Montana’s got slopes like its skies—Big. Snow machines, snowshoers, cross-country and powder skiers take full advantage of deep bases, high vert, snaking glades and wide-open bowls. Here are the 10 best spots to strap on the skis for some big air and lasting memories.
Less than 20 miles from Bozeman and tucked into the northern Rockies, the Big Sky Resort isn’t beset by mountain traffic or long lift lines. Immense Montanan skies mean big runs and decent elevation—Lone Peak tops-out at 11,166 feet. The mountain errs on the side of expert, with 60 percent of the 5,800 acres’ black diamond or above. But with the resort’s soft snow, these runs are forgiving, wide open and fun to ride. And the seven quality terrain parks keep the mountain interesting. Rentals, retail, tuning and ski lessons are offered in slope-side hotels and throughout town. And with all the luxuries of a large-scale resort, dining options are legion, as are art galleries, shops and spas. Families and front-flippers alike will enjoy this gem.
Very few ski resorts boast a view comparable to Glacier National Park. This 3,000-acre resort in northwest Montana mixes small-town accessibility and mega-mountain amenity. Entertaining and challenging to the beginner and expert alike, 80 percent of the varied terrain is blue or black. From the hotel, avoid driving all together and hop-on the complimentary SNOW Bus, running between town and the village. Once slope-side, young grasshoppers can visit the Ski & Ride school for lessons, adventure into the terrain park or go night skiing. Refuel at the Base Lodge for burgers, sandwiches, coffee and a full bar. Sip some beers at The Bierstube. Make dinner reservations at farm-to-table Cafe Kandahar or enjoy casual après ski at the Hellroaring Saloon.
The spine of the Bridger Mountain Range is lined with long runs and massive bowls. But terrain becomes more rugged with elevation, and the skiing more difficult. The base of the ski area provides greens and groomed cruisers, while ascent towards 8,700 feet brings the double-blacks: nearly half of the runs are double-diamond! And those in the know favor hiking to their favorite spot. So, variety, and affordability, are the draws here. Bridger has the expected ski and snowboard school, lodges with full service menu options, and a rental shop for gear, clothing and tuning. The nearest destination town for good lodging is Bozeman—notable for an eclectic and vibrant culinary, nightlife and cultural scene. A shuttle is available from town to the ski area.
The ‘Bowl is hidden just 12 miles outside Missoula, and sports a good diversity of run difficulties, designed for more seasoned skiers craving steeper terrain. Lower elevations offer the greens, and cruising blues are throughout, but the 7,600-foot summit affords access to the blacker chutes and bowls—careening down 2,000 vertical feet. After your thighs start burning, tuck-it to the Last Run Inn for wood-charred pizza and some great Bloody Marys, or the Double Diamond Cafe for burgers, house-made chips and baked goods. For lodging, Missoula has all the major hotel brands, with shuttles to the mountain. Or check out the slope-side Gelandesprung, a Swiss-style alpine lodge with full amenities.
Discovery is sandwiched between the idyllic Flint Range and nearby Anaconda, a namesake reflecting its rich mining tradition. When it’s not host to mountain bikers or hikers in summer, winter molds the mountain into a pyramid of well-balanced terrain. Each “face” offers a slightly different experience, in topography and difficulty. Any itch can be scratched: be it steep, rugged chutes, or tree-skiing through powdery bowls. Though lacking in après ski and nightlife opportunities, the base does have a cafeteria, restaurant and bar, and offers rentals and classes for all ages.
Forty minutes outside Helena and opening earlier than most mountains, Great Divide is attractive in its affordability. For $40 a day, skiers and snowboarders can summit Mount Belmont to 7,330 feet where the terrain is varied, moderately steep and for intermediate and advanced skiers. Particularly entertaining is the gauntlet of six terrain parks, ranging from “rowdy” to “revenge” to riding in the trees. One can always demo some skis, drop the kids at a lesson and grab a beer from the deck saloon.
The oldest ski area in Montana, Showdown dropped ropes in 1936, a hidden gem for uniquely-powdery snow. From its start, the mountain has catered to its small-town locale: if you’re not from the area, you’ll feel like you are. Visiting skiers-turned-local will drop 1,400 vertical feet down accessibly-intermediate terrain, from summit at Mount Porphyry to the Hole in the Wall Saloon at the base. If, now 60 miles from Great Falls, you’re in need of something, don’t fret: the mountain features the Skiers Edge pro shop, for rentals, retail and gear, the Top Rock Cafe if you’re chilled and thirsty at summit or the King’s Hill Grille for breakfast and lunch. The most accessible lodging can be found in Neihart itself or nearby White Sulphur Springs. Don’t forget to ski with Santa on Christmas Eve or see the Torchlight Parade on New Year’s Eve.
Along the northern edge of Yellowstone National Park, Red Lodge is nestled in the powder hub of the Beartooth Mountains. Apt descriptions of the resort lay in its accolades: “emerging” and “underrated.” There’s nearly a half mile of vertical drop, 1,600 acres of skiable territory and an intermediate difficulty throughout that’s sweetened by shorter lift lines and affordable ticket prices. The mountain rents, repairs and sells skis and gear. They also offer certified lessons for snowboarders and skiers alike. Burgers, sandwiches and soups are at the Main Lodge, and Bierstube is the place for brews on the deck. Red Lodge is that nostalgic ski town hugging the base of the mountain, with everything in walking distance: lodging, bars and restaurants.
This still-undiscovered gem is nestled at the apex of Lost Trail Pass, where the Idaho and Montana Bitterroots converge. Though low on amenities like overnight lodging and banquet dining, Lost Trail has consistently good snow from open to close (9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.). At 7,000 feet, the lodge provides basic concessions and its lifts carry riders to the summit at 8, 200 feet. Though a short distance from the nearest towns, affordable lift tickets through the holidays continue to attract all manner of locals. Food and lodging is available in the nearest towns—Darby, if going into Montana, or visit the North Fork Store if Idaho-bound.
Blacktail is a smaller-scale, quirky mountain well suited for beginners and intermediates. It doesn’t have all the amenities of a resort, but hosts 1,000-acres of skiable terrain and over 1,400 vertical feet. It’s quirky in that skiers will ascend to the parking lot, then ski down to their first chair lift. One starts the day going downhill, afforded picturesque views of Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake. Forty-five minutes from Kalispell and a couple hours from Missoula, the mountain is an easy drive along the northwestern shores of Flathead Lake. The humble but full-service lodge has a rental shop with demo availability, a cafeteria and bar & grille.