The tram to the top of Big Sky's Lone Peak

DAY 3. When Mary Blilie was a kid, her family came to Big Sky every year at Christmas time.

“Lots of memories,” she smiles.

Now an electrical engineer with two young kids of her own, she wants to continue the tradition. She’s come from Minnesota with her family, meeting up with her husband’s two sisters and their families — 12 of them with kids ranging from 17 down to two. . “We’ve taking a ton of pictures and it’s only our first day!” she says.

Other families I meet around the village at the Base of Big Sky are equally enthusiastic about the ski school. The mountain is big but the ski school is small “and that’s important” says Lori Woolbright, who is back for her third holiday here with her husband and eight year old daughter from Myrtle Beach, SC. Another Plus: Yellowstone. “We can snowmobile and ski,” she says. Allyson loves the après ski kids club too, Lori adds.

“We’re never going back to Vail,” jokes Cecile George, who was winding up a week here with her husband and two kids from Memphis. “Absolutely you get a lot of bang for your dollar,” she says. “And they make it incredibly easy. Everyone is so nice.” Not only are there no lift lines, but there’s no pressure to dress to the nines on the slopes or off, George says. “I’ve been wearing the same pair of jeans all week and no one cares!”

Many of the families here seem to have some Montana connection — a summer vacation as a child, a neighbor who came every year, a friend — like the Georges — who moved here. But it seems once you’ve been here, you’re part of a select club. Even the Lords — who were without all 11 of their pieces of luggage — were enthusiastic. Grandmother Ellen Lord couldn’t believe the helpful staff — scouting out clothes from the lost and found for them, even offering Christmas gifts for the two children if their bags didn’t show up. They were impressed by the kindness.

I was equally impressed by the sheer beauty of the place — the huge rugged mountains, the snow covered trees, the vistas that seem to go on forever. We took the tram up to the top of Lone Peak Mountain (11,100-plus elevation) The clouds had parted and the sun was shining — it seemed our luck was with us. The kids weren’t bickering! The view of the surrounding mountains was spectacular. We could nearly see all the way to the Tetons! This mountain is so big — it does have more terrain than any other in the country — that it’s impossible to get bored.
“There’s lots of terrain for everyone in the family,” says Lori Henrickson, who was vacationing here with her husband and two kids from Idaho. She chases her 14 year old Erik down the extreme terrain she says, while her husband Tim skis the cruisers with 10-year-old Sarah. “The snow is great, the skiing is great — and there’s a great vibe. It’s so much more relaxed than a lot of other places, she explains.

We left the kids to ski down the most challenging terrain, took the tram back down and then skied the rest of the way back down the mountain right to our cabin door. By the time we got there, the kids were here — a fire blazing in the fireplace. The hot tub on our back deck was hot. We get in, surrounded by snow and evergreens — no other people, just us. Could you imagine a more perfect moment?

The kids are so cozy in the cabin we opt for take-in Asian fare from the Bamboo Bistro rather than going out. Too bad I can’t persuade them to deliver. No matter, my husband jumps in our SUV and is back with dinner in 10 minutes.

I realize sitting around with my three kids — it’s rare we’re all in one place at he same time these days — is my favorite part of a ski trip. There’s nowhere to rush off to-no homework, no work, no friends waiting. Everyone feels great from a day outside. Everyone feels great to be together.

I fall asleep before 9 p.m. — smiling.