6-winter tips: Bozeman Airport to Big Sky
It is always an exciting time in Bozeman when the snow arrives, and this year the snow is arriving in spades. Bridger Bowl and BIg Sky are already (as of mid-December 2013) posting base depth of four feet. This bodes well so far.
The Bozeman Airport does an excellent job dealing with oversized luggage, AKA skis and boards (hint: big bags come off last). We do have a couple of hints for winter visitors that will hopefully make your life a little easier when you are passing through.
1) Transportation to Big Sky. Options are limited. It is typically less expensive to rent a car than to take a shuttle/ taxi to Big Sky. Plus, a rental car gives you flexibility to check out different areas of town, Bozeman, and Yellowstone. It is highly, highly recommended to rent a car versus a shuttle. Here is an article about BZN Ground transportation.
2) If you are on a late flight, eat before you get to Bozeman. There are few restaurant options, other than McDonalds, on your way to Big Sky open late. The grocery store, Albertsons, is open to 1AM and on the way. If you can muster, it is worth stopping here to stock up.
3) If you have rented a car through one of the franchise companies on airport, send the primary member of the party to get pick up the car IMMEDIATELY. Lines can and will be long, and the cars are far away. Drive the car up to arrivals to pick up the rest of your party and their luggage.
4) Ski racks. On airport companies do offer ski racks on some of their rental cars. However, these are the clamp style racks. So if you are traveling with board/ ski bags plan on removing the contents to strap in. The independent car rental agency, Phasmid, offers rental roof-top ski boxes on their cars, as well as if you just want to rent a roof box. They are located about a mile from BZN and pick people up at the airport privately, right outside of arrivals, if you are renting a car from them.
5) Gear. Soft sided bags are a lot easier to pack and if you did book too small of a rental car (or got shafted with getting something you did not book) are a lot more comfortable on your lap then a suitcase! If you are tight for packing space, carry your ski boots on the plane.
6) Rental cars and the drive to Big Sky. Four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive cars are required in the winter. You may get lucky if you rent a 2WD car and the road to Big Sky is dry and safe, or you may end up with a snowy/ icey road and in the Gallatin River. They do an excellent job maintaining the road to Big Sky in winter, however, sometimes it is impossible to keep it perfect. Supposedly they stopped putting up white crosses marking where people died because there are so many already it started to freak people out.
Pony up and get a 4WD or AWD rental car.
If you book a SUV through a Bozeman airport rental car company, call and make sure 100% that the car you will be getting is 4WD or AWD. If they will not guarantee this, book a rental car through a different company. A couple of the companies have been renting 2WD Ford Escapes and Ford Explorers- veritable deathtraps in adverse driving conditions.
When you do book your rental car, book in advance as possible. Winter rental car prices in Bozeman can be insane. Don’t hesitate to think out of the box and go through an independent company off-airport. Here is a recent screen grab of Bozeman airport car rental agencies over Christmas, 2013:
6) Drive safe. If you are arriving one of the late flights and are not comfortable driving in winter conditions and/ or at night- get a hotel for the night! It is not worth the stress, or worse and accident, to race to Big Sky. Stay at a hotel in Belgrade or Bozeman and go in the morning- you won’t miss anything at all!