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The ‘Next Aspen’: Part III

By David Frey
12-31-07

Big Sky, Mont., is an awkward community.

Ski bums, international workers, young professionals, retiring baby boomers and wealthy second-homeowners are strung out across scattered subdivisions below three ski resorts. There’s the canyon, at the bottom; the meadow, halfway up, and the mountain, where Big Sky Resort, Moonlight Basin and members-only Yellowstone Club lie.

altIt’s a community, but is it a town?

I’m driving across the Rockies looking for the “next Aspen,” exploring resort towns caught in an avalanche of change as rich baby boomers change the face of the West. If any place has been tranformed in this New West, it’s here.

Blinded by the glare of the bonfire crackling behind the Black Bear bar, it’s easy to believe Big Sky, Mont.’s ski season is in full swing. Lights are still out in most of the condos and plush log cabin getaways, but by 7:30 p.m., this party of ski bums – a fundraiser for a local struggling with medical bills – is already raging. The fire is burning. The beer is flowing. Skiers and snowboarders, one by one, take their position at the top of a snow ramp, careen down to a metal rail and collapse in an explosion of snow.

alt“We’ve got a pile of dirt covered with snow and a rail! Is this winter or what?” the announcer shouts, and the crowd, well over 100 mostly 20-somethings in parkas and puffy down jackets, shouts in agreement.

Despite worries that the ski bum lifestyle is a dying culture, it is enjoying a healthy last gasp at Big Sky, Mont. Before the tourists arrive, this place feels like a college campus; the party is the first night back at school. Seasonal workers, self-described “dirtbags,” hug friends they haven’t seen since last winter’s snows melted outside their condos, the resort equivalent of dorm rooms, and swap stories about their summers.

It’s a community, but is it a town? That’s the question residents are struggling with. Big Sky’s 2,200 residents are investigating whether or not it makes sense to officially incorporate and become Montana’s newest town. The chamber formed a committee to investigate the idea, and possibly put a ballot issue in front of voters as early as spring.

Link to Part III and others