A Local's Guide to Ski & Snowboard Resorts in MontanaPublished on 01/06/2023 · 16 min readSki Expert and Montana local Tory Dobyns spills all the details on Montana's top ski resorts including where to eat, drink, and stay while visiting!
Photo by Holly Mandarich
Montana is home to some of North America's best skiing and snow. Montana is known for its long, cold winters. The cold weather in Montana makes for excellent snow conditions. The snow tends to be super light making it a blast to ski. There are a few larger resorts in Montana; however, many smaller and less well-known resorts are worth checking out.
Big Sky Resort: “The Biggest Skiing in America”
- Skiable Acres: 5,800
- Vertical Drop: 4,350’
- Percentage of Beginner Terrain: 15%
- Percentage of Intermediate Terrain: 25%
- Percentage of Expert/Advanced Terrain: 60%
- Average Annual Snowfall: 400”
- Lifts: 24 chairs, 8 surface lifts
Big Sky Resort is located in the southwest part of Montana, about 45 miles from Bozeman. Big Sky is the most well-known resort in the state and can be expensive compared to many other resorts in Montana. Most visitors fly into Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport, about an hour's drive from Big Sky. The motto of Big Sky is “The Biggest Skiing in America.” They claimed this name by having the most skiable acres of any resort in North America. There are plenty of options for everyone, from beginners to experts. Big Sky receives an average of 400 inches of snowfall annually, making it one of the snowiest resorts in the country.
The base of Big Sky Resort is about a 10-minute drive from the Town Center. At the base of the mountain, there are a few hotels and condos; however, most people stay in the Town Center, where most of the housing, shopping, and restaurants are. The Big Sky Town Center has some great restaurants, shops, and bars, as well as a shuttle that will take you to the resort if you travel without a car. The Town Center has everything you need but is not the most elaborate or charming ski town.
Big Sky has all the amenities of a large resort, although it doesn’t get the same crowds as some other well-known resorts. It has a great lift capacity and a huge network of high-speed lifts. The resort can hold a lot of skiers, meaning you will rarely find yourself waiting in long lift lines. For the hardcore skier, Big Sky has some incredible expert terrain. The Lone Peak Tram takes skiers to the top of a very technical peak for some of the most advanced inbound terrains in the state. Less advanced skiers can also take this tram for a beautiful scenic ride.
Olive B’s Big Sky Bistro
Olive B’s is a great spot to check out if you are a foodie. They have a great creative menu with local meat and non-traditional Italian dishes. They also have a great list of specialty craft cocktails. It is a bit pricey, with entrees in the $30 to $60 range. Since it is a popular spot in town, a reservation is highly suggested.
The Lotus Pad is another restaurant worth checking out with great modern Asian cuisine. The atmosphere is fun and casual, and it is a great spot to bring kids. Most of their menu consists of Thai and Vietnamese-inspired dishes, including pad Thai, stir fries, curries, spring rolls, etc.
The Broken Spoke is a great dive bar with live music, tasty bar food, billiards, and gambling. So if you are looking for a casual bar to grab a burger or enjoy drinks and music, check out the Broken Spoke. This bar is located in the Town Center.
If you are looking for a bar by the mountain's base, check out Scissorbills Saloon. Scissorbills is located just steps from the chairlift, with live music, cold beer, cocktails, and great apres-ski snacks.
|- Great terrain options||- Expensive lift tickets|
|- Lots of high-speed lifts||- Small town with limited shops and restaurants|
|- High snowfall averages|
Bridger Bowl: For Hardcore Skiiers
- Skiable Acres: 2,000
- Vertical Drop: 2,700’
- Percentage of Beginner Terrain: 12%
- Percentage of Intermediate Terrain: 28%
- Percentage of Expert/Advanced Terrain: 60%
- Average Annual Snowfall: 350”
- Lifts: 8 chairs, 3 surface lifts
Bridger Bowl is located just 15 miles from Bozeman, Montana, making it super accessible from Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport. Bridger Bowl is home to some of the most extreme expert terrain in the country. It is a great spot for experts looking to ski some hardcore terrain. Bridger Bowl has an old, non-resort-like feel. There are few frills at Bridger. The lodges are very basic, and there are no high-speed lifts or gondolas. If you are looking for a resort-like feel with fancy restaurants and high-class amenities, you will not find this at Bridger Bowl.
Most skiers live or stay in Bozeman. It's about a 20-minute drive to the mountain. Some housing is located up in Bridger Canyon, closer to the mountain. Because there are very few amenities up in the canyon, you will find yourself driving to Bozeman for restaurants, groceries, bars, etc. However, there is a bus that leaves Bozeman every 15 minutes to shuttle skiers to the mountain. Bozeman is a cute town with great restaurants, bars, and shopping. If you want to take the day off from skiing, you will find lots to do in Bozeman.
Bridger is known for its Ridge Terrain. It is expert-only, hike-to terrain. The Ridge has no marked trails and many unmarked cliffs and steep chutes. Skiers are required to ski with an avalanche transceiver to access this terrain. It is also highly recommended that you ski with a partner or guide familiar with the terrain.
The bottom half of the mountain is home to some beginner terrain. If you are a beginner, stick to the Sunnyside and Virginia City lifts. The Alpine and Powder Park lifts are home to some intermediate terrain. The rest of the lifts at Bridger are only recommended for experts. The intermediate terrain at Bridger is really what it lacks; of course, there is some intermediate terrain, but not a lot to choose from. There are some great longer flat runs for beginners and kids at the bottom of the mountain and tons of extreme terrain for experts.
Up at Bridger Bowl, there are a couple of spots to grab food while skiing. However, if you are looking for a nicer restaurant, you will find yourself in Bozeman. There is a great variety of restaurants in Bozeman.
Revelry is a great, family-friendly restaurant located right on Main Street in Bozeman. Here you will find top-notch burgers, pizzas, salads, and more. Revelry also has a great beer and wine selection.
Montana Ale Works
This is another Bozeman favorite. Montana Ale Works is the largest restaurant in town, with a huge, varied menu, cocktails, and draft beer selection.
The Grizzly Ridge is a hopping bar located right at the base of Bridger Bowl. It is a great spot to grab some beers and nachos after a day on the hill.
The Crystal Bar is a great dive bar located on Main Street in Bozeman. If you are looking for a fun night out in Bozeman with cheap drinks and a casual feel, check out the Crystal Bar.
Plonk is a super unique restaurant and bar in Bozeman. Here you will find amazing craft cocktails and great wine. Plonk also has a great dinner menu. It is a great spot to hang out with friends and enjoy the amazing ambiance, friendly service, food, and drinks. However, keep in mind this is one of the pricier bars in town.
|- Amazing expert terrain||- Limited housing by resort|
|- Cheap lift tickets||- Limited intermediate terrain|
Whitefish Mountain Resort: Best Family Resort
- Skiable Acres: 3,000
- Vertical Drop: 2,400’
- Percentage of Beginner Terrain: 12%
- Percentage of Intermediate Terrain: 37%
- Percentage of Expert/Advanced Terrain: 51%
- Average Annual Snowfall: 300”
- Lifts: 12 chairlifts, 3 surface lifts
Whitefish Mountain Resort is a hidden gem of a resort located in northwest Montana. It is a great family-friendly mountain with a charming town. The town of Whitefish has a charming feel with cute shops, restaurants, and small hotels. Whitefish is also a popular summer destination, with Whitefish Lake right by town. There are many amazing hotels, including The Lodge at Whitefish and The Firebrand. There are also lots of options for Airbnbs and Vrbos in the area, which tend to be a bit more affordable. You will see plenty of friendly locals at Whitefish and families and couples looking for a slightly more affordable ski vacation. Lift tickets are affordable at around $80 per day, and crowds are minimal. The town is about a 15-minute drive from the ski hill.
Whitefish can be a bit difficult to travel to. The closest airport is Glacier Park International Airport, only about 30 minutes away; flights are limited to this airport. Whitefish is about 2.5 hours from Missoula, which has a slightly larger airport.
The terrain at Whitefish is varied and extensive; it’s for everyone. There are 11 chairlifts, one T-bar, and a surface carpet for beginners. Just under half the lifts are high-speed express lifts. If you are a beginner or looking to get easier warm-up laps, head to the Village Express lift. Whitefish caters to intermediate-level skiers with lots of long groomed runs and some less steep off-piste terrain for the higher-end intermediate. Check out the Swift Creek Express lift for some amazing, varied intermediate terrain. Flower Point also has some great intermediate tree skiing.
Whitefish also has some sweet terrain for expert skiers, although the expert terrain is not quite as extensive and “hardcore” compared to Big Sky or Bridger Bowl. If you want more of a challenge, head to the Hell Roaring Basin for incredible steep tree skiing.
The Whitefish Lake Restaurant is a great medium to higher-end American restaurant on the golf course right by the lake. The food and service are top-tier and consistent.
Jersey Boys Pizzeria
If you are looking for a casual night out with the kids or a simple meal after a long day of skiing, head to Jersey Boys for some great New England-style pizza.
The Palace Bar is a large dive bar with an old feel and a casual vibe. It is a popular local spot, perfect for grabbing some drinks and enjoying good music.
Spotted Bear Spirits
If you are looking for a bit of a fancier bar with great craft cocktails and a modern feel, head to Spotted Bear Spirits. They have their own distillery and a great list of specialty craft cocktails.
|- Varied terrain||- Difficult to access|
|- Great town with lots to do|
Montana Snowbowl: Best Intermediate Terrain
- Skiable Acres: 2,200
- Vertical Drop: 2,600’
- Percentage of Beginner Terrain: 20%
- Percentage of Intermediate Terrain: 40%
- Percentage of Expert/Advanced Terrain: 40%
- Average Annual Snowfall: 300”
- Lifts: 3 chairs, 2 surface lifts
Montana Snowbowl is a less well-known resort only eight miles from Missoula, making it quite accessible. It is a bit of a smaller mountain with only three chairlifts. The mountain has a small mom-and-pop feel with reasonably cheap lift tickets. If you want to stay right by the mountain base, there is only one option: the Gelandesprung Lodge. Most skiers visiting the Snowbowl stay in Missoula, which offers a lot. Missoula is one of the larger towns in the state, with a charming feel and great restaurants, bars, and music. Finding lodging in Missoula is relatively inexpensive. There are some nicer hotels and lots of more affordable discount hotels and motels for those on a budget. Finding an Airbnb or Vrbo in this area is also a great option and typically pretty affordable.
Montana Snowbowl ski areas are known for their exceptional tree skiing and a larger vertical drop for a smaller resort. The beginner terrain at the Snowbowl is fairly limited. True beginners will find themselves sticking to the First Run rope toe by the base. There is great mellow and varied intermediate terrain off the LaVelle and Snowpark chairs. There is plenty of skiing for experts in the West Bowl and Grizzly areas. These areas have long, steep slopes and amazing glade skiing. In summary, if you are an intermediate or expert skier, you will find plenty of amazing terrain despite the resort's smaller size. If you are a true beginner, the terrain options may be limited.
On Hill Dining
At the base of Montana Snowbowl, there are two restaurant options: The Last Run and Double Diamond Cafe. The Last Run is known for its amazing pizza; it’s a great spot for lunch on the hill. Double Diamond Cafe is a great spot to grab coffee, breakfast, or lunch on the hill.
Five on Black
If you are looking for a unique yet quick meal in Missoula, check out Five on Black. They are known for their great Brazilian cuisine. Here you can order at the counter and be in and out quickly if you are in a rush.
Tamarack Brewing Company
The Tamarack Brewing Company is a great spot in Missoula for nice bar food and great beer. It’s family-friendly and has something for everyone.
The Rhino is a classic old-time bar in Missoula and a local favorite. They have lots of pool and shuffleboard tables and frequently will have live music. The Rhino is known for its unique atmosphere and large draft beer selection.
If you are looking for great music and dancing, check out The Badlander in Downtown Missoula. They always have great drink specials and some unique cocktails.
|- Very few crowds||- Smaller resort with fewer terrain options, particularly for beginners|
|- Inexpensive lift tickets|
|- Easily accessible from Missoula|
Red Lodge Mountain: Avoid the Crowds
- Skiable Acres: 1,635
- Vertical Drop: 2,400’
- Percentage of Beginner Terrain: 17%
- Percentage of Intermediate Terrain: 44%
- Percentage of Expert/Advanced Terrain: 38%
- Average Annual Snowfall: 250”
- Lifts: 6 chairs, 1 surface lift
Red Lodge Mountain is a hidden resort gem in southwest Montana, only about 1.5 hours from Billings. It is known for its welcoming feel and lack of crowds. Red Lodge is a great spot if you are looking for a more affordable ski vacation. The lift tickets are relatively cheap, around $80 per day. Red Lodge is not a fancy resort and has very basic amenities. However, the resort has a great welcoming feel if you don’t care about high-speed lifts, fancy lodges, and heated parking garages. You will find lots of people day-tripping to Red Lodge from Billings. The town of Red Lodge is small with a classic Old Western feel, located only about 10 minutes from the ski hill. Downtown has cute restaurants, bars, and shops to keep you busy when not on the ski hill. Red Lodge is relatively affordable; however, staying in Billings is also an option if you want to reduce your trip's cost.
Red Lodge has terrain for every skier, although it’s likely best for high-end intermediate skiers. If you are a beginner, you should head to the Miami Beach area. It is really the only true beginner area on the hill, so it tends to be the first area to get a bit crowded. Willow Creek and the Triple chair have some great more moderate intermediate terrain. The Lazy M is the longest trail at the resort lasting 2.5 miles going all the way from the top of Grizzly Peak down to the base. This is the only intermediate terrain off Grizzly Peak and is great if you are looking for a long, scenic, leisurely run. The Grizzly Peak and Cole Creek chairs are the more advanced terrain. These areas have some great, long, steep runs for those looking for more of a challenge.
If you are looking for some great apres-ski snacks and a large draft beer selection on the hill, check out the Bierstube. Located right at the resort's base, this is a great spot to hang out for a snack and some drinks after a ski day.
Carbon County Steakhouse
If you are in town looking for a nice hearty meal, check out Carbon County Steakhouse. This is one of the nicer restaurants in town and has a great cocktail and wine list.
Red Lodge Pizza Co.
This a classic Red Lodge spot for some amazing hand-tossed pizza. It’s a great option for families and those looking for a more affordable meal.
Snow Creek Saloon
The Snow Creek Saloon is a great casual bar with a friendly staff and cheap drinks. You will also frequently find live music here.
Red Lodge Ales
The Red Lodge Ales is a downtown brewery with a great atmosphere and a large craft beer selection.
|- Few crowds||- Limited terrain|
|- Cheap lift tickets and accomodations||- Small town|
|- Easy access from Billings|
Montana is home to some amazing skiing and lots of hidden resorts that the masses have yet to discover. If you are looking for a large, resort-like feel with all the fancy amenities, Big Sky is likely your spot. However, if you are looking for a more affordable trip and a resort with an old-school feel, don’t sleep on some of the smaller Montana Resorts like Whitefish, Red Lodge, and Montana Snow Bowl. If you are looking for some crazy expert-level terrain, Bridger Bowl is your spot with some of the steepest and most challenging terrain in the country. If you are still unsure about your next Montana ski spot feel free to chat with one of our Curated Ski or Snowboard Experts to get your questions answered!