Hidden Gems: Montana
Montana is out of the way from anywhere—which is just the way we skiers like it.
Everyone knows about Big Sky, Whitefish, and Bridger Bowl, but there are so, so many more resorts that are worth the trek. Unless, of course, you don’t like empty lift lines, fresh tracks all day, and affordable lift tickets. Here’s a roundup of our faves.
Red Lodge Mountain
Red Lodge is a gateway to Yellowstone National Park, and it’s also a ski resort with 1,635 skiable acres and an impressive 2,400 vert. The town has a Wild West vibe, alright, but it’s also hip enough to boast a great coffee shop, Coffee Factory Roasters, and at least one bougie restaurant, The Ox Pasture. On the mountain, check out the Palisades lift to see the famed Palisades rocks—giant limestone plates that jut out of from the ridge.
Discovery is a pretty serious hometown hill. It boasts 2,200 skiable acres—almost as much as Whitefish Mountain Resort—and 55 percent expert terrain, with double-diamonds spiking up the entire north-facing side. There’s no slopeside lodging or a base village, but there are incredible shortbread chocolate chip cookies at the base lodge, and it’s easily reached from Missoula, Butte, and Helena.
Discovery Ski Area in Philipsburg, Montana. Photo from skidiscovery.com
Snowbowl’s terrain is real-deal, with rocky steep trees and 2,600-foot vert. But it’s often the base lodge bar that impresses the most, with freshly made pizza and one of the best bloodies in skidom. Just a half hour from the hot spot of Missoula, Snowbowl benefits with both a laidback and cultured vibe. The locals are so proud, they’ll show you their favorite stash just to show you how good this place is.
Blacktail Mountain Ski Area
This mom-and-pop area at the edge of Glacier National Park is untracked and unspoiled all winter long. Its parking lot is at the top (the local refrain is “The first run’s free, but it’s a long walk to the top!”), with views of Flathead Lake and Glacier that will prompt even the boomers to take selfies. Blacktail's three chairlifts and a surface lift access 1,000 acres of powdery tree skiing and groomers—all designed thoughtfully by the former mountain manager of Whitefish Mountain Resort. Don’t miss Muley’s Pub, where parents can watch the kids lap the beginner zone while soaking in the views over local suds.
Blacktail Mountain, Lakeside, Montana. Photo: Blacktailmountain.com
With its summit literally straddling the Idaho/Montana border, Lookout Pass boasts the single distinction of being the snowiest resort in both states. The steep mountain boasts 360-degree skiing and is also one of the easiest resorts to access—a snowball-throw away from I-90 and within two hours’ drive of Missoula, Coeur d’Alene, and Spokane. Ski school is free for kids under 17, and, come January, Lookout hosts the Pacific National Wife Carrying Contest. So that’s fun.
Family-owned and full of local color, Great Divide, near Helena, is a must-hit. With 1,600 acres across three peaks, more than 100 mostly expert runs, and very few people, it feels like backcountry skiing—except you get to ride up the chairlift at the bottom. And when the Friday night lights turn on, along with music and grills and kegs, the six terrain parks this place is known for transform into a dance party on snow. (Lift tickets cost a mere $10.)
Great Divide Ski Area, Marysville, Montana. Photo: skigd.com
Showdown’s been spinning lifts for the Great Falls region since 1936 and is still owned and operated by a local family. Lift tickets cost $30 on Thursdays, and the skiers here come in all kinds, from cowboys in Carhartts to park rats in Pit Vipers. It has three chairs, one surface lift, 1,400 vert, and a handful of black diamonds. The culture is local, the vibe is chill, and the snow is pure cold smoke.
In Southwest Montana 40 miles from Dillon, Maverick Mountain is skiing as it used to be—complete with shag carpet in the base lodge. A double chair accesses 2,020 vertical feet of all kinds of terrain, most of which is still powdery a week after the last storm. The Elkhorn Hot Springs, a few miles away, does ski and stay packages, so you can enjoy being in the middle of nowhere without having to drive to somewhere at the end of the day.
Panorama of Maverick Mountain, Montana. Photo: skimaverick.com
About 90 miles from Missoula in the Bitterroot Mountains, Lost Trail is where you go to get, well, lost. It’s a family place, but there are plenty of cliffs in Hollywood Bowl, as well as powdery aprons on South Face and Thunder. It’s only open Thursday to Sunday—which means fresh pow stacks up for days. Nearby Jackson Hot Springs is the spot to go for après, where you can soak under the brilliant Montana stars.
Article by Kimberly Beekman
Kimberly Beekman is the former editor-in-chief of the late, great Skiing Magazine (RIP), and a longtime editor of SKI Magazine before that. She currently uses the title of “freelancer” as a beard to ski powder all over the world. She lives in Steamboat, Colorado, with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.