Fairmont, Discovery offer cold, warm welcomes to travelers
It’s the ultimate recipe for the winter season: Take one downhill-fatigued skier or snowboarder, place in a steaming pool of natural spring water, and let soak until well rested. Dry off and repeat as needed.
In western Montana, that cold-weather combo is the main attraction at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, where the sprawling natural pools are surrounded by some of the state’s finest winter sport opportunities.
The resort, located between Yellowstone and Glacier national parks and just a few miles off Interstate 90, is a year-round destination for those seeking to carve in Montana’s beautiful backcountry, as well as for those looking to beat the winter doldrums by soaking in 100-plus degree temperatures.
“We’re surrounded by national forest and outdoor opportunities,” Fairmont General Manager Steve Luebeck said. “So the only thing it’s limited by is how far you want to go out and what you want to do. You can snowmobile in just about any direction you want.”
Situated a few miles outside Anaconda, Mont., and a half-hour drive from Butte, Fairmont is roughly 300 miles east of Spokane – about a 4.5 hour drive along I-90.
The hot springs resort, the largest and most-modern of its kind in the state, has all the wintry weather amenities covered.
“It’s all about the hot springs,” Luebeck says about the resort’s cold-weather appeal. “It’s primarily ski during the day and soak in the hot springs in the evening.”
Featuring two Olympic-sized swimming pools and two mineral soaking pools – one of each indoors and outdoors, the resort’s hot springs are supplied by a continuous flow of 155-degree natural hot water, though the pools stay between 92 degrees and 104 degrees year round.
The outdoor pool is 164-by-60-feet, roughly half the size of an football field; the indoor pool is slightly smaller. A 350-foot fully enclosed water slide, which received a $250,000 renovation two years ago, dumps passengers into the outdoor pool.
The water slide wasn’t the only thing upgraded recently. The entire resort underwent a facelift in the past five years, $2.5 million in the last two years alone. The pools were resurfaced and repainted, the indoor pool was redesigned and new carpet and paint was applied throughout, including at the Whispering Winds Spa and at the resort’s three on-site restaurants.
“It’s a resort-wide makeover,” Luebeck says, “and there is more work still in the pipes.”
Fairmont has more than 150 rooms, 120 of which have queen size-beds and all of which have been remodeled recently. Another 25 rooms are suites, from a two-story honeymoon/bridal suite with a hot tub to roomy hospitality suites complete with 60-inch flat-screen TVs, which, Luebeck says, “are perfect for Superbowl parties.”
“There are lots of different alternatives,” he adds, “Anywhere from two to 10 people can occupy these rooms.”
For thrill-seekers and outdoor enthusiasts, nearby backcountry options are as varied as the Big Sky state’s landscape.
Discovery Ski Area, just a half-hour drive from Fairmont and overlooking Georgetown Lake in the Deer Lodge National Forest, offers 67 runs on 2,100 ski patrolled acres. With a base elevation of 5,770 feet, rising up to the summit’s 8,158-foot peak, the three faces of the ski area present a smorgasbord of slopes covering all ability levels over the 2,388-foot vertical drop, which sees some 215 inches of annual snowfall.
The family-friendly resort, typically open from Thanksgiving through early April, also features a recently remodeled lodge and cafeteria, bar, ski rentals and sales shop, as well as ski instruction and a Kinderski-program for kids ages 3-6.
Beginner and intermediate runs, which make up 45 percent of the terrain, are found on the front face, while the remaining 55 percent of the advanced and expert slopes are just off the backside and Granite Chair’s steeper groomed runs and mogul skiing. Three double lifts, four triples and one surface rope tow riders up the mountainside.
“We’re a place for the whole family to come and have fun,” says Ciche Pitcher, vice president of resort operations. “Whether it’s just a couple looking to come up and ski advanced runs together, or a place to bring your kids and teach them to ski for the first time, we have something for everyone.”
There’s also snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing within a short drive of Fairmont. Less than 10 miles away to the west, the national forest is home to the Mount Haggin Nordic trail system. The cross-country trails, located on Mill Creek Road (S.H. 274) 11 miles south of Highway 1 near Anaconda, feature 20 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails; 10 km groomed for skate skiing, and 15 km groomed for classic skiing.
“It’s probably the best Nordic trail system in Montana,” Luebeck said.
Nearby, snowmobilers can find a treasure trove of trails in the forested areas by the resort. And Anaconda has a family-wide appeal, with shopping and an ice skating rink at the heart of the historic downtown.
Fairmont and Discovery also offer several ski-and-stay packages. There are one- and two-night packages with lift tickets and accommodations at the hotel (including access to the water slide). The romance package, a popular deal around Valentine’s Day, includes passes to Discovery, plus chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne through room service.
“We’ve got a package deal for just about everyone,” Luebeck says. “There’s a lot of different ways to do it.”
Adds Discovery’s Pitcher: “The combination of the two resorts really works out for us because we can offer something for everyone in the family.”