During last month's spell of absolutely frigid temperatures, outdoor recreation was forced to take a back seat to hot cocoa and holiday treats 'round the fireplace. But now, the thermometer has crept above zero again, and I'm ready to hit the slopes.
Where to go, though? Luckily, Montana-especially western Montana-is filled with ski areas. For information gathering, you can't beat the web, so what follows is a quick rundown of just a few of the sites you should visit when planning your ski trip this season.
Starting close to home, visit www.montanasnowbowl.com. Missoula has been enjoying Snowbowl's 2600 vertical feet and three-mile runs for sometime now. At their site, you can check the daily snow report update, inspect the trail map, double-check ticket and package prices and read up on upcoming events. For instance, be sure to catch the 12th Annual Snowboard Jam on February 6th. Montana Snowbowl is just 20 minutes from Missoula. If you haven't been yet, shame on you.
Just as close to Missoula, Marshall Mountain is just east of town. Their site, www.marshallmtn.com, contains all the appropriate info about prices, hours, ski school and runs. Marshall Mountain boasts 1500 vertical feet and 2.5-mile runs on 480 acres of terrain, and it sounds like a significant expansion is in the works for next year. Don't miss their night skiing packages!
Three hours north of Missoula, The Big Mountain lives up to its name with over 3000 skiable acres served by 10 lifts and two high-speed quads. Their web site, at www.bigmtn.com is no less expansive, containing all the vital facts like prices, location, upcoming events and the snow report, but also containing info on snowmobiling, tubing, races and sleigh rides. There's also video clips, a photo gallery, press releases, history, stargazing and local wildlife habitat info. And, to manage this overflowing well of content, the entire site is searchable.
A little further away, Big Sky Ski Resort boasts a whopping 4180 vertical feet, 3500 acres of skiable terrain and 400 inches of annual snowfall. Located geographically south of Bozeman, and virtually at www.bigskyresort.com, Big Sky reminds us, "In Montana, we take space seriously. A ranch is roughly the size of a state back East. The speed limit is yours to decide. And 'big' only begins to describe the wide sky."
Just north of Bozeman, Bridger Bowl's site at www.bridgerbowl.com includes an opportunity to enter a drawing for a free ski package, in addition to the ski report, prices and trail map. The "screening room" contains some awesome photos of skiers and shredders doing their thing on the slopes.
I can't say I'm a huge fan of the design sense that produced Showdown Ski Area's web site at www.travelbase.com/activities/skiing/showdown/ -all the info seems to be on one long page-but most of the crucial details are available. One notable exception is a current snow report. Still, the rest is there, and the trail map comes in two sizes, so you can choose based on the speed of your connection. Located east of Great Falls, Showdown has about 1400 vertical feet and 34 trails.
Montana's newest ski area, Blacktail Mountain, has a site up already at www.blacktailmountain.com. Located between Missoula and Kalispell, Blacktail boasts 24 runs, 3 chairs and 1400 vertical feet. When I checked, their snow report was about 5 days old, but a nice feature I hadn't noticed elsewhere is on-line registration for ski school.
Discovery Basin's well-hidden web site (it took a lot of search engine-digging to turn it up), at www.skidiscovery.com, has prices, maps, lodging info, news and photos. The ski report was fresh while I was there, and the stats page offers everything you want to know: 1300 vertical feet, 38 trails, 35 percent expert runs. My sources also tell me that if you're an "extreme skier" in Montana, the back side of Discovery Basin is the place to be.
Turner Mountain, in Northwest Montana, is one I'd not heard of. It's also nothing to sneeze at, with 70 percent expert runs on over 1000 acres and over a 2,000-foot vertical drop. Couldn't find an official site for them, but a couple of informative reviews are at www.goski.com/rusamt/turner.htm and www.skimountains.com/montana/turner.html. The place sounds pretty remote (and uncrowded), with no nearby lodging and a single mile-long T-bar.
Great Divide may have a web site more updated than the one I found at ski-info.com/greatdivide/-last updated December, 1996. They're located between Great Falls and Helena, claiming 50 trails and 700 acres of terrain. For their basic info, you might prefer to head to www.mediaodyssey.com/ski/over-view.cfm/mt06.htm or www.iion.com/winternet/world/usa/mt/gdsa.html.
Finally, Lost Trail Powder Mountain, a couple hours south of Missoula on Highway 93, has a sparse little site at www.losttrail.com. The ski report was broken when I visited, but the vital stats and trail map are there: 600 acres, 16 runs, 1200 vertical feet, two lifts.
So, assuming those subzero arctic blasts will be kept at bay, I know I've some explorations to do. Armed with the sites above, you do too. Let's hit the slopes!