Downhill skiing: Montana style
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Montana’s downhill skiing resorts are as varied as the state itself.
This article has been created in partnership between Matador and our friends at the State of Montana.
FROM MASSIVE Big Sky Mountain outside of Bozeman to rentable-for-a-private-party Turner Mountain in remote northwestern Montana, you can pretty much find whatever you’re looking for in a downhill ski vacation – except glitz, glamor, and pretension.
Big Sky Mountain
Most Montanans agree that Big Sky Mountain Resort is the best downhill skiing opportunity in the state.
From big, steep, scary chutes and bowls, to long blue cruisers and fun beginner runs, Big Sky can keep everyone satisfied. Boasting over 3,800 acres of skiing and over 400 inches of snow annually, Big Sky is popular for a reason. Tickets – $79. (800) 548-4486
If you somehow get tired of Big Sky’s runs, just over the ridge is Moonlight Basin, a smaller but equally challenging resort. Big Sky’s less glitzy cousin, Moonlight is more of a local’s hill. One $94 dollar ticket lets you ride both resorts, even though they’re technically different operations. Together the resorts offer over 7,000 acres of incredible skiing. Tickets (Moonlight Basin only) – $55. (877) 822-0432
If Big Sky is considered the state’s best resort, Bridger Bowl just an hour north in the Bridger Mountains, is likely the state’s favorite. Known for legendarily big dumps, it has snowed well over four feet in a single storm at Bridger. Basically a long ridge with steep, scary lines dropping down to the base, Bridger is the definition of steep and deep. Avalanche gates at the top of the resort let riders access the incredible backcountry that continues past the resort’s boundaries. Tickets – $42. (800) 223-9609
Whitefish Mountain Resort
Whitefish Mountain Resort is one of Montana’s oldest ski resorts, first cut into Big Mountain back in the 1940’s by former Tenth Mountain Division veterans. A sprawling family resort that stretches to roughly 3500 acres, Whitefish Mountain Resort is impressive. At times steep and deep, at times mellow and easy, “The Fish” is lot like Montana itself.
A free shuttle bus gets you from the mountain to the fun bars and fantastic restaurants that line the quaint downtown of Whitefish. The Empire Builder (Amtrak) runs right into town, providing a great option for folks coming from Seattle or Minneapolis. Last season Whitefish Mountain Resort received 420 inches of snow, and storms often settle over the resort dumping six inches of fresh every night for two weeks. Tickets – $61. (800) SKI-FISH
Just twenty minutes from Missoula, Snowbowl is a second home for Zootown’s skiers and many of its 12,000 college students. Despite its proximity to town, with only two chairs to get you to the top, the 1000 acres of steep, challenging skiing is often untracked well into the day.
A small, rustic lodge at the base rents rooms for 40-80 bucks a night, so if you down a few too many of the slope-side bar’s delicious Bloody Mary’s, you can still be well positioned for first chair the next morning. If you want to stay in town and catch the best music scene in Montana, hotels and even a hostel are available for every budget. Tickets – $39. (406) 549-9777
Located on the edge of the Pioneer Mountains, Maverick Mountain is a fun, family-style ski hill where the camo your lift operator is wearing is the real deal, not some outfit purchased from the ski hill boutique. Maverick is conveniently located next to Elkhorn Hot Springs where you can rent a rustic cabin and soak your tired legs in the warm water.
The cabins are off-grid and wood-stove heated, and the pool could have used a cleaning the last time I was there, but it’s close and the bar food tastes pretty good after a day on the slopes. There’s also a network of groomed cross-country ski trails and a huge snowmobiling system if you’re ready for a break from the hill. Tickets – $30. (406) 834-5434
Red Lodge Mountain
Way down in southwest Montana lies the town of Red Lodge and Red Lodge Mountain. Red Lodge is often referred to as an undiscovered Aspen, Bend, or Telluride, and the cowboy hats you see here are as real as the cowboys wearing them.
The mountain, at 1600 acres, isn’t as big as others in Montana, the snow not as deep, but the skiing is definitely exciting. Plus it’s always fun to say you were there long before everyone else even knew it existed. Tickets – $47. (406) 446-2610
Lost Trail Powder Mountain
Just off Highway 93 and ninety miles south of Missoula sits Lost Trail Powder Mountain – and powdery it is. Snow seems to collect here like few other places in Montana and if a fun, family ski hill laden with the white stuff is what you’re after, Lost Trail is your place.
Lost Trail isn’t fancy or super steep, but it’s fun and cheaper than many other resorts in Montana. It also closes Monday through Wednesday, so on Thursdays and Fridays its runs are often untracked. There’s a small hot springs resort just up the road where you can get a cabin and soak before the next day on the slopes. Tickets – $34. (406) 821-3211
Discovery Ski Area
Tucked into Pioneers and between the cool, old mining town of Philipsburg and Georgetown Lake, Montana’s ice fishing and snow kiting hub, is Discovery Ski Area. If you’re a family or your group has mixed abilities and you’re looking for a true Montana experience, Discovery is a fantastic option. The front side is mellow and fun, complete with a terrain park. The backside is a haven of double black diamond shots, and the chairlift that runs back up allows lapping until your legs are toast. Tickets – $35. (406) 563-2184
If sharing the hill with anyone you don’t know is a problem for you, Turner Mountain is your solution. This small, snow-filled resort in far northwestern Montana is only open Friday through Sunday, but it’s rentable any other day of the week. Just get thirty or so of your favorite friends, give them a call, and the entire hill is yours. If you don’t need the whole hill, just head over for the day and enjoy the powder and super small feel. Tickets – $25. (406) 293-2468
Looking to relax? Check out Matador Trips’ Montana Resorts: Treating Yourself Right in Big Sky Country.