November 22, 2009 in Awayfinder destinations

Montana’s hot spot

Fairmont Hot Springs is the gateway to winter-recreation options in the Treasure State
Linn Parish Awayfinder Correspondent
 
Linn Parish photo

Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, MT
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

As the Western Montana air gets colder, steam clouds grow larger above the outdoor pools at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort. Because even when the temperature drops below freezing, the pools of natural spring water stay around 91 degrees and 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s this time of year that winter-sport enthusiasts start to fill the resort after a good day of fun in the snow. Fairmont Resort is less than 10 miles away from the cross-country trails at Mount Haggin and 30 miles from 2,100 acres of patrolled downhill skiing at the Discovery Ski Area. Hundreds of miles of snowmobiling trails aren’t too far away either, and the nearby town of Anaconda has a Rockwell-esque setting for ice-skating in its town square.

“We have some premier skiing very close by,” Fairmont General Manager Steve Luebeck said. “It’s all about outdoor recreation when people come to Fairmont.”

Fairmont is just over 300 miles southeast of Spokane—a 4 ½ hour drive on clear roads—and just a few miles off Interstate 90 at Montana Exit 211. The resort is a few miles from Anaconda, Mont., and about 25 miles from Butte.

The resort has 153 guest rooms, all of which have been remodeled in the past five years. It also has resurfaced its pool recently and made improvements to its water slide.

Of the guest rooms, 18 are suites or time-share condominiums. The bridal suite is one of the more unique suites, with two levels connected by a spiral staircase and a hot tub on one floor. Across the hall from that room’s first level, the spacious two-bedroom Suite 3 has a full kitchen and a living room with a 53-inch flat-screen TV.

A more modest two-room suite down the hallway from the larger suites has been renamed the Obama Suite. President Obama spent the night in that room while campaigning in Butte in April of 2008. One interesting side note: Fairmont marketing coordinator Jill Luebeck said the staff initially planned to offer Obamas Suite 3, but that room is at one end of a hallway and was nixed as an option by the U.S. Secret Service; they wanted a room where agents could be stationed in each neighboring room.

In addition to hosting a future U.S. president, Fairmont has had a number of VIPs, including Ireland President Mary McAleese, comedian Bill Murray, and NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long.

While Fairmont might be a stop for celebrities who visit the Treasure State, most of its guests are from the West. In summers, Steve Luebeck said the hotel receives guests from all 50 states, but the majority of them are from Washington, California and Montana. In the winter, the majority of guests are from the Northwest.

Many winter guests partake in the nearby winter-recreation options. Luebeck said Fairmont frequently teams up with Discovery Ski Area for ski-and-stay packages.

Discovery is located at the Deer Lodge National Forest about 20 miles north of Anaconda. Overlooking Georgetown Lake, the ski area involves three mountain faces with a total of 67 runs, including a true double black diamond. The mountain typically opens around Thanksgiving and stays open until early April.

Cross-country ski enthusiasts hit Mount Haggin Nordic Ski Trails, located less than 10 miles from Fairmont. The cross-country course has 20 kilometers of trails groomed both for classic cross-country skiing and skate skiing, as well as some ungroomed, difficult routes.

While winter recreation is at the forefront of guests’ minds at this time of year, Fairmont is close to a number of summertime destinations too. The resort has an 18-hole golf course and is a few miles away from the Old Works Golf Course, a Jack Nicklaus-designed course that’s one of the most popular in the state. In addition, the resort is within an hour’s drive of a number of world-class fly-fishing streams.

Regardless of the season, Fairmont guests have three restaurants with three distinct dining experiences.

The Mile High Dining Room looks toward the outdoor pools and serves as a gourmet dining option, with a selection of dishes that feature choice beef, fresh fish, and other cuts. Signature dishes include stuffed rainbow trout and sesame-encrusted loin of pork.

The Springwater Café is a more casual restaurant that offers traditional fare plus local favorites, such as a pork-chop sandwich—similar those served at Butte’s famous Pork Chop John’s Restaurant—and pasties, popular in this region steeped in Irish tradition.

Whiskey Joe’s Lounge has a limited menu, but a full bar, video gambling, and live music five nights a week.

For those who want to relax and stay nearby, Fairmont has the Whispering Winds Spa on site. The spa offers traditional Swedish massage as well as a number of alternative massage therapies, such hot-rock massage and Native American rainwater massage.

But when it comes to therapeutic treatments, many claim the hot springs themselves are the best alternative. Jill Luebeck said many orthopedists in the area prescribe the hot springs for their patients, and the resort actually has started billing insurance companies for prescribed visits.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. There has been some sort of hotel or resort at the springs since the late 1800s, but before it was discovered by white settlers, Native American tribes would travel to the region’s 12 hot pots, which they called “medicine waters.”

During winter, the pools are kept at about 91 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot tubs are at 104 degrees—the maximum temperature set by Montana.

Even at those high temperatures, the waters have cooled down considerably before being placed in the pools. The water emerges from the ground at 170 degrees—hot enough for a second-degree burn — and runs through a series of tanks to cool it before being pumped into the pools.

The Luebecks, who are husband and wife, said the hot water from the springs is circulated through the resort to heat it as well.

“We’re green in that way,” Jill Luebeck said.

For more information on Fairmont Hot Springs, including its ski-and-stay packages, go to www.fairmontmontana.com.


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