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Let us be honest, when thinking of Montana, most people automatically conjure up images of snowy roads and cold-looking winters. Yes, it is true, the weather here gets down to the teens and further, sometimes far into the springtime, but the difference is a cold dry, with a lot of fun to be had when the mountains get thrown in the mix! The chilly air is nothing to the sun and big sky that warms the skin or the cozy fires that welcome those braving the cold with a warm seat and a cup of hot chocolate.
For seasoned mountain enthusiasts, cold breezes and changing leaves are a welcome sign. To them, Montana no longer sounds like a chilly and frozen tundra but the epitome of an outdoor playground with ski areas of all shapes and sizes adorning the many mountains. If you are already a lover of the slopes, you have without a doubt heard of at least a few of these world-class resorts. If you are on the skeptical end of the spectrum, constantly delaying a visit for fear of freezing, reconsider. The beauty of these areas and the fun to be had is nothing less than incredible.
1. Big Sky Resort
Topping our list is Big Sky Resort, featuring both the tallest peaks and the largest ski area. Known for the celebrities often spotted on the slopes, there is no shortage of skiing and snowboarding here. Great for all levels from beginners to advanced, 36 lifts and seven terrain parks dot the 5,000 acres of snowpack. Be forewarned though, unlike many slopes in Montana, the popularity comes with crowds. While the lines usually are not too bad, they can get pretty busy. It is also not the cheapest resort the state has to offer, but well worth a visit at least once!
While snowboarding and skiing may be the main attractions, they are certainly not the only ones. The town of Big Sky is family-friendly and boasts shopping and dining experiences like none other, along with yearly live music acts, festivals, events, and more.
2. Whitefish Mountain Resort
A town known most often in the summertime for its proximity to the famous Glacier National Park quickly changes pace as the snow begins to fall. Ski and snowboard lovers flock in from across the country and even border to spend a weekend on the beautifully steep slopes surrounding Whitefish. Beginners and advanced skiers will both feel at home on these slopes and enjoy spending some time in the mountain town of Whitefish.
Often hosting live events, Whitefish is a beautiful base point for a Montana winter vacation. While many of the Glacier National Park attractions are closed in the winter, the park is still open to visitors to enjoy the beautiful views. Being less crowded at this time of year, it is the perfect season to get out and enjoy the scenery. Rent some cross-country skis or snowshoes to traverse the snowy trails before heading back to a cozy Whitefish resort with an Alpine in hand.
3. Bridger Bowl
Multiple beginner and advanced runs, proximity to Bozeman, and affordability are the main reasons Bridger Bowl is such a popular spot. The 2,000 acres include 71 trails and eight lifts for all levels, with varied slopes and terrain for the advanced riders. Once worn out on the powder, most stop by the lodge for a beer or some grub before heading back to bustling Bozeman.
In comparison to the nearby Big Sky, Bridger is a completely different type of resort known for its laid-back atmosphere and friendly faces. Students and locals heading out for a quick run often come here and, although busier than Big Sky, the limited parking does keep the lines from getting too long.
4. Discovery Ski Area
If you have ever visited Bridger Bowl and liked the community feel, Discovery Ski Area should be next on the list. Approximately the same size as Bridger, Discovery has a little something for everyone with three mountain faces groomed for beginners, intermediate skiers, and advanced runners. The last one, also known as the backside of discovery, is famous for its black diamond slopes. Steep-downhills, trees, and jumps are the main features of the trails beckoning those yearning for a backcountry ride with a chairlift back up.
Discovery may be one of the best family-oriented locations as well. Located close to charming Philipsburg and historic Anaconda, booking a nearby lodge or hotel lets visitors enjoy a quick road trip to fine dining, chocolate shops, breweries, music, and more. Hot Springs are not far away either, making this a great place to bring family and friends of all ages.
5. Lost Trail Ski Resort
Aptly named as a great ski hill on which to “Get Lost.” Lost Trail straddles Montana and Idaho in the wild Bitterroot Mountains. Much further away than the usual ski resorts, Lost Tail is known for smaller crowds and advanced terrain. Not necessarily a great place to bring the little ones to learn, this is a fun getaway with some of the best snowfall in the state. Three consecutive days or more almost always ensures there will be powder on the slopes and a cheap ticket awaiting.
6. Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area
Another resort area along the Montana-Idaho border, Lookout Pass rivals Lost Trail for the most snowfall, often reaching up to 400 inches. The hill is known for its family-friendliness and even offers a free ski school for children. Families often come here for affordable lift ticket prices and the multiple levels of terrain. Advanced slopes are great for the older adults looking for a faster ride, while the terrain parks call on the more adventurous groups wanting to practice their flips and tricks. The natural terrain park even features a 1,000-foot halfpipe to catch some serious air.
7. Red Lodge Mountain
Red Lodge is a beautiful small town nestled in the Beartooth Mountains. With stunning greenery and events throughout the summer season, the crowd quickly transforms into a snowy wonderland once winter hits. A little off the beaten path from the main USA tourists routes, Red Lodge Mountain Ski Hill enjoys the smaller crowds, but the same incredible views and powder of more populous resorts. Only six chairlifts run the slopes here that cater towards intermediate and advanced runners, though the lower runs are less steep for the learners in the group. A full weekend trip is recommended for travelers to have time to rest before making a move onward.
8. Blacktail Mountain Ski Area
A unique hill not often mentioned is the Blacktail Mountain Ski Area. Located in Lakeside, Montana, and overlooking the infamous Flathead Lake, the resort is often underfeatured due to its proximity to the well-known Whitefish. In reality, though, Blacktail Mountain is a beautiful little place for those looking for a cheaper and less crowded alternative. On only 200 acres, it is surrounded by the Flathead National Forest, making this a popular place to go off-trail and snowshoe or cross country ski. The three chair lifts feature 24 runs and a cozy lodge with dining options and fireplaces to spend a cold winter day. The resort also boasts its place in the ranking as the fourth-best small ski resort in the United States and the number one best resort for beginners. Time to plan a family vacation!
9. Bear Paw Ski Bowl
Nicknamed the crown jewel of the Montana Hi-Line, Havre is a unique historic city often overlooked by the general crowds. As an old railroad stop, the place is full of exciting history that still embraces a small-town feel. The Ski Bowl showcases this with volunteers running the runs and kids skiing for free. Mostly populated with locals, the two chair lifts feature 11 runs for all levels to have a go at the snow.
10. Montana Snowbowl
Only 12 miles from Missoula, The Snowbowl is another popular spot for the residents to conjugate. Originally touting the most vertical in the United States when it first opened back in the 1960s, the rugged Snowbowl is known now for its long, steep, and expert runs. Though kept up to date and receiving a steady stream of visitors, the roads are unpaved, and the two lifts are considered "vintage." Friendly faces greet riders though looking for a nice getaway close to home in the beauty of the Lolo National Forest.
An old resort still as friendly, fun, and respected as back in the day, a trip to Showdown is worth the drive. Located about an hour from Great Falls and an hour and a half from Helena, Showdown is small and off the beaten path but a charming location nonetheless.
Featuring a cozy ski lodge in the middle of the Little Belt Mountains, most riders often head south to White Sulphur Springs for a soak after a long day's run and to taste a brew from the local Two-Basset Brewery. On the cheap side, there are 36 runs perfect for all levels of skiers and snowboarders to get along.
12. Maverick Mountain
Sitting fifty miles west of Dillon, Montana in the secluded southwest part of the state, Maverick Mountain is mainly a local resort boasting beautiful clear skies, inches of powder, and virtually no lines. Considered a Montana ski secret, the slopes of Maverick make for a perfect weekend getaway for the entire family, especially with Elkhorn Hot Springs only a few miles down the road. Rent a room at the lodge for the weekend, enjoy a hot soak after a day on the slopes, and then stop for a cold beer and delicious dinner to finish off the night.
13. Great Divide
Helena's very own resort still features the local vibe Montana is known for. With a cozy lodge, five lifts, a tow rope, and 110 trails, the Great Divide is a favorite in the area. Locally owned, the mountain is well-known for its affordable runs and specials, like on night skiing dates. Also known as Montana's sunniest ski area, its most remarkable feature is the snowmachines. Firing up as soon as the temperatures drop, Great Divide is the first place in Montana to have open runs once the season starts.
14. Teton Pass
A great small and family-friendly resort along the Rocky Mountain Front, Teton Pass sits on 400 acres east of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Located close to the town of Chouteau, the resort is not known for its number of chair lifts or runs but its backcountry riding access. The main chairlift runs up the mountain while a rope runs on the lower section for beginners to get a hang of their skis. The terrain is also varied, making it a good family stop. For the advanced riders, the gullies and backcountry present a challenge when a little more adventure is sought. Look at the forecast here beforehand though, the weather is temperamental and can get windy on the front.
15. Three Private Ski Resorts with a Hefty Entry Fee
Montana is not unfamiliar with housing celebrities and their vacation rentals, and it is relatively often that one might run into someone famous here or there. Because of the crowds, privacy can become an issue. One such place to ensure peace is kept is on the slopes of the private clubs of Big Sky: Moonlight Basin, Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, and Yellowstone Club.
While not necessarily for the public, these areas do seem worth mentioning on the list of Montana’s ski resorts, as they are open to those who can afford them. A rugged mountainous terrain connected to the Big Sky Ski Area, these private slopes are just the spot for a leisurely getaway away from the curious crowds. Though not exclusively beyond reach, a membership here can cost upwards of six figures with an added annual price tag.