Located 23 miles north of Whitefish, Big Mountain is already out of the gates for the season with limited coverage. Consistently given high marks by Ski magazine for terrain and service, Big Mountain looks to improve this winter with the addition of a new T-bar that gains 400 vertical feet and opens up three new runs. Perhaps the best feature of the resort is its commitment to getting you on the slopes early and somewhat inexpensively with $20 lift tickets from now until Dec. 23. Otherwise, tickets are $44 per day/$37 half day/$37 student.
Snow Report Line: (406) 862-7669
Back in October, Big Sky had the honor of being the first resort in the whole dang Rocky Mountains to open this season, which bodes well for the resort after the meager past few winters. Like its “big” brother in Whitefish, Big Sky garners all sorts of accolades from the ski press for its vastness and virtually non-existent lift lines. A nice bonus for guests is the resort’s weekly avalanche and ski safety seminars, a must for anyone adventurous enough to delve into Big Sky’s oft-revered A to Z chutes and other steep runs. For a limited time, lift tickets are $39 but will switch to normal season rates of $54 per day/$42 half day/$42 student in the near future. For the minivan crowd, children 10 and under ski free with an adult.
Snow Report Line: (800) 995-5900
Although it’s been open for three seasons now, Blacktail can still boast being the newest ski resort in North America. Located 14 miles north of Lakeside, Blacktail was drempt then forged by a group of Flathead old timers who saw ample opportunity to compete with Western Montana’s other well established resorts by offering everything from daycare to dog sled racing. Tickets are $25 per day/$18 half day with free access for those under 7 or over 70.
Snow Report Line: (406) 844-0999
While Big Sky gets all of the press down the way of Bloody Bozeman, Bridger has gained a reputation as alternative ski hill for Gallatin locals. As an interesting piece of trivia, Bridger is a non-profit corporation, which means that all of that extra cash goes directly into improving the area’s skiing and amenities. And it’s shown in the last couple of years with lift upgrades and the addition of a snowboard half-pipe. Dec. 9 is the tentative opening date, and you can expect to pay $33 per day/$25 half day/$13 for kids under 12.
Snow Report Line: (800) 223-9606
After weathering a disappointing season in 1999, the crew at Discovery must have placated the snow gods, because they’ve been able to open early this year. While Disco isn’t brimming with special activities all winter long, they make up for it with a nice mix of unbeatable advanced terrain and long, mellow groomers. If you’re a UM student, make sure to note these four dates: Dec. 15, Jan. 9, Feb. 23 and March 16. That’s when you can score $12 lift tickets with a valid student ID. For the rest of us, Discovery runs $24 per day/$18 half day.
Snow Report Line: (406) 563-2184
Located 20 miles northwest of Helena, Great Divide is almost exactly what you’d expect from a Montana ski hill as you approach the base via the near-ghost town of Marysville. Great Divide has been working hard for the last two years to expand the terrain of the mountain by opening up 50 new trails for all ability levels. A new lift is currently being erected to service backcountry terrain, but the fire season set back its completion until early next year. Local lore also tells of a hidden trail that will take you from the base of the mountain to the Marysville Steak House, the only operational business in town.
Tickets are $25 per day/$10 for children with special rates for night skiing.
Snow Report Line: (406) 449-3746
If you happen to be a late riser, Lookout offers a unique bonus to us Missoulians in that its lift lines open and close on Pacific Standard Time. This gives you an extra hour to make the 100-mile jaunt west on I-90. Bargain hunters will rejoice upon hearing Lookout plans to keep offering 2-for-1 Thursday lift tickets and “Boomers” specials on Fridays for the over-40 set. Although there’s not a lot different terrain-wise for ’00-’01, Lookout does have expansion on the horizon, which will definitely help the area, which is currently served by one lift. Lift tickets are $20 per day/$15 half day/$18 student and kids 6 and under ski for free.
Snow Report Line: (208) 744-1301 ext. 3
Lost Trail Powder Mountain
Contrary to rumor and innuendo, Lost Trail survived the Sula Complex fire virtually unscathed. The worst of it appears to be that the fires delayed the opening of the new chair lift that has been the buzz amongst the powder crowd for the last few winters. Like Discovery, LT is more about just plain skiing instead of a bunch of special events, but it will be holding a demo day with Burton Snowboards on Dec. 14 and a telemark demo day on Dec. 16 just for kicks. Lost Trail keeps the pricing simple, too with $20 adult lift tickets and $10 for kids.
Snow Report Line: (406) 821-3211
Even though they haven’t finished the new lift to replace the T-Bar, Marshall makes up for it with the most comprehensive palate of events anywhere in Western Montana. Whether it’s night skiing, boardercross, the telemark challenge or furniture racing, Marshall keeps it real for the masses. Lift tickets are $19 a day/$15 for 4 hours/$12 for two hours/$12 at night in addition to various special promotions throughout the season.
Snow Report Line: (406) 258-6000
Despite being one of Montana’s smaller areas, Maverick, located west of Dillon, tries to make up for it with reasonable lift tickets and an unheard of program called the “great snow guarantee.” Seriously, if you don’t think the snow is good enough within a half-hour of purchasing your lift ticket, Maverick will gladly give you a voucher for another day of skiing for free. Tickets run $20 per day/$14 half day/$12 weekdays.
Snow Report Line: (406) 834-3454
If you’ve spent a winter in Missoula, chances are that you’ve been to the ‘Bowl at least once or twice. You might think that the five-time winner of the Independent’s “Best of Missoula” award could just take it easy, but the folks up there just can’t. This season will offer expanded weekend and holiday shuttle service and the continuation of free rentals and half-price lessons every Tuesday in January. To kick the season off, the ‘Bowl will host a demo day with Board of Missoula on Dec. 16. Currently, the ‘Bowl is offering discount tickets with limited terrain open, but during the regular season lift tickets will be $29 a day/$25 half day/$26 student.
Snow Report Line: (406) 549-9696
Turner is what you might classify as the ultimate skier’s mountain. The mountain, located 22 miles north of Libby, is entirely run by volunteers, and if you are willing to spend an hour manning the ski hut, they’ll even give you a half-price lift ticket for your generosity. Don’t let the T-bar lift scare you, either; Transworld Snowboarding reported a few years ago that Turner’s ungroomed runs were good, it didn’t matter what kind of lift they have. $17 per day gets you on the slope, and come prepared, as Turner has no qualms about being primitive.
Snow Report Line: (406) 293-4317
Web: www.libby.org/skiturner #