Montana may be known as “Big Sky Country,” but it might also be appropriate to call the state “Big Ski Country.” With more than 3,000 peaks and cold, snowy winters, Montana has a variety of powdery slopes to visit. Most of the skiing here is concentrated in the west of the state near the Idaho border – where the snowcapped Rocky Mountains descend from Canada toward states like Utah. While there are some ski areas in central Montana, the state’s east mostly consists of the ultra-flat Great Plains.
Many of Montana’s ski destinations aren’t splashy and ultra-luxurious – there’s no Vail or Aspen here. Instead, you’re more likely to encounter locally run ski resorts, including some mom-and-pop spots and even nonprofits (often with smaller crowds, too). It’s also worth noting that many of the state’s resorts have little to no accommodations on their respective mountains, meaning you’ll need to drive to nearby towns and cities. Montana may not be the destination for raucous après-ski nightlife in chic hotels, but if you’re an avid skier or snowboarder looking for something fresh, you’ll enjoy the state’s best ski resorts for your next winter vacation.
Whitefish Mountain Resort
(Courtesy of Whitefish Mountain Resort)
Just west of Glacier National Park and a few miles north of the town of Whitefish sits this top ski resort, perched above Whitefish Lake on the aptly named Big Mountain. Whitefish Mountain Resort boasts 3,000 acres of slopes and more than 100 marked trails, which can be accessed via about a dozen ski lifts. This resort is great for pros: Just over half of the ski runs are black diamonds or double black diamonds. But you’ll still find options for beginners, as well as a ski and snowboard school offering half- and full-day lessons.
The mountain has a reputation for friendly people and a relaxed vibe, as well as excellent views if you’re lucky enough to get the right weather (though, as a warning, the mountain is somewhat notorious for its fog). For nonskiers, there’s not a lot to do on the mountain: You can visit the on-site nature center or peruse a handful of restaurants, cafes and bars, but you’ll have more options back down in Whitefish. As for lodging, there’s a mix of houses, hotel rooms and condos available on the mountain. But, since it’s only a 7-mile drive to Whitefish, it’s also easy to stay in town.
Discovery Ski Area
This small-but-mighty ski field is tucked in southwestern Montana, about 100 miles from Helena. Its somewhat isolated location makes it more of an under-the-radar spot to hit the slopes (and a relatively affordable one, to boot), although some visitors report that it can get surprisingly busy on weekends. Discovery Ski Area features nearly 70 trails served by 8 lifts, with a mix of slopes for all levels, although it caters a little more toward advanced and expert skiers and has a reputation for some particularly steep and challenging double black diamonds.
Discovery is predominantly a skiing or snowboarding location, so nonskiers won’t find much to do here. There’s only one place to eat on-site – the Discovery Cafe – and a bar. Note that this ski area doesn’t offer lodging. The closest accommodation options are about 5 miles away at Georgetown Lake; for a wider selection, you’ll have to go a bit further afield to the towns of Philipsburg or Anaconda.
Drive less than 15 miles north of Missoula and you’ll hit the Snowbowl, a simple ski resort where steep, challenging trails are the name of the game. With three lifts and a T-bar, this Montana ski destination may not be a huge resort, but it can make for a satisfying day on the slopes nonetheless. Visitors have suggested that the Snowbowl is better for experienced skiers: While it does have a bunny hill and a handful of beginner runs, there are a lot of black diamonds here.
Expect a convivial mom-and-pop vibe. The Snowbowl is not a splashy place loaded with amenities (which also means there’s not a whole lot for nonskiers). Travelers can choose from two places to eat at the resort, one of which – The Last Run – has made a name for itself with popular wood-fired pizza. For a place to rest your head, there’s the ski-in, ski-out Gelandesprung Lodge on the mountain, but you’ll need to head back down to Missoula for further options.
A ski resort that’s also a nonprofit, the community-minded Bridger Bowl Ski Area is situated around 15 miles from the city of Bozeman. It boasts eight chairlifts and 2,000 skiable acres, plus the Ridge Terrain zone for adventurous off-piste skiers and snowboarders (although you’ll be required to have avalanche safety equipment with you). The nonprofit aspect of this ski area also means Bridger Bowl is on the relatively affordable side. Beginners are looked after well here, with a host of easy runs relatively close to the base area, as well as a ski school with lessons and longer courses.
Even as a nonprofit entity, Bridger Bowl doesn’t neglect its facilities: Visitors have described them as clean and top-notch, with friendly staff as the cherry on top. This ski area is mostly for those who want to hit the slopes rather than just hang out. While there are some chalets and places to eat (with great views, too), travelers won’t find a full village with shopping and added extras. For a place to sleep, you’ll have to leave the mountain and head to Bozeman, although there’s also a handful of places closer.
Big Sky Resort
(Courtesy of Big Sky Resort)
About halfway between Bozeman and Yellowstone National Park lies the mammoth Big Sky Resort, offering just under 6,000 acres of slopes, 300 named runs and 39 lifts. It’s the kind of resort with all the bells and whistles: For example, some of those lifts come with heated seats and weatherproof bubbles to warm you up in between runs. Such extras do mean it’s not the most budget-friendly resort, however. Lift tickets are on the expensive side (although the prices tend to be a bit cheaper early and late in the season).
Big Sky is often regarded as a resort that has a veritable buffet of trails for all levels. About half of the ski area is geared toward beginner and intermediate skiers, with plenty more for the advanced and expert folks. The difficulty level even goes up to triple black diamond runs for an extreme experience. Nonskiers won’t get bored, either, with activities like snowshoeing and zip lining available. The sizable village at the base of the resort has an array of eating and shopping options, as well as its own spa. There’s ample lodging, too, with four hotels in the village and vacation rentals that span cabins to condos.
Blacktail Mountain Ski Area
This heavily forested area near the sprawling Flathead Lake is home to Blacktail Mountain, a smaller Montana ski field with plenty of blue runs for intermediate skiers. There’s also a modest set of options for beginner and advanced skiers and snowboarders (but no double black diamond runs). Blacktail Mountain Ski Area has a unique layout, with parking and the “base” amenities located at the top of the mountain and trails running down from there. Some cross-country trails are also available, although they’re not officially part of the resort.
Expect some spectacular views (if weather permits) and a warm community vibe: While the popular destinations of Whitefish and Glacier National Park might be just over 50 miles away, Blacktail Mountain is more of a locals spot. The resort sticks to necessities; you’ll find a shop, cafeteria and bar in the main lodge, as well as amenities like rentals and lockers. There’s no lodging on the mountain, but travelers can explore options down in the town of Lakeside, about a 15-mile drive, or nearby towns like Somers.
Lost Trail Ski Area
Right up against the Idaho-Montana border sits this small family-run ski resort. Lost Trail Ski Area features 1,800 acres of trails across two mountains, with five chairlifts and three rope tows, as well as affordable daily lift passes. It offers a mix of moderate and advanced runs, plus a smattering of options for beginners; those looking for a challenge can head to the “White House,” a bowl section of the resort loaded with double black diamond runs. As a bonus, Lost Trail has a reputation for fantastic coatings of powder, thanks to its relatively abundant snowfall and the fact that it’s not open seven days a week.
This destination is more of a mom-and-pop shop than a splashy resort that visitors jet into, complete with events like “Old School Mondays” and barbecues to celebrate its ski patrol team. Once you’ve driven the nearly 100 miles from Missoula – the nearest larger population center – this is a place to ski above all. Amenities are simple, with an affordable place to eat and no accommodations on the mountain, except for a couple of ski-in, ski-out yurts. Find other lodging in nearby towns like Darby, Sula or Gibbonsville.
Similar to Lost Trail, Maverick is located somewhat off the beaten path, meaning you’re more likely to have ample space to ski and snowboard without a ton of tourists. The cities of Helena and Missoula sit about 170 miles away, and Bozeman is only slightly closer. This small resort is owned by a young couple, and it’s only open certain days of the week.
There’s just one lift at Maverick Mountain (with an unloading point midway), plus a surface tow. Passes are cheap, and the ski runs are split between intermediate and advanced, with a decent selection of beginner trails. Ski classes here are particularly affordable. A cafeteria and woodsy tavern are located at the mountain for eating and drinking. If you want to stay close by, Elkhorn Hotsprings is just down the road, offering lodge rooms and cabins alongside hot, spring-fed pools. Other options will require a longer drive to nearby towns like Polaris or Dillon.
Red Lodge Mountain
(Courtesy of Red Lodge Mountain)
Located in south-central Montana just a few miles north of the Wyoming border, Red Lodge Mountain could be described as something of a well-kept secret, since the ski field’s location is somewhat out of the way. The lodge bills itself as a no-frills type of spot where skiing takes priority over luxurious extras – though it still has a reputation for warm and friendly staff. With seven lifts, this Montana resort is midsized and relatively affordable. Its 70 runs skew toward advanced skiers, but about one-fifth of Red Lodge’s trails are beginner-friendly.
The resort’s snowmaking system allows it to open relatively early in the season (usually right after Thanksgiving). A ski repair shop is available on-site, as are ski lessons, with classes split up by age group – from ages 3 to 6 up to teen/adult groups – or longer eight-week youth courses. Red Lodge Mountain isn’t really a place for nonskiers, since the base has just one shop, a restaurant and a pub, with one more place to eat up on the ski fields. Lodging is also off the mountain: The town of Red Lodge, less than 10 miles away by car, has several options for accommodations.
Drive 110 miles north from Bozeman and you’ll arrive at Showdown Montana. With just three chairlifts and a surface conveyor belt, this ski resort is modestly sized and for much of its season isn’t open every day of the week. Showdown’s 39 trails tend to hover around intermediate (blue) difficulty, but there are options for beginner and advanced skiers and boarders too.
Past visitors say Showdown rarely gets crowded, granting you plenty of space to work on your skills. As with many of the smaller ski resorts in Montana, Showdown doesn’t really cater to nonskiers, but it has the necessities covered. When it comes time to eat, stop by the Kings Hill Grille for tacos and cheese fries, enjoy a coffee bar and saloon at the base, or warm up at the cafe atop the mountain. A merch shop rounds out the amenities here. The nearest accommodation is the lone Kings Hill Cabin, right near Showdown’s base. Otherwise, the resort recommends heading to nearby towns like Neihart or White Sulfur Springs for more choices.
Not to be confused with Teton Village in Wyoming (close to luxurious Jackson Hole), Montana’s Teton Pass is situated less than 90 miles west of Great Falls, and an approximately 110-mile drive from the eastern entrance to Glacier National Park. It’s another down-home, low-fuss kind of ski resort, with 400 acres of trails (plus access to backcountry skiing) and three lifts. Teton Pass caters more to intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders, with just a few beginner runs; there are no double black diamond runs for experts at this ski destination.
It’s a calm, relaxed resort where visitors report that you won’t typically need to line up for lifts, made even more enjoyable by a generally welcoming and friendly crowd. There’s also a cafeteria and bar to hang out in at Teton Pass’ main lodge. As at many other small resorts in Montana, staying on the mountain isn’t an option here, but there may be holiday rentals available a short drive away. Otherwise, you can drive about 35 miles to the town of Choteau for more options.
Great Divide Ski Area
Less than 25 miles by car from Helena, this 1,500-acre ski resort is a great bet for those who want to get some early-season skiing or snowboarding under their belt. Great Divide Ski Area has a reputation for being the first in the state to open most years, even though it tends to receive less total snowfall than other Montana ski areas. As one of the larger options in the state, this resort has five chairlifts and more than 100 trails, which lean primarily toward intermediate and advanced skill levels. For beginners, there’s only a limited number of runs, but ski and snowboard lessons are available as well.
Visitors have typically complimented Great Divide’s affordable lift passes, and there’s even the option of buying hourly passes for discounted rates, if you’re not able to commit to a full day on the slopes. Great Divide has a small number of dining and drinking options: a cafeteria with mountain staples in the base lodge, a saloon with local beers, and another restaurant near the top of one lift. Lodging isn’t available on the mountain, so your best bet is to head down into Helena for a variety of accommodations.
This out-of-the-way ski spot is way up in the Kootenai National Forest in Montana’s northwest corner: It’s about 20 miles from a town called Libby and 125 miles from Whitefish (and the edge of Glacier National Park). Founded by a group of skiers in the 1950s, Turner Mountain is a nonprofit, and volunteers play a key part in its operation. As a result, this Montana ski resort is small, with just one lift and generally only a weekend operation.
Turner Mountain is a great place for a challenge, since the majority of its 20 trails are black diamonds – and often ungroomed. Its limited hours also mean that the whole ski field can be rented for private use on days when it’s closed. Turner isn’t a place for nonskiers to hang out, either, since amenities are limited to a snack bar. Browse lodging options back down in Libby.
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