In the Middle Ages Scandinavian farmers, hunters and warriors used skis as a travel mode. By the 18th century, Swedish armies used skis to train. As time wore on, downhill skiing evolved organically from 1850-1900.
In the mid-twentieth century, Sun Valley, Idaho, became America’s first winter resort in 1936. Since then, skiing and snowboarding has spread as a leisure sport both around the world, and throughout the nation.
Skiing has long been a popular pastime in the West, and Montana is home to a host of organized ski resorts for winter enthusiasts from small, family-run affairs to world-class resorts frequented by visitors from across the globe.
The 2018-2019 season offers 13 open ski areas for beginners to experts, families, seniors and ski clubs to enjoy from November to April. Here is a brief guide to Montana’s winter resorts. Several offer added amenities such as night skiing, yurt trips and a variety of cross-country trails.
Bear Paw Ski Bowl
Dubbed “The Last Best Ski Hill,” this unique operation in Hill County is run by an all-volunteer group of local skiers. Just 29 miles south of Havre, and accessible by Amtrak train, Bear Paw Ski Bowl’s slopes begin right where the highway ends. It stirs up a nostalgic ski era with one double lift and one handle tow. At a base elevation of 4,200 feet, it tops out at a mile high, 5,280 feet, and sports a 900-foot vertical drop. Serving up 24 runs, Bear Paw’s longest ski run, the aptly named “Bear Paw,” is a half-mile. Average annual snowfall is 140,” and its season runs from January - March, operating from 10:30-4:00 daily.
Despite its smaller size, fifty percent of its runs are expert level. The Face and The North Bowl will whet expert skier and rider’s whistles, while Bikini Beach and GS are perfect for families with mixed level abilities. Screaming Eagle and the Four Souls will delight intermediate visitors. The other fifty percent is an even split between beginner and intermediate level slopes. This old-fashioned, rustic ski hill will take visitors back to days gone by, when skiing was the sole amenity at resorts.
A full-day adult lift ticket runs $20, while a half-day runs $15. A student full-day pass runs $18, and a half-day $13. If you happen to be under 8 or over 80, you ski for free!
Big Sky Resort
Big Sky, Montana
If world-class ski resorts are on your radar, look no further. Big Sky is known for “The Biggest Skiing in America,” for the steep runs accessed for 300 degrees down from the Lone Peak tram, the capstone of the area. Open since December of 1973, its skiable terrain spans 5,250 acres, or about two acres per skier, even on a busy day. Thirty-six lifts serve 4,350 feet of vertical terrain, with 18% of its ski runs rated as expert runs, 42% advanced, 25% intermediate runs, and 15% beginner level.
Lone Peak, the summit of Big Sky’s operable terrain, tops out at 11,166 feet, offering views of three states and two national parks. Its Mountain Village base sits at 7,500 feet, and its Lone Moose and Six-Shooter base at 6,800 feet. Three hundred runs span across four connected mountains at this expansive mountain paradise, with 24 chair lifts and 12 surface chair lifts, and the infamous Lone Peak tram, which transports 38,300 skiers and riders per hour. Big Sky’s longest run stretches six miles, from Liberty Bowl to Mountain Mall. Seven terrain parks top off the resort’s epic options.
On December 15, 2018, 45 years after its inception, Big Sky unveiled the Western Hemisphere’s first eight-person chairlift, the Ramcharger 8 on Andesite Mountain. Ergonomically shaped, heated, extra wide seats and a weatherproof bubble protect riders from the elements. “The upgrades unveiled today at Big Sky Resort mark a new age of lift technology,” said Taylor Middleton, president and general manager of Big Sky Resort in a press release.
Opening day was November 22, and closing day is slated for April 21, offering Montana’s longest season for visitors to relish. With over 400 inches of snowfall per season, and an average daily temperature of 25 degrees, the snow stays cold and the runs never end.
Full day access runs from 9:00-4:00, and adult lift tickets cost $135-$154, with discounts for multi-day use. Teens from 13-17 can ski or ride starting from $118 per day. Big Sky is a member of the Mountain Collective and the Ikon Pass.
Blacktail Mountain Ski Area
Towering above the western shore of Flathead Lake, sits Blacktail Mountain Ski Area in Lakeside, Montana. Breathtaking views extend to Glacier National Park, and the Mission, Whitefish and Cabinet Mountain Ranges encompass the area. The parking lot is located at the top of the mountain at 6,780 feet, so visitors get a top to bottom ski run before loading a lift! This family-friendly, affordable ski hill offers over 1,000 acres of skiable National Forest terrain, and 1,440 feet of vertical drop. On December 22, 2018, the resort launched its 21st year of operation. Its longest run is 1.75 miles, and ability levels break down to 20% expert level, 65% intermediate and 15% beginner slopes. The Independence Terrain Park serves gutsy skiers and riders.
Average annual snowfall is 250 inches, and the resort operates two double lifts, a triple and a handle tow, transporting 3,900 guests per hour. Daily lift tickets run $42 for a full day adult pass, and $36 for a half day. Teens 13-17 ride for $30/26, and seniors over 70 ski for free. College or active military are offered $36 passes. Blacktail is open Wednesday - Sunday from 9:30-4:30 through April 20. Blacktail Mountain X-Country Ski trails are maintained December - March by the North Shore Nordic Club.
Gallatin County houses another of Montana’s best ski resort gems at Bridger Bowl, just north of Bozeman on the east slope of the Bridger Range located in the southern part of the state. Organized skiing in the Bozeman area goes back to 1935 when the first ski lift in Montana was built near Karst Camp in the Gallatin Canyon. In 1936, the first downhill race on Moose Creek was held and the Bozeman Ski Club was also founded. Operational since the mid-1940s, this locally owned, non-profit ski area offers 2,000 skiable acres and tops out at 8,880 feet of elevation. Four large bowls sit within its boundaries, providing a varied level of ski ability options.
Its vertical rise is 2,700 feet, and 350 inches of annual snowfall grace its slopes. With 75 ski trails served by one quad, six triple chairs and one double chair, visitors are sure to have a good time. Its longest run spans three miles.
Bridger’s Ridge terrain serves up some of the state’s most challenging in-bounds hike-to skiing and riding, and requires backcountry knowledge and equipment. Two terrain parks accessed from Sunnyside lift round out its amenities. Bridger is open December 7 - April 7 from 9:30 - 4:30 and Adult lift tickets run $63/$53, while kids ski for just $25. Crosscut Ranch and Bohart Ranch offer nearly 300 acres of Nordic skiing at the base of the Bridger Mountains.
Discovery Ski Area
This alpine ski area is located just outside the old mining town of Phillipsburg, along the Pintler Scenic Loop, across from beautiful Georgetown Lake. Three faces of varied ability level comprise 2,200 skiable acres. With a vertical drop of 2,388 feet and a summit of 8,158 feet, intermediate to advanced downhill riders can find thrills on the gentle slopes and advanced groomed cruisers on Discovery’s front face, to steep, groomed runs and moguls off Granite Chair.
The mountain’s backside offers unbridled bliss for more daring enthusiasts.
Winning Ridge is the area’s longest run, topping out at 1.5 miles. Five triple chairs, two doubles and one surface chair serve beginner to expert slopes. Medicine Ridge offers stunning views of Flint Creek Valley. With an annual snowfall of 215 inches, its 67 ski trails, 2.5-acre terrain park and 19.6 miles of X-Country trails offer something for everyone. Winter season runs from November 10 - April 7 from 9:30 - 4:00. Adult day tickets run $49/$28, and kids 12 and under ride for $26. This year, the area celebrated its earliest opening ever.
Great Divide Ski Area
Northwest of Helena near the Continental Divide in Southwest Montana, lies what is known as “Montana’s sunniest ski area.” This lesser known ski hill is almost always the first to open in the state, and this year November 10 marked its first day. In 1941 group known as the “Ski Mountaineers” opened the area, calling it the Belmont Ski Hill. Its summit sits at 7,330 feet, and its base area at 5,750 feet. With 1,600 acres of skiable terrain, 110 runs and six terrain parks, this hill is a diamond in the rough, and even offers 9.9 miles of night skiing over 100 acres.
Lighter average snowfall of 150 inches marks this hill, and its five lifts serve 45% advanced, 45% intermediate and 10% beginner runs from 9:30-4:00. Lift tickets run $35-40 for adults and $20 for kids. The area will stay open through March 8, 2019.
Lost Trail, Powder Mountain
Lost Trail Pass, Idaho-Montana State Border
Dubbed the “Rocky Mountains’ Hidden Jewel,” this family owned ski area offers skiing and snowboarding from the top of the Continental Divide. Opened in 1938, the resort is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. Its summit elevation is 8,200 feet and its base sits at 6,400. Serving up an annual snowfall of 325,” 60 marked trails span two mountains and 1,800 acres. With a vertical drop of 1,800 feet, this area is a true gem. Five double chairs and three rope tows transport guests around the terrain, and the longest run spans 2.5 miles. Powder Park and South Central round out the area’s offerings as two dynamic terrain park options.
Adults can ski for $46/$41, kids for $36/32 and seniors over 70 ski for just $17/$14. Its season runs mid December through the first week of April, depending on snow. Open Thursday-Sunday and major holidays from 9:30-4:00, this local hill is sure to satisfy powder hungry winter enthusiasts. Lost Trail’s new Prinoth snowcat now transports guests to a four-course meal at its rustic yurt on selected dates, located at the base of Saddle Mountain. For information about the yurt skiing opportunities, contact Will Ferguson: email@example.com
Maverick Mountain Ski Area
Located in the Beaverhead National Forest in Southwestern Montana near Dillon in Montana’s Pioneer Mountains, this unique ski area sports a lone 47-year-old double lift and a tow. The resort recently came under new ownership in 2015. It tops out at a lofty 9,000 feet of elevation. With a vertical drop of 2,020 feet, 24 trails cover 450 acres, and offer mile-long runs, uncrowded slopes and skiing for all ability levels. Expert runs comprise 30% of its slopes, Intermediate 40%, and Beginner the remaining 30%. Double black diamond runs such as Showtime and Widow Maker are favorites for advanced skiers and riders, while Field of Dreams and Thin Air are long blue runs perfect for the whole family, or skiers of mixed ability levels. Adult lift tickets are $29/29, kids ski for $25/$19 and seniors for just $26. Open Thursday-Sunday and major holidays from 9:30-4:00. Season is snow dependent.
Red Lodge Mountain
Red Lodge, Montana
In South-Central Montana, just along the eastern front of the Beartooth Mountains, and just outside the town of Red Lodge, lies an alpine ski area known for both its simplicity and its powder stashes. Originally known as Red Lodge Grizzly peak, it was founded by a passionate group of skiers from Red Lodge and Billings in 1960.
Grizzly Peak appropriately marks the summit of this popular ski hill at 9,416 feet, while its base, Palisades Quad, sits at 7,016 feet of elevation. With 1,635 acres of skiable terrain and a 2,400 vertical drop, it is equipped with six chairlifts, one surface lift, 70 marked runs, and it brags 250” of annual snowfall. ‘Lazy M,’ its longest run, spans 2.5 miles, and two terrain parks lure sporty skiers and riders -- a beginner park on Miami Beach, and an Intermediate Advanced park on Hancock/Lower Continental. Open November 23 - April 15 this season, with lifts spinning from 9:00 - 4:00 daily, skiers of all abilities will find fun at Red Lodge.
Expert runs comprise 20% of the area, along with 36% advanced, 25% intermediate and 19% beginner options. Adult lift passes run $67/$47 and kids under 12 ski for $28/$17. Red Lodge Mountain owns the largest snowmaking system in Montana, which allows it to keep a consistent on-trail snowpack throughout the season, and it is sunny 70% of the time!
In Central Montana, in The Little Belt Mountains sits Montana’s oldest ski resort. Launched in 1936, and originally called King’s Hill Ski Area, it is still known for its friendly atmosphere. In 1957, Showdown installed its first poma lift, and in 1964, its first T-Bar. A triple chairlift followed in 1977, then a beginner chair in 2006 known as Sluice Goose Caboose, and later the “Little Belt Conveyor” for those just learning the sport. Its summit sits at 8,200 feet and its base at 6,800. Its triple chair, two doubles and a surface conveyor transport skiers and snowboarders over 640 skiable acres along 36 marked runs. With a vertical drop of 1,400 feet and 255” of annual snowfall, this lesser known ski area is a diamond in the rough waiting to be discovered. Open December 14 - April 14 from 9:30-4:00 and offers 30% beginner runs, 40% intermediate and 30% expert runs. Adult lift tickets run $47/42 and kids ski for $25.
Just 20 minutes north of downtown Missoula, Snowbowl is another of Montana’s mountain treasures. Its first chair went in back in 1962. Built of two peaks with 2,600 feet of vertical drop, Snowbowl’s summit sits at 7,600 feet, and its base elevation is 5,000 feet. Spanning 950 skiable acres, its 37 runs include the three-mile long Paradise cruiser and Grizzly, which spans 2,000 vertical feet of steep terrain. Known for its long expert runs like West Bowl, 80% of its runs are designated intermediate and advanced, and its 300” snowfall draws guests from around the state. Open from December to April for 58 years running, four ski lifts transport skiers and riders through steep terrains and chutes, open bowls and glades. Open from 9:30-4:00 from December 8th onward, Snowbowl is open for business, with adult passes running $50/$45 and children’s passes running $24.
Turner Mountain Ski Area
Operational since 1960 and still run mainly by volunteers, this quintessential small town ski area in the Kootenai National Forest housed the “longest T-Bar in America,” which ran one mile long. In 2001 the T-Bar, operational for 40 years, was finally replaced with the area’s only double chairlift to the summit.
Turner brags a 2,110 vertical drop and brings in 200” of snowfall per year. With a summit elevation of 5,952 feet and a base of 3,842, its 22 designated runs are rated 60% advanced, 30% intermediate and 10% beginner. Open Friday - Sunday 9:30-4:00, adults ski for $30 and kids for $15. If you want to rent the entire mountain, just pick a non-operational day during the open season and make sure to call ahead.
Whitefish Mountain Resort
In the early days before the first T-Bar was installed at Whitefish in 1947, local skiers would hike “Big Mountain in leather boots,” and glide down on wooden skis. A Montana favorite is Whitefish Resort, with 3,000 skiable acres in the northern tip of the state. Its summit is 6,817 and its base is 4,664. Known for vast bowls and seemingly endless tree skiing, this area has a vertical drop of 2,353 vertical feet, and is home to 11 chair lifts, two T-Bars, a conveyor belt, four terrain parks, and a skier/snowboarder boardercross course. With 333 inches of snow annually and 105 marked trails, 50 % of its runs are rated difficult or advanced, 38% intermediate and 12% beginner. It’s longest run, Hellfire, runs 3.3 miles.
Celebrating its 70th anniversary this season, Whitefish is open December 6 - April 7. Adult lift tickets run $81/$71 and kids ski for $41/$34. Moonlight Dine & Ski offers guests a unique dining experience overlooking the snowcapped peaks of Glacier National Park from 7,000 feet at its Summit House, followed by a guided moonlight ski back to base.
Compiled by Jessica L. Flammang
Photography from visitmt.com