Snagging a speck of Big Sky to call home

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It’s day number seven of my great winter adventure in Big Sky, Mont. Instead of a train trip across Canada, I opted for two weeks of snow play in the resort founded by newsman Chet Huntley in the early ’70s. It’s grown phenomenally since then, but still has a real small-town flavor.

My daughter, Betty, met me at the Bozeman airport Sunday evening and drove me up to Big Sky the next day. I elected not to rent a car, throwing myself on the mercy of local public transportation. It’s amazingly good from November to April (exactly when a rational human being would rather be flogged than take the wheel), with free shuttles running almost hourly all over the mountain. One stops just outside the condo I’m renting, which is actually only a short walk to the Meadow Village shops. We had made a pit stop at the Community Co-op in Bozeman, my favorite natural foods store, to stock up on everything I doubted could be found in Big Sky. In fact, the Country Market turned out to have several organic meals, Wheat Montana bread, Starbucks Ice Cream and homemade brownies. What more could I possibly need?

I spend my first five days looking at condos for sale, the real purpose of my trip. My other daughter, Susan, is taking her first incremental steps northward and had discussed buying a small investment property with me until the rest of her family is ready to make the big move.

Every day local Realtor Deb Johnson picks me up in her red four-by-four and hauls me around to all the available properties that are within our meager budget-and two that were not, “just to see what can be done with these older homes.” Most were built in the days of orange shag carpets and “harvest gold” refrigerators. In order to remain in the rental pool, ResortQuest requires “upgrades” ranging from new carpets, paint and appliances to gas fireplaces (we didn’t see many of those).

After day one, I had pretty much limited the search to the condo complexes overlooking the golf course, now snugly blanketed white with groomed trails for cross country skiers. Deb does this almost every day on her lunch break, and she’s the fittest person I ever saw who makes a living talking on a cell phone and opening lockboxes. Each night, I shuffle through reams of property descriptions, condo CC&Rs, floor plans, margins clogged with scribbled notes: ugly brown Berber, scary ladder to loft, overlooks parking lot, low ceilings, bad remodel with probable code violations and where’s the water heater?

The one I loved at first sight was, of course, the one that was way out of our price range. It has the identical floor plan to the one I’m renting, but has been so beautifully redone, I scarcely recognized it. Slate floors, reconfigured kitchen with stainless steel appliances, new cabinets, new windows with lower sills to take advantage of dynamite views of Lone Mountain, a pond and a stream that can be heard from inside. The owner lives there and it has never been rented. As I’m admiring the scenery, a moose wanders through the stream and across the fairway toward the forest. It’s like the perfect set up. “Cue the moose.”

Back to reality. Day five and I’m looking for the second time at a small but perfectly remodeled ground floor, end unit, one bedroom/loft with a real staircase instead of a ladder. It’s nestled along the south side of the golf course on a quiet street of mostly single-family houses, in a small complex called Yellowstone. Vaulted ceiling, stone fireplace, whitewashed beams, fully furnished. Just across the driveway is a huge indoor pool and spa. I think I’m in love. Deb gets me the rental history for last year, which looks good: about 16 stays ranging from four days to one whole month in the summer. The owners, who live in the east, visited only twice. I’m hooked. I call the kids. They’re thrilled. I call Deb. We draw up an offer. Now comes the hard part. I won’t know anything for five days.

I gaze longingly across the white fairway at what I hope will be my new condo. When I walk to the store, I make a detour to walk past it, noticing how quiet it is over there. I talk to a resident who swims every day, another walking a black Lab and a Nordic skier on the trail.

Now it’s playtime. Well, I’ve got to keep busy until Wednesday. I take a cross-country ski lesson at Lone Mountain Ranch. Fresh snow is falling on me as I’m falling on packed powder. I take the shuttle up to the Mountain Village Center and explore the old Huntley Lodge. I book a dogsled ride into the wilderness for tomorrow, and maybe I’ll ski the new Moonlight Basin Monday. I might even catch the snow coach at West Yellowstone Tuesday. And then…?

I can so see myself living here.