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Montana Ski Area Guide -- Very Complete
- Bear Paw Ski Bowl, Havre • 80 skiable acres on 900' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 5280'; Base elevation: 4200' (this is new math I guess). 2 Lifts: 1 double, 1 rope tow. Uphill capacity: 700/hr. Terrain Mix: 25-25-50. Longest Run: 3485'. Season: usually weekends January-April. Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 140".
The SKInny: Located on the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation. Classic western knob type hill with relatively easy terrain. Nice variety of slopes...narrow, open, trees, bowls...good small time ski area, absolutely worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood. Dirt cheap ticket price and the 900' vertical combine to make this one of the best ski values in the entire country. Remember to rent in Havre if you need equipment; nothing available at the ski area.
- Big Mountain Ski Resort, Whitefish • 3000 skiable acres on 2500' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 7000'; Base elevation: 4500'. 11 Lifts: 1 gondola, 5 quads, 3 triples, 1 double, 2 surface. Uphill capacity: 12,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 0-48-26-26. Trail mileage: 64. Longest Run: 13,800'. Season: usually late November to early April. Night skiing Fri/Sat. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 335". Snowmaking: 5%.
The SKInny: Nickname is "Fog Mountain." The grandaddy of Montana ski resorts; great conditions, short lines, positively incredible approach views. Something for everyone, beginner to expert. This place is indeed big, and not too many bodies clamoring for slope space. Make sure you bundle up; Big Mountain gets cold. The cold is far better than the warm, which brings legendary fog and usually rain. If the forecast is frigid, you can look forward to some of the best skiing you'll ever experience. If the forecast is milder, or whatever it is that brings the fog and mucky snow, go elsewhere. Keep in mind this is western Montana -- not Vail. Although sized like Vail, local services range from rudimentary to rustic to non-existent. Big Mountain -- or Whitefish Resort as it likes to be called -- is taking steps to become more resortish. Most recently, a new base lodge, new lifts, new snowmaking. Developing skiers should look for a great little area called Tenderfoot -- and nearby lifts -- much less vertical and cater to beginners, developing intermediates, families, etc. Otherwise, plenty here for the hotshot, and positively heaven for the wanderer. When it's not foggy.
Signature Trail: Toni-Matt, Heap Steep, Powder Trap
- Big Sky, Big Sky • 3600 skiable acres on 4350' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 11,150'; Base elevation: 6800'. 18 Lifts: 1 Tram, 1 gondy, 4 quads, 4 tiples, 5 doubles, 3 surface. Uphill capacity: 20,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 17-25-37-21. Longest Run: 15,700'. Season: usually late November to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 400". Snowmaking: 10%.
The SKInny: Big Sky is, well, big. Lots of vertical, plenty of long runs, plenty of places to get lost and leave the crowds behind. Kind of Montana's version of Vail -- but only as far as skiing is concerned. The tough trails aren't as tough as they would have you believe, the lifts run hither and yon and the trails can confuse -- and the skiing is great -- just like Vail. It is decidedly un-Vail, however, in terms of trendiness, service, crowds, price, etc. etc. In terms of conditions, Big Sky is known for two things: Powder, and rocks. Both are plentiful, so make sure you know the terrain. The Big Couloir and Liberty Bowl are the highlights of this massive ski area, but you could conceivably spend all your time just on Andesite and be shot by the end of the day. Which isn't too shabby, because the nightlife is. This won't be a favorite for hotshots, but there is plenty here for them. Wanderers will go bonkers for Big Sky, as will beginners, families, and just about everybody else. Flat Iron Mountain is flat-out one of the best novice areas in the country. The way this resort is run will remind midwesterners of Boyne -- and for good reason -- same ownership. Big Sky now has a neighbor, Moonlight Basin, sharing Lone Peak. This has probably impacted business but in general is adding to the allure of the neighborhood as a legitimate ski destination. Originally the two areas were feuding; now you can ski both on a shared ticket. Nice deal. A little bit of history here: Big Sky was developed by Chet Huntley, part of the legendary Huntley/Brinkley news anchor team. Good night Chet, thanks for a great ski area.
Signature Trails: Big Couloir, Crazy Horse, Ambush, Tippy's Tumble.
- Blacktail Mountain, Lakeside • 200 skiable acres on 1440' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 6676'; Base elevation: 5236'. 4 Lifts: 1 triple, 2 doubles, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 3900/hr. Terrain Mix: 15-70-15. Longest Run: 6200'. Season: usually mid December to mid April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 250".
The SKInny: Blacktail Mountain is one of those pleasant days of skiing that you remember fondly. Low cost tickets, just enough vertical to keep things interesting but not wear you out, nicely groomed slopes that aren't very taxing and allow you to open up and just ski for the pure fun of it. Nothing here that's going to make the hotshot or wanderer want to return, unless they tone it down a notch and appreciate the big upside of the aforementioned. Then again, some wanderer types will enjoy the layout, which is essentially two small ski areas side by side on twin mountains. Excellent for families, developing skiers, recreational racers, etc. Two dozen runs provide a range of terrain from tree stuff to wide open slopes. Good all-around ski area.
Signature Trail: Blacktail Run
- Bridger Bowl, Bozeman • 1500 skiable acres on 2600' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8700'; Base elevation: 6100'. 7 Lifts: 1 quad, 2 triples, 4 doubles. Uphill capacity: 7600/hr. Terrain Mix: 25-35-30-10. Longest Run: 15,840'. Season: usually mid December to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 350". Snowmaking: 4%.
The SKInny: Co-op type non-profit operation. Regarded as a "local" ski area, but it really shouldn't be. This is major league skiing at a small town price. Older infrastructure means slow lift rides, but hey, relax and enjoy it. Back in the 70s we called this state-of-the-art. More importantly, you'll seldom wait on a line. The last 400', the Ridge, is not lift-served, and is an experts-only/avalanche preparedness ski situation. Sort of a tiered layout...you have to work up the first third to reach lifts that fan out to better terrain. Some of the novice terrain is very, very mild. In any case, Bridger Bowl has something for everyone...hotshot, wanderer, family ski group, you name it. Photo shows T-bar circa 1960.
Signature Trail: Ridge/North Bowl.
- Discovery, Anaconda • 380 skiable acres on 1300' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8150'; Base elevation: 6850'. 6 Lifts: 3 triples, 3 doubles. Uphill capacity: 4300/hr. Terrain Mix: 33-33-9-25. Longest Run: 10,560'. Season: usually late November to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 200". Snowmaking: 12%.
The SKInny: Try to get a Discovery regular to switch allegiance to another ski area and you might as well try to move the mountain. Not the biggest, not the best, not the newest, but add up the small crowds, non-existent liftlines, outstanding long runs for every level...and the deep powder steeps on the backside, and you've got quite a ski area here. From the second day skier to the pall-mall hotshot, Discovery has some of the most enjoyable routes you'll every ski. The wanderer can roam, the hotshot can fly off rock cliffs, and the family can float down Gold Bug and enjoy terrific snow and scenery.
Signature Trail: Southern Cross.
- Great Divide Snowsports Area, Marysville • 1600 skiable acres on 1330' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 7210'; Base elevation: 5880'. 6 Lifts: 5 doubles, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 2300/hr. Terrain Mix: 15-35-35-15. Longest Run: 15,840'. Season: usually mid November to April, Wed-Sun. Night Skiing Fri. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 150". Snowmaking: 20%.
The SKInny: Not a huge vertical but plenty of horizontal: Lots of trails. Tons of 'em. Great Divide is the wanderer's idea of heaven; zillions of trails that go here, there and everywhere, and the runs are short enough so that you have plenty of opportunity to do it. Liftlines are short, and the price is right. Most of Great Divide is blue cruisers, blue chutes, blue glades, blue connections...it's ideal for the developing intermediate. Make sure the conditions are "on" prior to making the drive. When they are, this is a terrific ski area, if just a bit lacking for the true pedal-to-the-metal hotshot. Great Divide has a history of expanding, and rumor has it there's more to come.
Signature Trail: Sunshine Bowl.
- Lost Trail Powder Mountain, Sula • 800 skiable acres on 1800' vertical
Specs: Base elevation: 6600'. 7 Lifts: 4 doubles, 3 rope tows. Uphill capacity: 1000/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-60-20. Longest Run: 6500'. Season: usually early December to mid-April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 300".
The SKInny: Here's one of three US ski areas that stradles the border of two states, in this case Montana and Idaho. More trivia? Lost Trail is one of the few western ski resorts with a mid-mountain base station. But enough of the silly stuff. The snowy stuff at Lost Trail is serious powder. Low ticket prices, short lines, outstanding trails, and lots and lots of snow. Usually takes honors for "last to close" in Montana. Not much resort here; a pleasant enough lodge, good atmosphere, convenient access from the highway, but very few people. You'll wonder how it became so "lost." Look for this area to grow up in a few years, and gain quite a bit in stature as the recent expansion takes hold.
Signature Trail: South Face
- Marshall Mountain, Missoula • 400 skiable acres on 1500' vertical
Specs: CLOSED Summit elevation: 5400'; Base elevation: 3900'. 3 Lifts: 1 triple, 1 t-bar, 1 handle tow. Uphill capacity: 2900/hr. Terrain Mix: 30-45-25. Longest Run: 11,300'. Season: usually mid-December to mid-March, Weds-Sun. Night skiing. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 150". Snowmaking: 30%.
The SKInny: Trouble folks, Marshall Mountain has currently suspended operations.
Signature Trail: Challenger
- Maverick Mountain, Polaris • 170 skiable acres on 2020' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8820'; Base elevation: 6800'. 2 Lifts: 1 double, 1 handle tow. Uphill capacity: 550/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-35-35-10. Longest Run: 13,000'. Season: usually early December to mid-April, Thu-Sun plus holidays. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 200".
The SKInny: Something's gotta give...if tickets were any cheaper, they'd owe you money for skiing here. Rustic facilities, sure, but the uncrowded, often untracked powder makes this a must ski no matter what the cost is. Largely a ski area for the average family, Maverick indeed has a few trails that the typical weekend hack (that's most of us) simply will not attempt. Wanderers would like a little more elbow room, hotshots would like a few more double blacks. But since neither one waits in line for any length of time, you won't hear them complain. It's one of the few places you can ski on the cash in your pocket rather than digging out the credit card. Here's a thought...looking for great skiing, rustic town, lots of snowmobiling and other activities? Thinking Steamboat? Think Maverick, and save a bundle.
Signature Trails: Rock & Roll.
- Moonlight Basin, Big Sky • 1500 skiable acres on 3250' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 10,250'; Base elevation: 7000'. 4 Lifts: 1 sixpack, 2 quads, 1 triple. Note that much of the acreage and vertical listed is snowcat-served only. Uphill capacity: 6900/hr. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 400".
The SKInny: Big beautiful new ski area with the latest and greatest equipment, lodging, services, etc. Also happens to share a mountain with a long-established, slightly stodgy and admittedly angry Big Sky ski resort. Everything is here that should enable Moonlight Basin to make a go of it, and now they've made nice with their older neighbor, Big Sky. So instead of being hog tied and branded for crossing between areas, it's now encouraged, and whoa, this is big time skiing. It isn't quite in the league of Snowbird/Alta, but it's getting there. Notable about this ski area is "The Headwaters" section, cat-skiing extreme chutes in the cirque on Castle Rock (a sub-peak of Lone Mountain). Another interesting thing to note is the trails and lifts that snake in and out of the condominium complex, almost has more of a Colorado or (dare we say) Killington look in these sections. We'll have a review as soon as we can.
Signature Trail: Lone Tree? too new to say.
- Montana Snow Bowl, Missoula • 1200 skiable acres on 2600' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 7600'; Base elevation: 5000'. 4 Lifts: 2 doubles, 1 t-bar, 1 rope tow. Uphill capacity: 3400/hr. Terrain Mix: 10-40-40-10. Longest Run: 15,840'. Season: usually December to April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 300". Snowmaking: 10%.
The SKInny: This is one of those big, underdeveloped western resorts with old clunky infrastructure and some of the best skiing you'll ever experience. The sheer lack of bodies on the trails, variety of terrain, powdery glades and drop-dead gorgeous scenery can get a bit frustrating I suppose. Add to this the dirt cheap ticket price and you've got a real problem on your hands: Not enough time!! Seriously, this is almost as good as it gets. The only knock on Snow Bowl is the clunky crawly double chairs, which frequently means more bodies on the lifts than on the slopes. Frustrating yes, but the alternative is more runs with oodles more people. Note about Snow Bowl that it is home to one of the ultimate long winding cruisers, a simply outstanding run called Paradise. This place has everyone covered, from beginner to hard core hotshot. A seemingly endless supply of fresh glades to blast through. Be warned that you have to ride two chairs to make the full run, with a short ski run in between. This makes things drag a bit, but it makes the pace less hectic. Central base area makes it easy to find people at the end of the day.
Signature Trails: Grizzly, West Bowl.
- Red Lodge Mountain Resort, Red Lodge • 1600 skiable acres on 2400' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 9416'; Base elevation: 7016'. 8 Lifts: 2 quads, 1 triple, 4 doubles, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 10,690/hr. Terrain Mix: 25-40-25-10. Longest Run: 13,200'. Season: usually late November to mid April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 250". Snowmaking: 40%.
The SKInny: Due to decent snowmaking capacity, Red Lodge often has a little bit of semi-skiable something when other areas don't, but it sure isn't 40% of the hill. Terrain is great, something for everyone, particularly if they're from Minnesota, Wisconsin or South Dakota; Red Lodge is the closest Rocky Mountain ski area to those parts. Best skiing is late in the season. Liftlines are generally short or non-existent. Recently expanded, Red Lodge is now a substantial ski area, but definitely not a "resort" as it likes to be called. Wanderers will love it, hotshots have plenty to do, and families can start on "Miami Beach" or perhaps even jump straight to one of the two easy rollers from the top of the triple chair. Not Montana's best overall, but you're hard pressed to find better in the month of March.
Signature Trail: Drainage, Lobo
- Showdown Ski Resort, Neihart • 640 skiable acres on 1400' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8200'; Base elevation: 6800'. 4 Lifts: 1 triple, 1 double, 1 poma, 1 rope tow. Uphill capacity: 3,010/hr. Terrain Mix: 30-40-30. Longest Run: 9240'. Season: usually early December to mid April, Tue-Sun. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 240".
The SKInny: Nice mid-sized mountain, considered "small" in these parts. Although better for beginners and developing skiers, make no mistake: Showdown has stuff to challenge anybody. Never has huge crowds, which is good, since the lifts aren't the latest and greatest. Lots of trail variety; layout tends to have novices on one side of the mountain, experts on another. Again, it's not huge, but plenty of trails and a two-faced layout make it fun even for wanderers with a very short attention span. It's really just a good, all-around ski area.
Signature Trails: Big Seven, Glory Hole
- Teton Pass Ski Area, Choteau • 114 skiable acres on 1010' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8488'; Base elevation: 6190'. 2 Lifts: 1 double, 1 rope tow. Terrain Mix: 45-35-20. Longest Run: 15,840'. Season: usually late November to April, Fri-Sun. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 300".
The SKInny: Here's another smaller operation with snow so good -- and tickets so cheap -- you wonder if there's a catch. Liftlines are virtually non-existent. The skiable acres listed can be enhanced if you're willing to hoof it a bit. Although this is a family-oriented, small-time operation, it has something for everyone. On the list of "best bang for your buck" ski areas nationwide. Only negative is the long loopy trail that intersects virtually every fall line trail about half way down the mountain. But since there aren't many bodies on the slopes, this is more respite than anything else.
Signature Trail: North Star Trail to North Gully.
- Turner Mountain, Libby • 1000 skiable acres on 2110' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 5952'; Base elevation: 3842'. 1 double chair. Terrain Mix: 10-20-70. Longest Run: 10,560'. Season: usually late December to late March, Fri-Sun plus holidays. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 250".
The SKInny: "Steep, deep & cheap" is Turner's slogan. Looks like a New England mountain in a way, similar scenery, etc., but those New England resorts would kill for the powder at Turner. It's volunteer operated, and they don't take credit cards. The back country areas are easily accessed off the lifts. Powder everywhere. Open bowls up high, glades wherever and whenever you want, thick forests below provide a fabulous contrast. Grooming is minimal, lines are even shorter, ticket prices are cheaper still. Did we mention the two thousand foot vertical? No phones. It probably sounds like we're making this up. No place could be that good.
Signature Trail: Upper & Lower Main.
- Whitefish Mountain Resort -- please see Big Mountain, above. We haven't adjusted to the new name just yet.
Best all-around Skiing Guide for Women...
Mom has a pretty raw deal on the average ski trip. They're expected to make sure every child is geared up and ready to go...settle the arguments, feed the family, prepare the snacks, pack the chapstick, and so on...and then ski the black diamonds with dad after the second lesson.
The book, Skiing: A Woman's Guide by Maggie Loring and Molly Mulhern Gross ought to be mandatory reading for every ski mom. It not only provides the basics for managing the gang, it also gives a step-by-step instructional guide from a woman's point-of-view. This link is to amazon.com, where you can usually pick up a used copy for about two bucks. Mom, it's the best two bucks you'll spend all winter.
Hotshots are skiers who can ski anywhere, anytime, in any conditions, and generally enjoy showing off those skills. Wanderers are skiers who like to go exploring, to essentially get "lost" and move from face to face, seldom skiing the same trail twice. Newbies are the girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband who has never skied before, but gamely insists on going along. Obviously, Blues represents intermediate skiers, while Blacks refers to experts.
A note about ski area statistics: Although it's hard to believe, some ski areas are (gasp!) less than truthful with their numbers. Like the guy who lies about his, uh, shoe size, some ski areas believe that inflated numbers make their resort sound more appealling. When these numbers are obviously questionable, we put a note: (?!) and will attempt to verify the legitimacy of the claim.
A Signature Trail Is mostly subjective. Whether it's history, reputation, the view, or degree of difficulty...it's the run you have to do, even if it isn't necessarily the best the resort has to offer. If a ski area calls a trail by two names (one at the top, and another at the bottom) in an effort to claim more trails, we go by the upper name. If a trail is called "Upper Whatever" and "Lower Whatever," we simply list it as "Whatever" in this index.
Trail to Improvement
Probably the most helpful book I've seen to help you make the jump from strong blue to expert or hotshot level, is All-Mountain
Skier: The Way to Expert Skiing, by R. Mark Elling. If you've tried to follow the recommendations in magazines and books, and had trouble mimicking the photos, this book somehow makes it all work, makes it understandable and easier to apply on the slopes. This link goes to amazon.com, where you can generally snag a used copy for about six bucks, or buy a nice squeaky clean one for about 20% less than retail.
-- Rick Bolger
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