Created in 1962, The Montana Snowbowl is what I would consider “Missoula’s Ski Resort.” Over the years, Snowbowl has remained almost exactly the same which is part of its charm. The resort still has a small-town feel despite the large crowds it draws. The most notable development in recent years opened this year with the addition of the Snowpark lift. Prior to this addition the resort catered more towards intermediate and advanced skiers with beginners sticking to cat tracks and a few easy runs. This addition is a great upgrade to the mountain, and I look forward to seeing what the future has in store for the mountain.
— Location —
Snowbowl is located 13 miles north of Missoula, Montana and is about a 25-minute drive from downtown Missoula. A paved road covers the first 8 miles, but the last five miles is a gravel road that can get a little treacherous if you aren’t properly prepared. Most vehicles traveling to Snowbowl should have four wheel drive and chains or snow tires in order to deal with the rough winter conditions.
— The Resort —
Snowbowl has lots to offer whether it is the mountain itself, food, gear, or lodging. At the resort you will discover three lifts, one t-bar, and one rope-tow which provides access to 950+ acres of skiable territory. All the chair lifts are two seaters and only one of the lifts begins at the base of the mountain which results in some long lines on weekend mornings but those crowds quickly disperse. The lodge itself contains two restaurants, The Last Run and The Double Diamond Café. Both of these restaurants have good food, plenty of seating, and a fireplace to warm up by. Snowbowl also has a rental shop for all the gear you might need, a ski school with fantastic instructors, and Gelandesprung Lodge. Gelandesprung is the available lodging above the rental shop and is essentially ski in/out lodging with different room layouts and a community hot tub. All in all, Snowbowl is a wonderful small town ski resort and one of the best parts about living in Missoula.
There are a ton of options for skiing within the western part of Montana, whether this is in our beloved home state, or one of our close neighbors. There is plenty of fresh powder to go around…
To Start off this list we are going to lay down a few guidelines. All of these ski resorts are within 200 miles of Missoula, and for those of you that were worried…They all sell beer as well.
The Montana Snowbowl (15 miles outside town)
Snowbowl will always have a special place in the hearts of Missoulians, for its close proximity to town, and your ability to go from class to the slopes in under 20 minutes. While Snowbowl may have its ups and downs, you can always count on good skiing when they get some fresh snow up in the bowls. Priced at $48 for a student day pass, it’s not going to break the bank too bad. But they make up for it with $4 beers in the lodge at the base.
2. Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area (105 miles outside town)
Lookout pass ski area is known as the #1 Powder Place, and they definitely live up to that name. Lookout gets the most fresh snow out of all the resorts near Missoula, and for the most part, has pretty good weather. This resort is about an hour and 45 minutes from campus and never gets too crazy so you’ll always have a parking spot. A student day pass for Lookout will run you about $46, but the snow makes it worth it!
3. Discovery Ski Area (91 miles outside town)
Discovery ski area is located about an hour and a half from Missoula and will never let you down. With a really good mix of steep groomers and powder-filled trees, this resort is perfect for everyone. For those seeking a thrill, Discovery has an expert only backside of the mountain with some truly crazy runs. The only downfall of this resort is the road up to the lodge can get pretty bad, but you’ll always be able to find a ride up from the bottom. Discovery will run you about $50 for a day pass, but you’ll be able to go on a different run every time all day.
4. Lost Trail Powder Mountain (75 miles outside town)
Lost Trail is another favorite among locals, for its close proximity to town and amazing snow. You can almost always count on fresh snow at Lost Trail, and when the Montana side is open it is absolutely mind-blowing. This resort is never too crazy, and it also has a hot spring just down the road for an after skiing relaxation break. A day pass will run you about $45 and you’ll be able to get food and beer at the base lodge for a pretty reasonable price.
5. Whitefish Mountain Resort (140 miles outside town)
Still known to many locals as “Big Mountain” because of the name change back in 2007, but none the less this mountain is absolutely insane. The most powder you can find in western Montana and offers some of the most diverse terrains. Even though this resort is pretty far from Missoula, it makes up for it with the beautiful views and the chance to go on an inversion day. A day pass will run you about $83 and that’s pretty steep for most college students, but a trick it to go buy 2 day passes for $120 from Costco.
6. Blacktail Mountain Ski Area (120 miles outside town)
Blacktail is known for having some serious terrain, with steep faces and ungroomed runs all over the mountain. This resort gets a good amount of powder and can definitely prove to be tough in some spots. With its close proximity to Whitefish, the resort is pretty easily accessible and doesn’t break the bank at $45 for a day pass.
If someone had come from the future four years ago and told me that I would be living in Montana in my early twenties I wouldn’t have believed them.
As someone who grew up
in the heart of a major metropolitan area less than 20 minutes walking from the
beach I’m the last person that anyone would have expected to move to Missoula.
However, with the
incentive of a good scholarship, snowboarding and fly fishing I found myself
drawn to this little mountain town.
Although moving to Missoula hasn’t been without its challenges, through trial and error over the last 3 years, I’ve managed to learn a few things about the place that I now call home.
If you’re from any other state than Montana you will get poked fun at.
Especially if you’re a Californian.
It is completely possible experience all the seasons in a 24 hour period—learn how to dress accordingly or you will get sick.
Where I grew up the most
layers I ever needed were a winter and summer hoodie. Most of the time
they were the same hoodie.
Winter weather is not bad until it there’s wind or the temperature is in the single digits.
Learn and embrace that 40 degrees is t-shirt weather.
Ice is real and you will fall on it in the wintertime no matter how much you penguin walk.
It builds character.
Everyone knows each other. Get over it.
Despite it’s significant geographic size, it’s a small state. While there are a fair amount of out of state students there are a ton more locals and most of the time they already know each other. It’s a pretty small town and even smaller school. Tread carefully.
The food will take getting used to
Salt and pepper will be the most spice that you see. And although the number of places where you can get a bomb burger or pizza is uncountable the best Mexican food here is still Taco Bell.
The most you will ever dress up will be a nice t-shirt and cowboy boots
It is no secret that the majority of the University of Montana student body is made up of Montana born and raised students (we’re talking 74% in-state). It is also no secret that there are “Keep California Out!” signs on everyone’s lawn (not really).
“Oh where are you from?” – Seemingly interested older Montanan
“Sacramento, California!” – Me
“…I’m sorry…” – Now uninterested and bitter older Montanan
“I’m not 🙂 Thanks for having me!” – Smiling me
Take a minute to listen up. I may not speak on behalf of the rest of the Californians in Montana, but I have a perspective I’d love to share. The second I stepped on University of Montana’s campus I knew that it could be my home away from home. The city of Missoula, hell the state of Montana, felt like hugging someone that you haven’t seen in years. I’ve been here for 4 very short years and no, I don’t plan on staying, but yes I will be back to visit. The reason being that it offered the experience of a lifetime for this particular time in my life.
For anyone who’s interested, University of Montana allowed me to step away from most everything I knew in Sacramento (yes I had seen snow, every year in Tahoe minus the recent winters). I was able to clearly establish my values as a young adult, assess the type of future I wanted, and walk away with some of the best friendships I will have for a lifetime.
You see, us Northern Californians appreciate tall trees, snowcapped mountains, cleaning our campsites and wandering to find that adventure just doesn’t end. I can single-handedly agree that California has some extreme undesirables. But so does Montana (hello Meth Capital), so does Colorado, so does New York, and Wyoming and every other state you can name. How do you think Arizona feels hosting all the frail Montana old-timers looking for warm retirement? Probably a mix of “stay in your own state” and “please contribute to our economy; look we have handicap approved EVERYTHING!”
I’ll leave on this note. The amount of times that people think that I’m a Montanan prior to asking is remarkable. Let’s just say I’ve had to convince just about everyone I meet with a valid California drivers license. My experience with those who are excited to have me is what makes Montana “the last best place”. The nay-sayers couldn’t keep me out if they tried.
By: Lia Sbisa, proud Sacramento Native and Montana Visitor
Fall is here, whether we like it or not, the changing colors of the leaves are proof that the coming snow is inevitable. To some this is a sad time of year, saying goodbye to late summer nights and drunkenly floating the Clark Fork River, but for others it means something more, it’s finally ski season! The chance to get back on the mountains and enjoy the fresh snow under your feet is something many would consider one of the best feeling on earth.
I happen to be one of those people! I wait all year for the chance to get back on the slopes and will spend every free moment, until the first day of spring, looking for one more run or to find one more untouched line in the snow to leave my own print on. With this fresh snowy season right around the corner I felt there was no better time than now to pass along some knowledge, in my opinion, of the top places in Montana to fulfill your love of snow!
#1 Big Sky Resort
Big Sky resort is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the top ski resorts in Montana. If you have ever had the pleasure of experiencing this resort you know why there was no hesitation to put it at the top of my list. With a resort that covers 4 connected mountains with runs as long as 6 miles, and with a summit of over 11,000 feet, it’s an adventure for everyone! If you love to ski or snowboard at any level, you need to make this trip! Even if you only ride one of their over 300 named runs, or stay a day or two and hit all of them, there is little chance that you won’t catch the snow bug experiencing this place.
One of the best things about Big Sky is that it is full of everything that any rider at any skill set can conquer; from the ever-challenging Bunny hills to their extreme technical backcountry, this resort is nothing to be underestimated.
You don’t ski or snowboard? That’s fine! Big Sky Resort offers everything from Zip lines and Snowshoeing, to dog sledding and sleigh rides. Then after a long day of hitting the slopes or dog sledding just sit back and relax at their Solace Spa and allow yourself be pampered. There is something for everyone!
For me it is all about the snowy mountains and the long runs, so from sunrise to sunset I find myself doing nothing but trying to hit every run across the over 4,000 vertical feet and miles of terrain. You’d be crazy not to hit this mountain that offers something for every winter enthusiast.
Bridger Bowl could easily be one of the only reasons I would ever step into Bobcat country, but it’s well worth it. Bridger has a landscape all its own with a high peak that allows you to see for miles on a good blue bird day. Even though Bridger offers quite a few beginner runs, it was full of more exposed rocky terrain than any other resort I have been to. This terrain gave it a more aggressive look but gives a new and exciting challenge for backcountry adventurers and for more advanced or even intermediate riders.
If you are a hardcore skier THIS IS THE HILL FOR YOU! Discovery has some of the steepest skiable terrain Montana has to offer and with several runs with great mogul riding you really cant go wrong. However, snowboarders, don’t let that early statement make you run away screaming! This mountain also offers some seriously steep groomed runs, awesome powder and tree filled runs to really keep a boarder on their toes.
Discovery is located WAY off the beaten path out by Philipsburg and is a bit of a drive on some rural back roads, but it does not disappoint. This mountain may be on the smaller side in comparison to Big Sky, but still offers 2,200 acres of serviced terrain. Discovery has everything from groomed cruising trails, powder bowls, tree skiing and mogul runs. Discovery even has some runs as long as 2 miles and a summit of 8,150 feet. So if you want something a little further off the beaten path that offers some technical terrain then you need to make the trip to Discovery Ski Area!
I know a lot of people that will be wondering why I put Lost Trail on this list with so many other great options in Montana, but to be honest it is a good sized resort with a small resort feel and I love it. Every time I have stepped on that mountain I always feel like I am in a small town where you know everyone and everyone knows you. It is a great environment and incredibly relaxing to drive deep into the woods by Darby, Montana and just feel like you are tucked away from everything.
Lost Trail has been around since its opening year of 1938, so it has some serious history. Although Lost Trail only has about 1,800 acres of marked trails and only 5 chair lifts, I have always had the feeling that I am secluded from all the hectic crazy crowds you would experience at larger resorts. The feeling of truly being out in nature away from the city and noise is reason enough to go to this little slice of heaven.
Lost Trail, like all the others we have looked at, offers a wide variety of challenges for riders from exposed rock to tree runs. Lost Trail also offers great beginner runs and a handful of open groomed trails for those who love to launch themselves down a mountain at top speed.
So if you are looking to get on a good-sized hill that gives the feeling of being away from the crazy crowds, then I highly suggest you make the trip.
This is hands down the smallest resort I have gone to in Montana and I could care less about its size. Lookout Pass is located on the Idaho/Montana boarder at one of the highest points of the pass, this allows you to ride in 2 states in the same day. Being located within 100 yards of the interstate it is one of the easiest ski resorts to get to and with an annual average snowfall of over 400 inches, this little resort packs a serious punch. With this resort having only 34 named runs, between each run is some killer tree skiing and some amazing light and very plentiful powder. The biggest selling point that got me to this mountain was how affordable and easy to access it is. Being a current college student I don’t have a lot to spend on the expensive lift ticket price that comes with big resorts, so having a max price of 44 bucks for a day pass was well worth the trip.
Lookout pass might not have the highest summit but being at the peak of the pass between Montana and Idaho you get some breath taking views of the surrounding area. Once again this mountain, like all the others, offer a wide range of great runs. From highly technical tree trails to your basic bunny hill with a magic carpet, you really can’t go wrong here. This small resort even has 2 different and very well maintained board parks that have high technical jumps, boxes and rails to a easier beginners park with much smaller gaps and boxes to refine your skills before hitting the big ones.
So if you are a poor college student or just don’t want to deal with the hassle of driving those nasty back roads to the larger resorts, you need to make a good day trip up to Lookout Pass. While you’re there, you will probably find me enjoying some of the best powder I have seen on such a small resort, and enjoying every second of it!