November 19, 1995

Montana From The Casual Local Hills To The Dazzling Major Resorts, The Big Sky Has Plenty To Offer

Larry W. Earl Correspondent
 

Big Sky country means BIG choices in ski areas. You can choose to carve tracks on small community hills or at large, full-service resorts.

Casual attire is always appropriate at a Montana ski hill, where you’ll find country-style hospitality. You’ll fit in just as well wearing a flannel shirt and blue jeans as you would in the latest ski fashions.

Montana’s small hills have a more relaxed and casual atmosphere than larger resorts, mainly because most skiers on any given day will be locals. They continue to support their community hills because they and the staff are generally on a first-name basis, and a day on the slopes is a combination of socializing, exercising and fun.

At the other end of the spectrum are Montana’s two largest resorts - Big Mountain and Big Sky. Both live up to their names for being big on skiable acres and terrain diversity, big on apres-ski entertainment and activities, big on family-oriented services and offering big savings on lodging and skiing packages. Everything you’d expect to find at a full-service ski resort can be found at these two locations.

Here is a review of nine Montana ski areas:

Big Mountain Ski and Summer Resort

You can ski 360 degrees around Big Mountain on 3,000 acres, so there is lots of terrain and trail diversity for all levels of skiers. The mountain’s rating system uses double green for easiest and double black for expert. Skiers can leave groomed runs and enter tree skiing areas or deep powder bowls and then easily return to a groomed slope.

Big Mountain appeals to families because of its diverse amenities, apres-ski entertainment for all ages, and reasonable ski and accommodation packages. Activities for children include a movie night, free dogsled ride at 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and sleigh rides. A popular family affair is the sleigh-ride dinner getaways, which includes rope twirling and singalongs.

The mountain strives for a skier-friendly ambience and offers lots of activities for all ages and interests. The Ski Host program offers free escorted tours of the mountain to new skiers. The Outpost day lodge is near Chair 6 and free to all skiers. There are enlarged parking areas near the Outpost to provide easy access to food service, rentals and ski programs without having to drive into the crowded village complex. Non-skiing activities include a tubing hill for children, ice skating rink, and snowmobiling adventures in the mountain’s backyard.

There is a large selection of on-mountain accommodations, ranging from rooms with the bare necessities to lodges with well-appointed rooms to fully-equipped condominiums.

Information: Geographic location: 8 miles north of Whitefish. Tentative opening date: Thanksgiving weekend.

Lift tickets The regular day lift ticket rate for adults (ages 19 and older) is $38. Seniors (62 and older) and juniors (13-18) are $28, children (7-12) are $20, and college students are $35. Discounted multiple-day ticket packages are available.

Night skiing is offered Wednesday through Sunday, 4:30 to 10 p.m., from mid-December through March. Eight beginner and intermediate runs are lighted and serviced by three lifts. The Night Ticket is $12 for everyone. Any day lift ticket lets skiers continue skiing on the lighted runs until closing.

Snowcat powder skiing is offered for $45 a person for four hours (lift ticket not included). Skiers usually get five to six runs. The 1,200 vertical-foot descent drops skiers through virgin powder. Skiers must be advanced intermediate level and have powder skiing experience. Lessons and fat skis are available.

Day care: Day-care services (including those for newborns) are provided at the Kiddie Korner Day Care Center. Supervised indoor and outdoor activities keep the children busy. Reservations are required for non-walking infants and are recommended for all others. Dropins are welcomed, as space and staff permits.

Ski instruction: Many ski clinics are offered for alpine and telemark skiers and snowboarders. The mountain’s Ski Week (Monday-Wednesday) program provides three full days of instruction and will be available Jan. 4 through March 5. This season’s Women’s Week will be March 11-15. This clinic is taught by women for women. A Snowboard Camp will be offered in December.

Nordic skiing: The Nordic Center offers 10 kilometers of groomed and track-set trails. Passes are $5 for adults, $3 for juniors and seniors, and $2 for children. Call (406) 862-3511 for trail conditions.

Snow line: (406) 862-2904.

Mountain office: (406) 862-2900.

Central reservations and package information: (800) 858-5439.

Tourism information: Whitefish Chamber of Commerce, (406) 862-3501, or Flathead Convention and Visitor Association, (800) 543-3105.

Big Sky Ski and Summer Resort

Big Sky can rightfully boast the most dramatic changes of all the ski areas in the Northwest this season. The new Lone Peak Tram puts expert skiers at the top of 11,166-foot Lone Mountain and gives the resort more vertical feet - 4,180 - than any other ski hill in the United States.

The resort is widely recognized for its short or nonexistent lift lines and uncrowded slopes. There are more than 3,500 acres of skiable terrain on two mountains.

One of the mountain’s popular features is the long, wide and well-groomed beginner and intermediate runs. There seems to be no end for tree and bowl skiing, and there are lots of steep and deep powder chutes for the less-timid skier. For a change of pace, you can make a day trip to nearby Yellowstone National Park for a snowmobile or snowcoach tour.

A large selection of lodging facilities is located at the base of the ski area. The full-service Huntley Lodge offers well appointed, slopeside rooms.

Information: Geographic location: 43 miles south of Bozeman. Tentative opening date: Thanksgiving weekend.

Lift tickets: Full-day lift tickets for adults (ages 17 and older) are $43. Seniors (70 and older) are $21.50, and juniors (11-16) are $37. Children 10 and under ski free any day, all season. Discounted multiple-day tickets are available. No night skiing is available.

Day care: The Big Sky Playcare Center will accept children 18 months and older. Proof of immunizations is required.

Ski instruction: Lessons are offered to skiers and snowboarders of all abilities. Ski Day Camp offers an innovative approach for children ages 6-14 to have fun while learning to ski.

Nordic skiing: Nordic skiers can find 45 miles of groomed trails at nearby Lone Mountain Ranch, a highly rated, full-service skiing destination. (406) 995-4644.

Snow line: (406) 995-5900.

Mountain office: (406) 995-4211, ext. 2291.

Central reservations: (800) 548-4486.

Tourism information: Bozeman Chamber of Commerce, (406) 586-5421 or (800) 228-4224.

Bridger Bowl

This family-oriented ski area offers a classic European feeling. The summit elevation is 8,100 feet, so the mountain gets plenty of powder snow (up to 350 inches) throughout the season.

Bridger is noted for its challenging intermediate, advanced and expert terrain. The “Ridge” provides a 2,000-foot vertical drop for skiers and snowboarders on the mountain’s east slope. It is for the ultimate thrillseeker who wants steep and deep powder chutes. Only expert skiers need apply, and they’ll need a partner. An avalanche transceiver is required for all Ridge skiers and boarders.

There is a large selection of accommodations ranging from condos and guest houses on the mountain to motels and B&Bs; in Bozeman. A typical 3-night/3-day package starts at $105 a person, based on quad occupancy, or $126 a person, based on double occupancy.

The Bridger Bowl Ski Bus provides shuttle service from downtown Bozeman for $5 round trip. (406) 586-8567.

Information: Geographic location: 16 northeast of Bozeman. Tentative opening date: Dec. 9.

Lift tickets: The day lift ticket for adults (ages 13 and older) is $26. Seniors (65 and older) are $18, and children (12 and under) are $11. Discounted multiple-day tickets are available. No night skiing is offered.

Day care: Day care is available for children ages 18 months to 6 years. The half-day rate is $20, and full-day rate is $35.

Ski instruction: Group and private lessons are available for all levels and interests of skiers and snowboarders.

Nordic skiing: Thirty kilometers of groomed and tracked trails are available at the nearby Bohart Ranch. (406) 586-9070.

Snow line: (406) 586-2389.

Mountain office: (406) 587-2111.

Central reservations: (800) 223-9609.

Tourism information: Bozeman Chamber of Commerce, (406) 586-5421 or (800) 228-4224.

Montana Snowbowl

Snowbowl has been rated in the top 20 ski hills in the United States for vertical fun because of its 2,600-foot drop. It boosts steep and deep skiing, and is a popular mountain because of its challenging terrain and affordable prices.

The mountain offers 900 skiable acres and has terrain for all levels and interests. Although the mountain’s trademarks are its powder bowls and mogul runs for the advanced skier and boarder, 40 percent of its runs are rated for intermediate skiers.

Another groomer has been added for this season. Additional snowmaking this season will improve the Bowl Outrun and Paradise areas.

The mountain is popular with snowboarders because of their acceptance and the natural terrain features of the steep mountainside. Shredders should check out the Chicken Chute. Snowbowl will host the 9th annual Snowboard Jam event on Feb. 3-4. Events will include giant slalom, slope style jam, and monster air contest.

One of the mountain’s favorite spectator events is the Snowbowl Cup Gelande Championship, to be held Feb. 24-25. You can see spectacular ski jumping of up to 200 feet. The event attracts jumpers from throughout the United States.

Several lodging facilities in Missoula offer affordable lift and lodging packages. Some packages start as low as $36 a person, based on double occupancy.

Information: Geographic location: 12 miles north of Missoula. Tentative opening date: Thanksgiving weekend.

Lift tickets: The full-day rate for adults (ages 13-61) is $24. Students and seniors (62 and older) are $21, and children (6-12) are $11. Use of only the T-Bar is $5 for everyone. The rope tow is free. Night skiing is offered on Thursday and Friday evening for $5 for everyone. Snowbowl is closed Tuesdays.

Day care: Child care services are available for ages 6 months to 6 years.

Ski instruction: The ski school program can accommodate everyone from children age 4 to seniors. Clinics are available for telemarkers and snowboarders.

Nordic skiing: Cross-country ski trails are located at a number of locations on the outskirts of Missoula.

Snow line, mountain office: (406) 549-9777.

Tourism information: Missoula Chamber of Commerce, (406) 543- 6623.

Lost Trail Powder Mountain

The lodge and parking area are located at a 7,000-foot elevation, and the mountain receives about 300 inches of snow each winter. The family-oriented, community ski hill is noted for its great powder skiing conditions, as well as its well-groomed trails and short lift lines.

Thursdays are known locally as “powder days” and attract many telemarkers because some of the mountain runs are not groomed. This is a typical example of the hill’s service-oriented staff meeting the desires of local skiers.

All beginner and intermediate runs are groomed for weekend skiers. Snowboarders are welcomed throughout the mountain.

Lost Trail Hot Springs Resort is located six miles north of the ski hill on Highway 93. It offers cabins, motel rooms, suites with loft bedrooms, and RV sites. There is an enclosed, natural hot mineral pool, sauna and hot tub. The restaurant is a favorite place for locals. (406) 821-3574 or (800) 825-3574.

Information: Geographic location: on the Montana/Idaho border, Highway 93. Tentative opening date: early December.

Lift tickets: The mountain is open Thursday through Sunday and all holidays. The daily lift ticket rate for adults (ages 13-59) is $17. Children (6-12) are $8, and seniors (60 and older) are $13. No night skiing is offered.

Day care: none.

Ski instruction: The ski school specializes in beginner programs, but can tailor a lesson to individual needs.

Nordic skiing: The Chief Joseph Pass Cross Country Ski Trails are located a few miles east of the ski hill. The 30 kilometers of trails extend along the Continental Divide and are managed jointly by a local nordic ski club and the Forest Service.

Snow line: (406) 821-3211.

Mountain office: (406) 821-3211 or 543-5111.

Tourism information: Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, (406) 363-2400

Turner Mountain

The mountain is located at the southern end of the Purcell mountain range, which extends southward from Canada. The mountain is noted for lots of powder snow each winter. The community hill handles an average of 160 skiers a day, who are attracted to its steep and deep conditions. A new run was added for this season.

Turner is not a beginner’s mountain. It has a steep fall line and has mostly advanced-intermediate and expert terrain. Only 30 percent of the runs are groomed. Access to the 21 runs and 2,110-foot vertical drop is by a 5,600-foot T-bar.

Day lodge facilities have limited food and beverage service. Rental equipment must be obtained at the Snowshoe Haus in Libby; there are no rentals on the mountain.

Lodging facilities are available in Libby.

Information: Geographic location: 22 miles north of Libby. Tentative opening date: first weekend of December.

Lift tickets: The mountain is open only on weekends and holidays. The lift rate for adults (age 18-61) is $16. Seniors (62 and older) and students (ages 7-17) are $13, and children (6 and under) ski free. No night skiing is available.

Day care: None.

Ski instruction: Lessons can be arranged with prior notice.

Nordic skiing: Untracked, backcountry trails are available on adjacent Forest Service lands.

Snow line: (406) 293-4317.

Mountain office: (406) 293-4317.

Tourism information: Libby Chamber of Commerce, (406) 293-4167.

Discovery Basin

Discovery receives 150 to 200 inches of snow each winter. The 360 skiable acres are spread between Rumsey Mountain (8,150 feet) and Jubilee Mountain (7,650 feet). The advanced ski runs are located on the north side of Rumsey in the Atlantic and Pacific bowls. This area is rated double black diamond with slopes up to 79 degrees. A new trail (Trilbie’s) extends around the perimeter of the ski area and gives better access to powder chutes for advanced skiers.

Day lodge facilities include food and beverage service, equipment rentals and lessons. A new snowboard section has been added to the rental shop.

Fairmont Hot Springs Resort is located near Anaconda. It is a full-service facility, where guests have 24-hour access to the naturally heated Olympic-sized hot springs pools. The resort offers fine dining, evening entertainment and a casino/ lounge. A two-day/two-night package starts at $110 a person. (406) 797-3241 or (800) 332-3272 in Montana. Additional lodging choices are available in the Anaconda area.

Information: Geographic location: 22 miles west of Anaconda. Tentative opening date: Thanksgiving weekend.

Lift tickets: The community ski hill is open Thursday through Sunday and holidays. Prices are the same as last year. The rate for adults (ages 13-64) is $20. Seniors (65 and older) and children (12 and under) ski for $10. No night skiing is available.

Day care: None.

Ski instruction: Discovery lives up to its name. Its ski schools help people discover the fun and excitement of skiing. The hill has some of the best beginner slopes in western Montana. First-time adult skiers can receive instruction, equipment rental and an Easy Chair lift ticket for $28. The KinderSki Program for children ages 3-6 provides supervised skiing for the day with morning and afternoon lesson plus lunch.

Nordic skiing: Two Forest Service nordic trails are accessible from the ski hill’s parking area. One is 3.2 kilometers for beginners and is intermittently groomed. The other is 12.1 kilometers for intermediates and is not groomed. Trail use is free.

Snow line: (406) 563-2184.

Mountain office: (406) 563-2184.

Tourism information: Anaconda Chamber of Commerce, (406) 563-2400.

Maverick Mountain

The mountain receives an average of 110 inches of snow each winter, which give a good blanket of powder to the 110 acres of skiable terrain.

This small ski hill is tucked away near the rural ranching community of Polaris in the Grasshopper Valley, a popular destination for cross-country skiers and snowmobilers.

The friendly atmosphere on the slopes typifies Montana’s hospitality. Everyone seems to have a smile, and many skiers are dressed in ranch working clothes.

Elkhorn Hot Springs Resort (406-834-3434) is located three miles from the mountain. It has a rural, rustic atmosphere, and guests need to bring their own towels. Lodging is available.

Additional lodging choices near the ski hill include the Grasshopper Inn (406-834-3456), which has hot tubs, a full service restaurant and casino-lounge, and Maverick Mountain RV Park (406-834-3452), which has cabins and RV sites.

Information: Geographic location: 35 miles west of Dillon. Tentative opening date: Thanksgiving weekend.

Lift tickets: The ski hill is open Thursday through Sunday and holidays. The lift ticket for adults (13 and older) is $18. Juniors juniors (6-12) are $11 and children 5 and under ski free. Thursday and Friday tickets are $10 for everyone. No night skiing is available.

Day care: None.

Ski instruction: Maverick Mountain offers the Little Skiers Program for children 6-12 on Saturdays. The fullday program provides ski supervision, morning and afternoon lessons, rental equipment, lift ticket and lunch for $75 for five Saturday ski visits. The hill also has an active racing program for all ages, with races held on most weekends.

Nordic skiing: Nordic skiing is available on Forest Service roads in the Grasshopper Valley area. The Pioneer Mountain National Snowmobile Byway is accessible from the valley or the ski hill.

Snow line: (406) 834-3454.

Mountain office: (406) 834-3454.

Tourism information: Dillon Chamber of Commerce, (406) 683-5511.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEW What’s new at Montana resorts: Big Mountain Chair 6 has been extended from the Outpost day lodge to the village area. Previously, the chair ended near the Glacier Chaser quad, and skiers had to walk up a staircase to the village.

Big Sky Four new lifts will be in place this season. The Lone Peak Tram is a 15-passenger lift to the summit of Lone Mountain, giving Big Ski the highest vertical footage in the United States: 4,180 feet. The Shedhorn Double Chair on the south face of Lone Mountain will provide access to 10 new intermediate and advanced runs. The Pony Express Triple Chair will increase beginner skier lift capacity and give better access to the north side of Lone Mountain. The Pioneer Platter Tow will double the mountain’s learn-toski terrain. These additions will add over 1,200 acres of terrain and put Big Sky among the 10 largest ski resorts in the nation.

Bridger Bowl A new fixed-grip quad lift (Powder Park) was added for this season. The new chair will provide better access to beginner terrain. The addition of Powder Park was part of a lift layout improvement plan that included shortening the lengths of the Alpine Chair and Bridger Chair. The new lift configuration has shortened chair rides and has enabled the addition of more chairs, increasing the mountain’s lift capacity by 43 percent. Another benefit will be less congestion at the mid-way station.

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEW What’s new at Montana resorts: Big Mountain Chair 6 has been extended from the Outpost day lodge to the village area. Previously, the chair ended near the Glacier Chaser quad, and skiers had to walk up a staircase to the village.

Big Sky Four new lifts will be in place this season. The Lone Peak Tram is a 15-passenger lift to the summit of Lone Mountain, giving Big Ski the highest vertical footage in the United States: 4,180 feet. The Shedhorn Double Chair on the south face of Lone Mountain will provide access to 10 new intermediate and advanced runs. The Pony Express Triple Chair will increase beginner skier lift capacity and give better access to the north side of Lone Mountain. The Pioneer Platter Tow will double the mountain’s learn-toski terrain. These additions will add over 1,200 acres of terrain and put Big Sky among the 10 largest ski resorts in the nation.

Bridger Bowl A new fixed-grip quad lift (Powder Park) was added for this season. The new chair will provide better access to beginner terrain. The addition of Powder Park was part of a lift layout improvement plan that included shortening the lengths of the Alpine Chair and Bridger Chair. The new lift configuration has shortened chair rides and has enabled the addition of more chairs, increasing the mountain’s lift capacity by 43 percent. Another benefit will be less congestion at the mid-way station.


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