With only two double chairs and an awkward layout, Montana Snowbowl might not impress upon first glance, but its 2,600-foot vertical drop, burly terrain, and satisfying slackcountry options make for a sneaky big and varied resort. The snow doesn't get as deep here as nearby Lost Trail Powder Mountain or Lookout Pass. Coverage can be thin and icy at the base, where warm temperatures can allow unseasonable rain to fall. But if you can ski the whole mountain, there's a lot to like, and when conditions are good, few resorts surpass it.
Located just outside of Missoula on the edge of the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness, Snowbowl includes 1,200 acres of maintained runs, but the dominant feature is the namesake bowl itself, which offers a full day's worth options for adventurous experts. From the top, riders can attack the open parks of East Bowl, the long fall-line of West Ridge, or explore the trees in either direction. Out-of-the-way powder stashes tucked into the folds of the topography await those with the desire and patience to find them.
If you're into racking up vert or maching down groomers, you're better off at Whitefish Mountain or Big Sky. It takes two lift rides and some 45 minutes to complete a lap from the summit of Snowbowl. The two-person Grizzly chairlift carries riders from the base area to a 7,000-foot ridge, where you can choose to either dive back down the front side, or drop off the back toward the LaVelle Creek chair, which reaches to the summit of Big Sky Mountain and serves generally milder, north-facing terrain above 6,500 feet. Beware: Lines can grow up to 10 minutes long at the LaVelle Creek chair on weekends. In that case, you might just want to head to the bar, where the famous Bloody Marys and excellent eats attract patrons with no intention of making turns.
Some novices knock Snowbowl for a lack of beginner and intermediate runs. That should be addressed by a planned expansion on TV Mountain to the northwest, site of the original resort in the 1940s and '50s, where Snowbowl hopes to install two new chair lifts and cut runs adding 1,000 new acres.