When you hear the words, “Mom and Pop ski area,” you might picture a quaint small town resort with perhaps 200 feet of vertical and maybe as many skiable acres. Not so in Montana. Here are 7 awesome Montana ski areas you’ve never heard of, each with over 1,000 feet of vertical and plenty of annual snowfall.
Lost Trail Powder Mountain
Located on the Montana/Idaho border in Sula, MT, Lost Trail Powder Mountain lives up to its name. The mountain boasts an average annual snowfall of 325 inches, which, combined with the fact that the ski area is closed Monday-Wednesday, creates legendary “powder Thursdays.” On powder Thursdays, skiers and boarders flock to the mountain to ski on three days worth of untouched fresh snow. Lost Trail Powder Mountain has a vertical drop of 1,800 feet and 1,800 acres of skiable terrain spread across two mountains. One unique aspect of Lost Trail’s location is the so-called Idaho Chair, a chairlift that brings riders to the Montana-Idaho border. It’s not every day one can cross a state line on skis!
Discovery Ski Area
Discovery Ski Area, outside of Phillipsburg, MT, offers 2,200 skiable acres with a vertical drop of 2,388 feet. From the long, flowy, beginner-friendly Gold Bug run, to the wide-open impeccably groomed runs off the Anaconda chairlift, to the thigh-burning gamut of intensely steep double-black diamond tree runs on the backside, Discovery Ski Area’s terrain offers something for everyone. In fact, the skiing is often so good on the backside that there is a spinner at the top of the Limelight chairlift to help riders decide where to go for their next lap. After a long day crushing out hot laps (the Limelight lift ride is only 4:30 minutes long and accesses 1,000 feet of vertical), enjoy a cruiser on a groomer before digging into one of Discovery’s legendary chocolate chip cookies.
Lookout Pass Ski Area
Lookout Pass Ski Area receives a whopping 400 inches of snow on average. Sitting squarely on the Montana/Idaho border, Lookout Pass has 530 skiable acres; however, the ski area has a planned expansion to nearby Eagle Peak. This expansion will double the ski area’s skiable acreage as well as increase the area’s vertical from 1,150 feet to 1,650 feet. Lookout’s first lift was a rope tow built in 1935. The rope tow was powered by an abandoned car’s engine found on the nearby highway. The ski school at Lookout Pass was founded in 1940 and is billed as Lookout’s Famous Free Ski School. To this day, the ski school offers lessons free of charge and has taught over 75,000 skiers and boarders.
Red Lodge Mountain
Red Lodge Mountain’s slogan reads, “Montana skiing, pure and simple.” It is easy to see how Red Lodge Mountain embodies this claim with nonexistent lift lines, a 2,400-foot vertical drop, 1,635 skiable acres, and 250 inches of fresh every year coupled with sunshine 70% of the season. Bluebird pow days? Yes, please! Red Lodge Mountain doubles down on their Montanan attitude, saying, “The people of Red Lodge are not folks who roll over easily without a fight; even if it means taking on Mother Nature.” For Red Lodge Mountain, this means constructing Montana’s most extensive snowmaking system, ensuring that as soon as the temperature drops, locals can get a jump on making turns even before the snow starts to fall.
When Montana Snowbowl first began operations in 1962, it was billed as the resort with the most vertical in the Pacific Northwest with 2,600 feet of vertical. Infamous for its long mogul runs, a visit to Montana Snowbowl is a blast into the past as the ski area has two vintage Riblet double chairs. In January 2020 Snowbowl opened their Snow Park expansion which is located on nearby TV Mountain. No word on whether or not the ski area’s third lift is also a vintage double, which would make Snowbowl unique even among Montana ski areas.
Great Divide Ski Area
Great Divide Ski Area offers visitors 1,600 acres of skiable terrain, with the most terrain parks of any Montana resort at six terrain parks. Great Divide offers night skiing on Fridays, with the option to rent out the mountain for a private ski party on Saturday nights. The cost of throwing your own private mountain party isn’t listed on the area’s website, but adult full-day lift tickets cost a shockingly affordable $50. Great Divide also lets intrepid skiers and boarders hike up to earn their turns before and after the mountain’s operating hours, although they advise folks to bring a headlamp at night and to avoid the snowmaking equipment.
Blacktail Mountain Ski Area
Unlike most resorts, the parking area at Blacktail Mountain Ski Area is at the top of the mountain. Instead of schlepping your gear to the bottom of a chairlift to wait in a lift line to ride the lift to finally take a run, at Blacktail, skiers and riders are able to get a lap in before ever needing to ride a lift. Not only that, but Blacktail Mountain offers phenomenal views of pristine Flathead Lake, which is the largest freshwater lake west of the Great Lakes. Blacktail Mountain has over 1,000 acres of skiable terrain with 1,440 feet of vertical. Blacktail Mountain is also a stop on the Montana Mom and Pop Ski Area Tour, which is a road trip map that details a route connecting all ten of the family-owned and operated ski areas in Montana in under 1,500 miles.
Most people have heard of Whitefish Mountain Resort, Big Sky Resort, and maybe even Bridger Bowl; however, there are many unique Montana ski areas, where the lift lines are short, tickets are cheap, and the local flavor is richly Montanan. If you’re looking for fresh turns off the beaten track, consider paying one of these ski areas a visit. You won’t regret it.