How to get from BZN to Big Sky?

What is the easiest and most economical solution to get From Bozeman Airport to Big Sky?

As winter approaches and folks are starting to think skiing, check out the following in regards to the most economical and easiest way to get from the Bozeman Airport to Big Sky. Here is the answer: rent a car. This is of course a biased answer, but there is some reasoning behind this.

Public transportation in Montana stinks. There are annual efforts to improve ground transportation options but there are few results. We can go in depth with the reasoning; Public Service Commission laws, Karst Stage monopoly, physical distances between destinations, etc. Regardless, the results are the same. Here are your options for private and public transportation services.

1) Through Shuttle To Big Sky and Taxi, A private shuttle in a van will be $199 each way plus $2 per person for concession fees. In a Chevrolet Suburban, $225 each way.

2) Through Karst Stage, a private shuttle would be $$225 each way plus $1.50 airport concession fee. Why the Karst Stage concession fee is less than the Shuttle to Big Sky and Taxi, we do not know. Karst Stage also offers scheduled BZN to Big Sky shuttle service. Price per person was quoted at $79.75 each way 10/14/13.

3) Classic Limo offers private Suburban shuttle at $195 each way, concession fees included.

The cheapest way to get from BZN to Big Sky is scheduled service through Karst Stage. No matter what, this will still cost $159.50 per person round trip- and most likely you will have to wait around Big Sky or the Bozeman Airport being service runs every 1 – 1.5 hours.

If you have a group up to 7-people, a private Suburban through Classic Limo is the most affordable solution, coming out to $390 + gratuity, so roughly $60 per person round trip.

Most likely you are a party of 4 to 6 (our standard winter ski break numbers). So you schedule your private shuttle to Big Sky round trip for $450 all said and done. Now you face your next problem: being stuck in Big Sky. Big Sky unlike many other western ski towns is spread out. There is the main Big Sky Resort area which has numerous ski-in ski-out facilities and some apres scene and some restaurant options. However, there are numerous other restaurant and bar options in Meadow Village and even down at the base of the Mountain. There is a scheduled bus service up and down the mountain, but to use you certainly have to sacrifice your flexibility and be on their schedule. Additionally, Yellowstone National Park is right down the road and a winter Snow coach tour or a snowmobile excursion into the Park is truly not to be missed.

This is where our recommendation to rent a car comes in. To rent an All Wheel Drive Subaru Outback, which can comfortably accommodate 4 even with gear (we can always add a roof top ski/ board box) through Phasmid Rentals will be roughly $475 – $650 for a week. To rent a four wheel drive Chevrolet Suburban, which can comfortably seat 8 and gear will be roughly $700 – $1400. Prices depend on time of year and what cars are available. You could also of course rent through one of the on-airport franchises. A 2-wheel drive Ford Escape will be about $800/ week and a Chevrolet Suburban  (with sub-par Highway tires) will be about $2,000 per week.

There is also a slightly different option, that may prove to be the most economical solution for some visitors- and it is all flight time dependent. Most  of the arrival flights to Bozeman Airport (BZN) in the winter are after 10:00pm. You can of course drive yourself in a rental car, or you could have a driver do the work for you. Generally, Highway 191 is well maintained in the winter. However, Highway 191 is a very twisty, dark, canyon road with steep cliff on one side and river on the other- for about 1.25-hours. Again, 85% of the time it is fine. 15% of the time it can be a harrowing experience.

The solution: stay the night of arrival in Bozeman. There are a couple of reasons for this. 1) You will save a night of accommodation in Big Sky (which is significantly more expensive than staying in Bozeman or Belgrade) and one full day or rental car. 2) You will not have to risk the chance of having a bad driving experience at night. 3) Lifts don’t open that early in the morning anyway. 4) You will not have to pay the 10% airport concession fee on your rental car.

Here is the breakdown of estimated figures, for say, 2-couples: the traditional way versus the recommended way:

Traditional: 

Arrive BZN from MSP 11:30 pm. Private Shuttle from airport to Resort = $225. Overnight accommodations for 4, roughly $450.

Days 2-6 = $1,800 accommodations. Eat at the resort or one of the local restaurants at the top of the mountain. Apres same place nightly.

Day 7 return shuttle to BZN $225.

Total Accommodation and Transportation = $2,700.

Alternative:

Arrive BZN from MSP at 11:30pm. Take the free airport shuttle from BZN to the hotel (Best Western Gran Tree, Hilton, Holiday Inn Belgrade, etc). Overnight 2-rooms, $90/ room = $180

Phasmid Rentals picks you up in the morning with your rental Subaru Outback. Total price 6-days $436.80.

Days 2 – 6 = $1,800.

Day 7 drive to airport, drop off rental car.

Total accommodation and transportation = $2,400

It is only $300 less. However, you now have the flexibility to go where you want. She wants to cross-country ski at the Lone Mountain Ranch trails? Take the car. The other couple wants to do a snow coach tour in West Yellowstone? Knock yourself out. Good band playing down at Choppers? Everybody hops in.

Conclusion: renting a car to get from BZN to Big Sky offers you more flexibility and costs less money. Unless if you are 100% content being only at your place of accommodation in Big Sky, it is highly recommended to get a rental car. Again, Big Sky is spread out. There is not one Main Street with all the fun bars and restaurants. You need to be able to move around to get the most of your experience there, and the only way to do it with some modicum of flexibility is with your own rental car. And by the way, you definitely need four-wheel-drive!