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Outdoor Recreation

What to do in Montana...

Montana has a lot to offer in the way of ski areas (15 in all).   The small ski areas are unpretentious, each unique in its own way.  The value of many of the areas is exceptional compared to the popular ski area giants, falling short only in the latest fashion.  This article intends to bring you up to speed on each of the mountains, what to expect there, and what not to miss on your trip.  

Check Web sites for current ticket prices and remember that a season pass holder at any Montana ski area only pays the half-day rate at any of the following areas.  

 

 

Turner Mountain

Where: Libby

Size: 2,110 ft., 20 trails

# Lifts: 1

Terrain:     υ10% ν20% λ70%

Yearly Snowfall:    250”

Vibe: Always uncrowded, here you’ll find mostly local industry workers, including loggers, miners, and farmers.  With substantial vertical and high proportion of advanced runs, Turner should not be overlooked.

Don’t Miss:  Pizza and Brewskis at the Red Dog Saloon on the way home.

www.skiturner.com

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Blacktail Mountain

Where: Lakeside

Size: 1,440 ft., 24 trails

 # Lifts: 3

 Terrain: υ15%  ν70% λ15%

 Snowfall: 250”

 Vibe:  Cruise blue groomed runs above beautiful Flathead Lake at Blacktail Mountain Ski Area.  The namesake Lakeside run is a locals’ favorite.

 Don’t Miss:  The views of the Glacier, Mission, and Whitefish mountain ranges from the top.

www.blacktailmountain.com

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Snowbowl

Where:  Missoula

Size: 2,600 ft., 39 trails

# Lifts: 2

 Terrain: υ20% ν40% λ40%

 Snowfall:   300”

 Vibe:  When Snowbowl gets a dump, the terrain here is second to none, with 2,600 ft of sustained pitch vertical.

 Don’t Miss:  The view of Missoula is majestic from the peak of Snowbowl.
www.montanasnowbowl.com

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Lost Trail Powder Mountain

Where: Conner

Size: 1,800 ft., 45 trails

# Lifts: 5

 Terrain: υ20% ν60% λ20%

 Snowfall: 300”

 Vibe:  At Lost Trail you won’t find fancy ski clothes or equipment, just down home skiers who like to ski powder—deep powder.  Like many of the other smaller ski areas Lost Trail is closed mid-week, so Powder Thursday is the best day to find the goods.

 Don’t Miss:  The abundant natural hot springs down the road would make for a great two-day trip.

www.losttrail.com

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Discovery Ski Area

Where: Phillipsburg

Size: 1,670 ft., 63 trails

 # Lifts: 6

 Terrain: υ20% ν30% λ50%

 Snowfall:   210”

 Vibe:  While it appears that Discovery does not get as much snow as other areas mentioned, the snow tends to come in big dumps. Discovery is halfway between Bozeman and Missoula, so it’s a great place to meet your Griz friends for a day.

 Don’t Miss:  The backside bowls hold snow for days after a storm and have a north aspect (read: lighter powder, less sun.)  These offer some of the best steep and glade skiing in Montana.

www.skidiscovery.com

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Maverick Mountain

Where: Polaris

Size: 2,020 ft, 24 trails

# Lifts: 1

Terrain: υ20% ν40% λ40%

Snowfall: 180”

Vibe: Tucked away in the Sapphire Mountains and accessed by the Pioneer National Scenic Byway, Maverick is as much about the beauty surrounding it as the skiing.  That said, the advanced runs are steep and the 2,000-ft. vertical drop is long enough to make even the fittest skiers sore.

Don’t Miss: The Patagonia outlet store in Dillon on the drive out is a great place to get good gear cheap.

www.skimaverick.com

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Great Divide

Where: Marysville

Size: 1503 ft, 140 trails

 # Lifts: 5

Terrain: υ10% ν40% λ50%

Snowfall: 180”

Vibe: Great Divide is a must-see for any terrain park enthusiast.  With three parks, Great Divide offers the best park skiing outside of Big Sky for less than half the price.   The all new Wildwood terrain park features wooden hits that twist through a secluded glade.  Their snowmaking is so good that they have already had slope-style competitions this season. 

Don’t Miss: The half-price punch card that can cut the price of tickets to $18 when traveling with a group.

www.skigd.com

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Showdown Montana

Where: Neihart

Size: 1,400 ft, 34 trails

 # Lifts: 3

 Terrain: υ30% ν40% λ30%

 Snowfall: 240”

 Vibe: Showdown is as western as western ski areas get.  You are just as likely to see cowboy hats as Northface jackets.  It just goes to show you that Showdown has a little for everyone with great groomed runs on the front side to world-class powder and moguls on the back.  After a few runs, the lifties will probably ask for your name—and remember it.

 Don’t Miss: Glory Hole is Showdown’s famous double-black bump run, offering 1,000-ft. zipper lines and some of the best moguls in Montana.  Around noon, stop at the base lodge for tacos that would make any ski area cafeteria proud. Stop in White Sulphur Springs for a soak in the rustic namesake hot springs.

www.showdownmontana.com

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Teton Pass

Where: Choteau

Size: 1,010 ft, 26 trails 

# Lifts: 2

 Terrain: υ19% ν35% λ46%

 Snowfall: 300”

 Vibe: Inbounds Teton pass is pretty tame, offering blue cruiser skiing and some confidence-builder black diamond runs.  With such a low ticket price and no lines, this is a great area for a beginner or first time skier.  Advanced skiers see below.

Don’t Miss: From the top lift at Teton Pass, skiers so inclined may hike up an additional 1,200 ft to the top of Mt. Lockhart for avalanche-controlled, side-country skiing.  The wind is known to push snow around up top, so look for chutes with the best snow. Skiers who trek out must be equipped with avalanche rescue gear, including a beacon and shovel.

www.skitetonpass.com

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Bear Paw Ski Bowl

Where: Rudyard

Size: 900 ft., 25 trails

# Lifts: 1

Terrain: υ19% ν35% λ46%

Snowfall: 140”

Vibe: Bear Paw Ski Bowl is an entirely volunteer-run ski area.  The skiers here herald from ranches and farms across the Hi-Line and Carhartt is in vogue.  For you ladies who are hard up for the $20 ski ticket, a bikini run gets one free.  Male bikini runs pay double.

Don’t Miss: Augie Dogs and Hermie burgers for lunch and then Group Therapy on the mountain after the hill closes.  We are not exactly sure what “group therapy” is, but it probably involves high-proof cinnamon schnapps.

www.skibearpaw.com

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Red Lodge Mountain Resort

Where: Red Lodge

Size: 2,400 ft, 71 trails
 

# Lifts: 7
 

Terrain: υ14% ν29% λ57%
 

Snowfall: 250”
 

Vibe: Red Lodge is the biggest of the small Montana ski areas, with a formidable vertical and a high percentage of advanced runs.  Check out Red Lodge for big ski area terrain at small ski area prices.
 

Don’t Miss: The on-hill bar and party deck, The Bierstube, has been a classic for decades.  “Ski the Stube!”

www.redlodgemountain.com

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Big Sky

Where: Big Sky

Size: 4,350 ft, 150 trails

# Lifts: 17
 

Terrain: υ17% ν25% λ58%
 

Snowfall: 400”
 

Vibe: Big Sky has everything—park, steeps, powder, and persistent groomers.  You can find skiers here from all walks of life—from Gucci-clad trophy wives wearing $300 perfume to duct-taped ski bums who smell like the burgers they were just flipping.  They put “Big” in the name for a reason as Big Sky has the longest continuous vertical of any ski area in the lower 48.
 

Don’t Miss: The tram up to the top of lone peak—the skiing is great and the view is breathtaking.  If you don’t want to ski the black diamond runs back down, hop back on the tram and get a ride.  Yes, people will think you are a dork.  It’s worth it.

www.bigskyresort.com

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Moonlight Basin

Where: Big Sky

Size: 4,166 ft, 76 trails
 

# Lifts: 6
 

Terrain: υ23% ν41% λ36%
 

Snowfall: 400”
 

Vibe: Moonlight is an undiscovered treasure. It got a bad rap in its early days due to lack of challenging terrain.  In the last several years the owners added two chairlifts, which access some of the most varied and steep terrain in Montana.  A long line at Moonlight is five minutes.  It has the desired north aspect, which means that powder can be found days after a storm.

Don’t Miss: The Headwaters lift accesses 1,000 ft. chutes that average 40 degrees and range in width from John Goodman to Nicole Richie.

www.moonlightbasin.com

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Whitefish Mountain Resort

Where: Whitefish
 

Size: 2,353 ft, 93 trails
 

# Lifts: 9
 

Terrain: υ20% ν50% λ30%
 

Snowfall: 300”
 

Vibe:  Whitefish (formerly known as Big Mountain) is laid back and unpretentious, hosting an average of 2,500 skiers per day.  While this may sound like a lot compared some of the areas listed here, these skiers are spread out over 3,000 acres—more than one per skier.  In the trees, you can find powder days after a dump.
 

Don’t Miss:  Feel like an X-Games superstar night riding in the lighted Fishbowl Terrain Park.

www.skiwhitefish.com

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Bridger Bowl

Where: Bozeman

Size: 2,000 ft, 71 trails
 

# Lifts: 7
 

Terrain: υ25% ν35% λ40%
 

Snowfall: 350”
 

Vibe: The scene at Bridger Bowl is representative of the cultural hodgepodge seen around Bozeman.  You can find ridge hippies as well as kids and 80-year-olds. Bridger is primarily an area for advanced skiers, with notoriously poor grooming, but who needs that when the gnarliest inbounds skiing in the world is just 600 feet above you?
 

Don’t Miss:  The Ridge.

www.bridgerbowl.com