The diverse landscape and terrain of Montana truly invites both exploration and adventure — from the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains. And once those vast, wide-open spaces, trails, mountains, and rugged peaks become snow-covered, it’s not difficult to see why Montana’s ski areas and resorts are some of the best in the world.
This seemingly bold statement is supported by the fact that Montana has an incredibly broad range of skiing and snowboarding options, more acres per skier than anywhere else in the U.S., and ski areas and resorts largely devoid of long queues for lifts.
- Bear Paw Ski Bowl
- Beartooth Basin Ski Area
- Big Sky Resort
- Blacktail Mountain Ski Area
- Bridger Bowl Ski Area
- Discovery Ski Area
- Great Divide Ski Area
- Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area
- Lost Trail Powder Mountain
- Maverick Mountain Ski Area
- Montana Snowbowl
- Moonlight Basin
- Red Lodge Mountain
- Showdown Ski Area
- Teton Pass Ski Area
- Turner Mountain Ski Resort
- Whitefish Mountain Resort
- Yellowstone Club Ski Resort
A Brief History of Skiing in Montana
Reports of early skiers using one crude wooden pole to navigate the Montana slopes date back to the mid-1800s. When groups of like-minded people became a bit more organized they started to gravitate towards certain slopes and hills that became the first ski areas in Montana, although there was nothing commercial about them back then.
Showdown Mountain is reportedly the oldest ski area in the state, first being recognized as such in 1936 albeit under a different name to begin with.
Soon after that in 1937, Otto Lang, who was one of the sport’s well-known early protagonists, founded the first ski school at Mount Rainier. Other ski-related events started to follow, such as the first ‘official’ ski race, which occurred in Montana’s Rimini in 1938.
Another milestone in Montana’s skiing history came with the grand opening of Big Mountain in 1948, and almost 70 years later the top-notch Whitefish Ski Resort is ranked as one of the best in the world.
Soon after its opening other ski areas and resorts in Montana started to take proper shape — and the rest is history, as they say. So let’s have a deeper delve into some of Montana’s best ski areas & resorts.
The 18 Ski Areas and Resorts in Montana
Bear Paw Ski Bowl is in north-central Montana, 35 miles from Havre. The resort has something of a reputation as the place to come if you are looking for a good old-fashioned north-central Montana ski hill experience.
And that particular reputation is founded on the management and operation of the resort’s staff, which is largely a volunteer group of local skiers who do it for the love of it.
The Bear Paw experience echoes the spirit of the beginnings of the ski scene in the region when groups of enthusiasts got together for the enjoyment of honing and mastering the necessary skills to do combat with the snowy terrain.
A pleasant and rustic-tinged nod to a time when skiing was the main focal point and any required refreshment or accommodation came with a smile, courtesy of the locals. Local enthusiasts have been skiing this particular area since around 1960.
If you head out to this small ski area set across just 80 acres you’ll find the terrain and slopes can accommodate all levels, although intermediate-level skiers probably get the best of it. There are some decent vertical descents of over 1000 feet, and there is a half-pipe for snowboarders.
There are just 11 trails in all and 2 ski lifts, but this Montana ski area is highly-prized by those local to the vicinity. This includes college students from Montana State University, members of the nearby Rocky Boy’s Reservation, and those living and working in the region.
This ski area along the Beartooth Highway is not strictly in Montana as it just breaches the Wyoming border. The 600-acre resort is close to Red Lodge and was originally known as the Red Lodge International Ski and Snowboard Camp when it was established at the beginning of the 1960s.
Three Austrians were the driving force behind it as they were looking for a decent practice spot for both American and European Olympic skiing contenders.
The ski area sits 10,800 feet above Twin Lakes Headwall, and it functioned as a summer training camp for nearly 4 decades until 2003, when public access was granted.
It only changed its name to Beartooth Basin Ski Area in recent years, and still functions primarily as a summer skiing destination operating between May and July. It has 1000 feet of descents and two lifts that provide access to around 3,000 feet in all of varied skiing terrain.
Big Sky Resort is indeed big. In fact, it is renowned for its Big Mountain terrain, even by Montana standards. The ski area contains close to 6,000 acres, and it is widely regarded as having some of the most challenging non-backcountry terrain in the entire country.
Unsurprisingly the resort attracts its fair share of advanced skiers, as the skiable terrain includes more than 4,000 vertical feet.
That said, anyone is likely to find something suitable for their level of ability here. Big Sky is ideal if you are only just becoming interested in learning how to ski or if you already consider yourself of a caliber able to give James Bond a run for his money down the mountain slopes.
Snowfall is big in this Montana Ski Area too, with an average of 400 annual inches of powder fall, there’s more than enough to go round at Big Sky. The resort has tram access to the top of the huge Lone Peak, one of the main landmarks across the skyline in this region.
The Lone Peak is a viewing point that allows those who venture up there a vantage point that allows them to take in three different states and two national parks – a proper view of the wondrous Montana landscape.
Blacktail Mountain Ski Area is located in north-western Montana above the town of Lakeside in the Flathead Valley. This is an area of 200 skiable acres in the midst of 1000 acres of National Forest.
The resort includes elevations of almost 7,000 feet and vertical drops of close to 1500 feet.
Terrain-wise, intermediate-level skiers and snowboarders probably get the best of this ski area, with smaller ratios to suit both beginner and advanced levels.
You can get some impressive views of Flathead Lake from up here too, and the resort includes a lift with double and triple chairs, a day lodge, a restaurant and bar, and a snowboard school.
Bridger Bowl is a private, non-profit ski area near Bozeman that is considered one of the best ski areas in North America. It presents a typical picture of skiing in Montana with its wide-open, powdery slopes and surrounding landscape, and has operated as a non-profit ski slope since 1955.
This is a big mountain experience with a local, friendly vibe to it that again harks back to the early Montana skiing days.
The ski area has a section just for beginners, which includes 2 lifts and a cabin for warming hose frozen toes. Then over on the north side of the ski area, there is a more challenging stretch of terrain for intermediate skiers who can access 500 acres of powder and groomers.
Advanced level skiers won’t be disappointed either when they encounter the still more challenging terrain designated just for them which features steep slopes and other natural features. The diverse terrain to suit all-comers and the fact that it is highly affordable make Bridger Bowl a very popular Montana ski area.
Located within close proximity of 3 of Montana’s main towns and cities by way of Helena, Butte, and Missoula, this is another ski area with the best aspects of what skiing in Montana is all about terrain-wise, not to mention the views.
Here advanced skiers will encounter some of the steepest terrain around, which is thankfully serviced by lifts, although there is plenty of diverse landscape to suit the more beginner and intermediate levels near the Granite lifts facing northward. Discovery features powder bowls and groomed trails, tree-lined runs, and uncrowded slopes, which all add to the area’s huge appeal.
Great Divide is in southwestern Montana along the Continental Divide, about 25 miles from Helena. This is a ski area with some impressive mountain terrain featuring over 100 trails across three mountain peaks, in three valleys. You can imagine what the surrounding views look like.
Great Divide Ski Area covers 1600 acres of skiable terrain in all, making it one of the largest in the state. It includes some sleek groomers, wide open powder bowls, and forest glade trails, as well as six terrain parks in all, each packed with features to make the activities that much more fun.
Lookout Pass is located on the Montana and Idaho border in the region of the Lolo National Forest and is all about great powder. The area provides a skiing experience across 550 skiable acres of terrain which includes more than 35 runs and 2 terrain parks, facilitating cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
The terrain parks have different themes – one with larger features made from remnants of old mines, and the other with smaller features aimed at tricks and progression from smaller to larger runs.
The family-friendly resort includes a renowned ski school that runs intensive programs for kids, and there is a cozy and warming lodge with a restaurant and bar for when you’ve finally had enough of snow pursuits.
Lost Trail is in the Bitterroot Range of the northern Rockies, on the Montana and Idaho border. The name gives some indication of the snow conditions in this ski area, which is well-known for its consistently skiable conditions.
This is a family-friendly, affordable ski area in Montana that has avoided all traces of the corporate ski world with its locally-owned family operation which has been in operation for 80-odd years.
The ski area has more than 60 marked trails and 5 double chair lifts, with elevations up to 8,000 feet and vertical drops going on for 2,000 feet. Come prepared!
Fifty miles west of Dillon, just off the Pioneer Mountain Scenic Byway, you can find the fairly sizable Maverick Mountain. It is tucked away in the southwest mountain regions in Grasshopper Valley, and offers some of the least-populated trails you are likely to find.
The resort claims to be one of Montana’s best-kept secrets for skiers and certainly offers plenty of opportunities for snow-lovers to find some untouched powder. The mountain is 2,000 feet of prime snow and uncrowded trails, offering great opportunities for all levels across 425 acres and 24 trails.
This is another Montana Ski Area that likes to try and keep that grass-roots vibe and avoid anything overly commercial, which adds to the appeal of the place no end.
11. Montana Snowbowl
Montana Snowbowl is just over 10 miles to the west of Missoula, in the region of the Lolo National Forest. The ski area is renowned for its powdery bowls of considerable depth and versatile terrain to accommodate all levels.
It does tend to attract a fair few adrenaline junkies though with its 2,600 feet unbroken vertical drop.
The bowl has an impressive layout of trails and also runs snow sports school programs for all levels. The resort has a shop for rentals and repairs, as well as two refreshment stops with great food, drinks and vibes by way of the Last Run and the Double Diamond Café, which apparently does a mean pizza.
12. Moonlight Basin
Moonlight Basin is located around an hour to the south of Bozeman in Big Sky, and the vast ski area of 5.5 acres has developed its reputation as a top-notch skiing resort since opening in 2003.
Nestled into an ideal Rocky Mountain location across the Madison range, Moonlight Basin’s elevation over 10,000 feet means the snow stays for longer, but there is less chance of encountering crowded slopes.
The terrain features a variety of moderate trails and groomed stretches alongside adrenaline-fuelled chutes. With a high-speed, six-passenger chairlift, you won’t be hanging around here for too long either.
Red Lodge Mountain has been a hot spot for some kind of skiing activity since the Silver Run Ski Club was established in 1939. It is certainly one of the oldest skiing operations in the state that has been running continuously since opening.
Silver Run Ski Club came about when local skiing enthusiasts in the mining town of Red Lodge saw the potential in the ski mountain and started to organize themselves around it, but it wasn’t until 1960 that Grizzly Peak Ski Area opened, with its single chair lift and just three runs.
However, word soon got around, and not only more locals but also visiting out-of-towners started appearing in search of a decent slope and in the mid-60s, the ski area changed its name and began transitioning into the popular Montana ski resort that it is today — Red Lodge Mountain.
Showdown is reportedly the oldest ski area in Montana, having first established itself in the wintery season of 1936 as Kings Hill Ski Area near the mining community of Neihart. There isn’t much historical evidence regarding what happened after that, but it was bought by new owners in 1973 who changed the name to Showdown Ski Area, and that eventually transformed to Showdown Montana in 1995.
The resort actually operates on land leased from the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest. These days the ski area consists of more than 30 trails on over 600 acres of land. And it has some pretty high points – 6,800 feet at the summit.
The resort features a terrain park, and the left and right sides are divided between advanced and easier runs respectively. Showdown is something of a Montana tradition for anyone even remotely interested in skiing, and it is family-friendly with great snow conditions and a few other quirks like a slope-side dining area.
Teton Pass Ski Area is close to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, just west of Choteau. Everything you might wish for from a Montana Ski Area is here, including impressive views, diverse terrain, and untouched snow on the many ski hills.
The resort covers 400 acres and has more than 40 downhill runs as well as access to backcountry skiing. To add to that you’ll find queue-free lift lines and friendly staff, as well as a large day lodge, a ski school, and a rental shop.
Just over 20 miles from the incredibly scenic town of Libby, this is another Montana ski area run by local volunteers that has all the snow conditions you could hope to find.
We are talking expansive, wide-open, and crowd-free slopes, picture-book scenery, and inexpensive lift tickets. There are 20 runs with two-thirds of them being rated advanced level, with around 10% of the terrain allocated for beginners.
Turner Mountain stands close to 6,000 feet and the resort has a recently-built lodge and a rental shop. On top of that, you’ll find a friendly, local vibe that always adds to any experience.
Whitefish resort is slightly unique in that despite its 3,000 acres of terrain and 10 chair lifts, the resort has managed to retain an air of the quaint, local-charm that attracts winter enthusiasts from across the board to the northwest Montana Rocky Mountain location.
Locals started to carve out the first trails on the mountain in the 1930s, but these days the Big Mountain is one of the largest ski resorts in the US. The resort is 30 miles west of Glacier National Park, just outside of the small town of Whitefish.
The ski area features prime groomed trails, plenty of lifts, and a resort akin to a full-service alpine village with accommodation to suit various budgets.
The Yellowstone Club Ski Resort is located in Madison County near Big Sky and actually makes up part of a private complex comprising a residential club, the ski resort, and a golf resort.
This is an exclusive lifestyle estate that has previously been rated in the world’s top ten. As far as skiing goes, there are about 50 miles of slopes and 12 miles of ski runs, with no less than 20 lifts. The elevations of the skiing terrain are between about 6,000 and 9,800 m. The skiing here is seasonal between November and April.
Limitation is not part of the equation when you look at the quality of ski areas and resorts in Montana. Adventure knows no bounds on these slopes and landscapes, which is why they remain renowned skiing destinations for tourists from around the world.
If you are seeking a downhill, vertical adrenaline rush or just want to get started at your own pace amidst some of the most picturesque scenery in the world, you are in the right place in Montana.
There is something for every level in Montana’s ski areas – just make sure to schedule well in advance if you are planning your next trip!