From the time this issue hits the stands to the first day of spring, we have 116 days to take advantage of another Montana winter. Many of you may already have the next four months set with meticulous plans to shred the slopes, lounge at the bar or simply hibernate. For you, we toast your focus and preparation, and wish you much powder, beer nuts and time with your Snuggie.
For those of you still looking for a few ideas, or perhaps some thoughtful propositions from seasoned locals, consider these pages a warm-up to your winter itinerary. We've looked into some of the region's most outstanding, outlandish or outright-odd offerings, and covered a little of everything for everyone. Ski bums get their own category, as do bar flies and shut-ins. We've also listed choice getaways, can't-miss winter events, our favorite holiday traditions and a karmic to-do list.
One hundred and sixteen days may sound like an eternity, but spring will be here before you know it. Don't dally. Get out there—or stay inside—and start exploring. Remember, few things warm the soul better than a new adventure—and the perfect hot toddy.
Seven sick ski adventures
Ski in two states—Idaho and Montana—in one day at Lost Trail Powder Mountain. The base area is just off Montana Highway 93. Five lifts and nearly 40 runs are yours for just 34 bones.
Hike Point 6 off Montana Snowbowl for some easy off-area turns. By boot-packing up the ridge just off Snowbowl's Nutcracker, you can add several hundred more vertical feet to your run. The south face feeds back toward the resort, but be mindful of skier etiquette and remember: When you're off-area, you're on your own.
Cave to nostalgia and hike Marshall Mountain for some skiing. Take Highway 200 from East Missoula to Marshall Canyon Road and keep your eyes peeled for the unmistakable cut of ski runs. The hill is just over five miles from downtown Missoula, so park, hike and enjoy.
Indulge in a moonlight ski trip up the Rattlesnake. Cruise up Rattlesnake Drive to the trailhead, about 4.5 miles north of Missoula. Follow Rattlesnake Creek or take a turn up Spring Gulch.
Try car skiing. It's just what it sounds like. Hook a rope to a car. Hold on. Pray.
Cross-country ski at Lolo Pass. The pass—about 45 miles southwest of Missoula on Highway 12—tops out around 5,200 feet and offers a number of scenic ski trails of varying lengths. Finish a chilly day with a hot drink at the Lumberjack Saloon or the roadside Bearcave Bar and Grill.
Tour the south-of-Missoula ski loop
Suffering a little cabin fever? Itching to get the hell out of Dodge? Skiers know after a big snow, sticking around town just isn't an option. So play hooky from work and head south on U.S. Highway 93 to Lost Trail Powder Mountain for a Friday away. When the slopes close at 4 p.m., have a few drinks and call it an early night. With Maverick Mountain just 75 miles farther, even the least rabid powder hound won't mind rising a little early for some new terrain. Take Montana Highway 43 east to Highway 278, then loop north on the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway. Well off the beaten path, Maverick touts itself as one of "Montana's best kept secrets." With Anaconda about an hour away, you can make it back to civilization well before last call. Stay the night, then return to Missoula on Highway 1, stopping at Discovery Ski Area outside Phillipsburg to polish off the weekend. Your knees might ache on Monday, but your coworkers' stories of watching football games and walking the dog will sound mundane in comparison.
Eight exquisite escapes
Sleep in an igloo or snow cave at Glacier National Park. Spend a few days—or more—cross-country skiing throughout the park, and sleep in the surprising comfort of these accommodations. Prices start at $215. Call 1-800-719-1328 or visit www.montanatours.us.
Take a snowcoach tour in Yellowstone. See bison and elk in the country's oldest national park from the comfort of what feels like your living room. Several snowcoach operators run daylong tours from West Yellowstone. An eight-hour trip generally runs in the $100-per-person range. Check out www.yellowstonenationalpark.com/snowcoach.htm for more.
Rent a yurt in the Swan Mountains. Up to eight people can stay in Yurtski's 20-foot canvas sanctuary, which includes beds, pads, dishes, two lanterns, a three-burner cook stove and a large table with seating. Non-guided access runs a minimum of $140 and catered visits start at $300 per day. Visit www.yurtski.com for more.
Go see the Olympics. The 2010 Winter Games take place in Vancouver, which is just nine hours away. Visit www.cosport.com for ticket information. At last glance, we found tickets for women's freestyle skiing on Feb. 23, and most of the men's ice hockey rounds the week of Feb. 15.
Tell ghost stories in a Garnet Ghost Town cabin. The Bureau of Land Management rents cabins furnished with beds, dishes, gas cook stoves, lanterns and wood heat stoves starting at just $30 a night. Garnet, located just 40 miles east of Missoula, was an active gold-mining town 100 years ago with 1,000 residents, 31 businesses and 13 saloons, but was deserted once the gold played out. Call 329-3914 for cabin availability.
Fly to Vegas. Allegiant Air may get you on the baggage fees, but a one-way ticket to Las Vegas still costs as little as $39.99.