You may mostly hear about Glacier National Park and gigantic grizzlies, but Montana has some of the best skiing in the country.
My husband, Norman, started exploring ski resorts in Montana as soon as he moved here nearly 20 years ago—but he didn’t fully appreciate the magic of the Treasure State’s slopes until a Christmas Day ski a few seasons in. He headed for Lost Trail Ski Area with a group of friends for the holiday, and Mother Nature gave them the gift of 18 inches of powder over a couple of days.
“It was a really big snow weekend for Lost Trail, which I discovered happens there all the time,” he says.
They spent hours skiing the resort’s longest run from the Saddle Mountain lift, ducking in and out of the trees and cruising the glades with views of the Beaverheads to the south and “basically a million acres of wilderness” just west, in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. A banner day on the mountain—and not a single lift line. “Plus, it cost 40 bucks,” Norman adds. (Today, Lost Trail lift tickets are $63, still a far cry from what many resorts elsewhere charge.)
Like many Montanans, Norman loves the state’s small, mom-and-pop ski resorts. “The really nice thing about the smaller ski hills in Montana is there’s no real estate development at the base,” he says. “There’s just a lodge where you can get a burger and a beer, and that’s about it. These are resorts that are just for skiing.” But that’s not to say we don’t also partake of Montana’s glitzier resorts, flying down the unbelievably vast terrain at Big Sky or zooming around the famous “snow ghosts” at Whitefish. Skiing here ranges from A-list mountains packed with après amenities to local outfits short on pretension and long on great snow.
Here’s our guide to the best ski resorts in Montana, no matter what kind of skier you are.
Best for Going Big
Big Sky Resort
The stats say it all: Big Sky encompasses 5,850 acres of terrain (making it the largest resort in the state and number two in the country), has 320 named runs and 38 lifts, stretches 4,350 vertical feet, and its high point, Lone Peak, reaches 11,166 feet in elevation. With all that terrain, there’s something for everyone. The resort’s two base areas—with a spa, nearly 20 restaurants with upscale options for espresso to après, shops, and four hotels—are equipped with enough amenities to last for weeks. And you’ll need that long to ski the whole thing.
Best for Adrenaline Junkies
Bridger Bowl Ski Area, Bridger
Chutes, cliffs, and avalanche zones are typically the realm of backcountry skiers—except at Bridger Bowl, where the ultra-challenging Ridge Terrain area spanning the resort’s highest reaches is all inbounds. Don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security, though: Ridge Terrain is for expert skiers only, and avalanche transceivers are required for access. Those seeking something a little less thrilling can explore the greens, blues, and blacks spread across the lower slopes. Bonus: Bozeman’s hometown mountain is a nonprofit, which keeps lift tickets reasonably priced.
Best for Families
Discovery Ski Area, Philipsburg
Elementary schools from miles around bus kids to this low-key resort on Rumsey and Jubilee Mountains in the western part of the state to learn how to ski. Beginners will find plenty of wide-open groomers and green runs for practicing turns on the front side of the resort (and there are also moguls, double-blacks, and tree runs on the back side for parents when the little rookies take a hot cocoa break). Must-do: Stop at The Sweet Palace in downtown Philipsburg to load up on every gummy, lollipop, chocolate, and caramel treat known to humankind.
Lost Trail Ski Area, Sula
Yes, the snow is reliably great at this family-owned mountain in the Bitterroot Range right up against the border with Idaho. And sure, there’s a nice mix of terrain and affordable lift tickets. But Lost Trail’s coolest perks are the Ridgeline Yurts ($45/person/night), a half-mile out of bounds and accessible only via the resort’s Chair 4. They’re easy enough to reach for downhillers, making for the best slopeside lodging around, but experienced backcountry skiers can also use them as a basecamp for exploring Lost Trail’s backside. Best après activity: a dip in Lost Trail Hot Springs, about 15 minutes down the hill.
Montana Snowbowl, Missoula County
On Thursday nights in high season, Missoula’s local hill hosts the Rando Radness race series, a ski-as-many-laps-as-you-can-in-an-hour contest involving skinning up a steep slope from the base area followed by zipping down Sunrise Bowl. Mandatory: Finish with bloody marys and pizza at Snowbowl’s beloved The Last Run bar. There’s no uphilling when the lifts are running, but daytime skiers will still find plenty of challenge on the notoriously difficult terrain up here. If you’re looking to spend more time outside, Missoula also has fantastic hiking trails.
Red Lodge Mountain, Red Lodge
If the skiing matters to you a lot more than the scene, then this tucked-away resort in the Beartooth Mountains in southwestern Montana is your spot. You won’t find a glitzy base area, on-mountain champagne parties, or crowds. You will find a good stretch of terrain (1,635 acres), 70 runs with an even mix of challenge levels, and a long season that usually kicks off at Thanksgiving. Bonus: The town of Red Lodge, 7 miles away, is a fun, historic Western village in a gorgeous setting.
Best Ski Town
Whitefish Mountain Resort, Whitefish
You’d be forgiven if you visited Whitefish for the chill breweries, excellent food, and eclectic shops first, and the skiing second. Among the little town’s charms are namesake Whitefish Lake, Whitefish Theatre Company’s impressive selection of plays and musical acts, from-scratch pies at Loula’s, and friendly vibes at Great Northern Bar and Grill. Oh, and the skiing? There’s almost 3,000 acres of inbounds terrain of varying levels, plus four terrain parks and a skier/boardercross course, and the snow is abundant. So abundant that you might spot the resort’s famed “snow ghosts,” fantastical, ice-coated trees created by Whitefish’s frequent storms.
Best for the 1%
Yellowstone Club, Big Sky
Not just anyone can ski Yellowstone Club, and that’s the whole point. Billing itself as the world’s only private ski resort, this ritzy mountain near Yellowstone National Park opens its slopes to members only (join the club by buying a multimillion-dollar property there). Love it or hate it, Yellowstone Club offers A-list skiers access to 2,900 acres of terrain and more than 100 runs (bonus: You can buy the rights to name one), spa treatments, fine dining, and primo celebrity spotting—Bill Gates, Justin Timberlake, Jessica Biel, and Gisele Bundchen are all rumored to belong.
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