By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Senior Editor
BIG SKY – This is not Big Sky Country, where waist-tall grass blows against an alpine backdrop and ranchers in chaps and Stetsons herd cattle. This is Big Sky, Montana, where media moguls, Hollywood superstars and dot-com investors own second and third homes in wealthy, private communities. Ski resorts are their corrals and multi-million dollar mansions their ranches.
Tucked into the southwest corner of Montana, Big Sky is part of the elite corps of American ski towns that includes Aspen and Vail, Colo., and Jackson, Wyo. in terms of snowfall, terrain and amenities. Just 11 miles from Yellowstone National Park, it has three blue-ribbon fly fishing streams within casting distance. The nearby college town of Bozeman was ranked fifth in Outside Magazine’s Best Town’s list.
With world-class ski terrain and stunning views, along with a free summer concert series and an award-winning Professional Bull Riders event, Big Sky would seem to have it all.
Now, in this place long known for its short lift lines and empty ski slopes, change is in the mountain air.
A new boss in town
An outfit by the name of CrossHarbor rode into Big Sky in 2005, buying approximately $99 million in Yellowstone Club lots and property, and has spent the eight years since wrangling up the area’s ski resorts and private developments and branding them with a capital C.
As of this fall, Big Sky Resort, Moonlight Basin, the Club at Spanish Peaks and the Yellowstone Club now sit under one large umbrella stretching from Boston, Mass. to cover this unincorporated town and its approximately 2,400 year-round residents.
On Oct. 1, Boston-based CrossHarbor Capital Partners, LLC and Boyne Resorts closed on the purchase of Moonlight Basin, a 1,900-acre ski area adjacent to Big Sky Resort – which Boyne owns – with an additional 10,000 acres of developable land and a master plan for 400-plus residential units. The purchase followed on the heels of the partnership’s July 19 acquisition of the assets in the previously bankrupt Club at Spanish Peaks, a 5,300-acre private community adjacent to both Big Sky and the Yellowstone Club.
Combined, the new mega-resort now boasts the largest acreage at any ski resort in the U.S., with 5,750 skiable acres and 4,350 feet of vertical drop. If you include the private ski terrain within the Yellowstone Club, it’s in fact the largest in North America, at 7,950 skiable acres.
The merger, alongside the recovering national economy, is yielding a boom in construction reminiscent of a 2005/2006 building spike that Big Sky locals remember well.
Currently, the Yellowstone Club, The Club at Spanish Peaks, and the former Moonlight Basin Ski Resort have more than 100 front doors under construction – “a number that’s sure to be surpassed next year,” said local broker Ryan Kulesza, of L&K Real Estate.
At the Yellowstone Club – 5 ½ miles west of Big Sky Town Center and the world’s only private ski and golf community – home prices range from $3 million to $35 million, and membership fees are currently set at $300,000, Kulesza said.
Although the Yellowstone Club and CrossHarbor declined to comment for this story, Spanish Peaks club member John Romney, a Big Sky developer close to the situation, said area construction will have a major impact on the local community.
“I could see $1 billion being invested in Big Sky-area real estate in the next 4-7 years,” said Romney, also owner of a number of buildings in the Big Sky Town Center. “When you think of the impact on jobs and the impact on the local tax base, it’s significant.”