
“We didn’t miss a beat on this other than the fact that it would have been challenging to do in one season,” he said.
This will be coming online Thanksgiving of 2021.
Housing at the resort suffered a setback due to COVID-19 employee housing restrictions. There will not be three people to a room this year.
The resort currently has over 550 beds now and will be adding “about 50 pillows to the Mountain Lodge this coming winter season.” Wheeler noted four employee housing projects in the last four years and are looking at another one this next summer.
“This is still a top priority, in fact it is probably even a higher priority now given the reduction in density than we have had in the past,” he said.
Wheeler said the Summit Hotel Remodel is underway and will have all units done for Christmas 2021.
The resort is starting the Huntley Lodge remodel this January, “just given the way the numbers are this winter and trying to gear up for the peak numbers going next year.” One hundred twenty units are being remodeled.
Located on the White Wing ski run, the first phase of the multiphased planned residential project with five star hotel accommodations has sold out and Phase II was completed, he said.
Gondola: Doppelmayr D-Line 10 Passenger
This will be a multi-phase project replacing the current double chair of the Explorer chairlift and will increase accessibility and ease of access to the bowl. The first stage will go from the base to generally where the Explorer chair currently ends, explained Stacie Mesuda, public relations manager for Big Sky Resort. This is going to be the mid-station or part one of the project and will be the location of ski school checkin and also offer a food and beverage option for people in ski school. Part two of the project will extend the gondola from that mid-station up to the bowl.
“It will create another access point from the base area to get to the bowl and the rest of Lone Mountain ski terrain. Right now, the main access to the bowl is from Swift Current. This creates another access point from the base area to move people onto the mountain much quicker,” she said. There will be another food and beverage option at the top terminal.
The third piece of the project will be a connection to the top base of the tram from the top terminal of the gondola via a pulse gondola.
Completed Christmas 2019, Wheeler said Vista Hall has “exceeded expectations for raising the bar in both quality and capacity to satisfy needs.” He cited that the improvement included about 700 seats and over a 50% expansion and double the bathrooms.
“Unfortunately we are going to have to cut that capacity in about half this year, moving forward with COVID into the winter, so we will have some temporary tents and things… to satisfy demand and satisfy social distancing,” he said.
Formerly the restaurant known as Hummers, the remodel is completed and the space has been completely transformed, Wheeler said.