Home of the northern Rocky Mountains, Montana offers excellent snow and seemingly endless terrain. It doesn’t always get the same exposure that other western states do, but the friendly locals don’t mind since that often means lower prices and smaller crowds. Here are our top 8 resorts!
Due to COVID-19, safety measures were put in place by the State of Montana which impacted the 20/21 ski season. These included limits on social gatherings as well as curfews and capacity limits for restaurants and bars. In Madison County which is home to Big Sky Resort, mask wearing was mandatory and physical distancing was encouraged. Such restrictions are not anticipated to continue into the 21/22 winter season.
An hour south of Bozeman and two hours north of Yellowstone National Park, Big Sky features more than 5,800 ac of terrain and a 4,300 ft vertical drop. That makes it the second-largest resort in the U.S. behind Park City, and second in vertical behind only Snowmass. More than 30 lifts, many of them high-speed, whisk skiers to more than 300 runs on three mountains. Terrain ranges from beginner slopes and relaxed groomers to exhilarating chutes and expansive bowls. Despite its size, Big Sky doesn’t see near the number of visitors as other resorts, so you probably won’t have to worry about lift lines and crowded trails!
Perched atop northwest Montana’s Big Mountain, Whitefish Mountain Resort offers more than 3,000 ac and over 2,000 ft of vertical. Low light and limited visibility can be a problem when storms roll in, but those storms bring about 25 ft of snow annually. And on clear days, you can take in spectacular scenery from the summit that includes Glacier National Park and Whitefish Lake. The base area features a variety of dining and lodging options, and the town of Whitefish itself is only 7 mi away. Whitefish is served by regularly scheduled passenger trains, and Glacier Park International Airport is only 30 minutes away.
While not as large as Big Sky or Whitefish, with more than 2,000 ac of skiable terrain and 2,700 ft of vertical, Bridger Bowl still offers plenty to explore. A mere 30 minutes outside of Bozeman, it’s popular with locals and college students with the laid-back atmosphere to match. Although known for its extreme terrain (one chairlift requires an avalanche beacon just to ride up!), like any good locals’ hill Bridger Bowl also features excellent beginner terrain and great instructional programs. Although there are no on-mountain accommodations, winter’s actually the off-season in the Yellowstone area, so there should be good lodging bargains to be found in nearby Bozeman.
Less than a half-hour from Missoula, one of the largest cities in the state, Montana Snowbowl might initially seem relatively small at 950 ac of skiable terrain. But the resort offers 2,600 ft of vertical and trails as long as three miles. With only two chairs and two surface lifts as well as very limited beginners’ terrain, Snowbowl is better suited to intermediate and advanced/expert skiers. Some of the terrain requires extra effort to reach, but if you’re up to it you’ll likely have the run to yourself and may well find powder days after the latest dump.
Located between Missoula and Butte, family-owned and operated Discovery offers 2,200 ac of terrain on three faces. There’s something for everyone on the front two faces and an expert’s paradise on the other side, with some of the best lift-served steeps you’ll find. Thanks to its location next to a designated wilderness area, you can enjoy a backcountry feel without having to duck any ropes! Meanwhile, its beginner runs are favorites for families across the state. There’s no lodging, and dining and après are limited to the base lodge, but loyal regulars like it that way as the mountain retains an old-school relaxed, uncrowded and inexpensive atmosphere.
Blacktail is a relatively new ski area overlooking Flathead Lake, 28 mi from Kalispell. It offers just over 1,000 ac and with the lodge at the top of the mountain, everyone can take in the panoramic view. The area caters to families, with extensive intermediate terrain, well-groomed beginner runs and an excellent ski school. Although 20% of the terrain is rated for experts, it’s generally suitable for advanced intermediates. Seasoned shredders used to more challenging terrain might be underwhelmed, though there are some glades for excellent tree skiing.
In southern Montana 90 minutes from Billings, near the Wyoming state line and Yellowstone National Park, Red Lodge is one of Montana’s best-kept secrets. It’s not the biggest ski area in the state, but with 71 runs on nearly 1,650 ac of skiable terrain and 2,400 ft of vertical drop, there’s plenty to keep everyone busy. The town of Red Lodge, a few miles away, is an authentic old west town where you can walk in the footsteps of Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane among modern shops and dining as well as historic saloons and hotels.
Spanning the continental drive less than 30 mi from Helena, Great Divide has 140 trails on 1,600 acres of skiable terrain. Three mountain peaks offer long groomers (the longest stretching out to 3 mi), bowls and glades, a nice pod of beginner trails, and six trail parks. It’s one of the largest ski areas in the state, but it’s also one of the least expensive, which makes it an excellent choice for families. All of Montana’s ski areas rely on natural snow, but Great Divide augments it with the state’s most extensive snowmaking system, so it consistently opens earlier—and stays open later—than any other mountain in the Big Sky State.