The Ultimate Guide to Winter in Montana 

The best in skiing, skating, soaking, escaping, partying and staying warm.

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.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

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.

Top Choice

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.

Alex Sakariassen

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

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 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 for more.

Go see the Olympics. The 2010 Winter Games take place in Vancouver, which is just nine hours away. Visit 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.

click to enlarge Dogs love treats almost as much as you’ll love cross country skiing. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

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.

Learn to surf at Silver Mountain. The Kellogg, Idaho, resort—just two hours west of Missoula—features an enormous indoor water park and wave pool, and offers hour-long surfing lessons on Saturdays and Sundays. Oh, and there's some skiing at the place too. Visit for more.

Top Choice

Rent a cabin at The Jack

The Lumberjack Saloon off Highway 12 is a self-contained complex of down-home, rustic pleasure. The log cabin bar on 7000 Graves Road overlooks a firepit and large yard populated by four tiny but clean rental cabins. The cabins rent for $65 a night for one bed or $75 for four beds—that's beds, not bedrooms. This isn't a getaway for the highbrow. But the cabins are efficient and cute, and include kitchenettes, full bathrooms and straightforward sleeping space.

It's not really about sleeping anyway. What truly makes "The Jack" a gem is the fun you'll have hanging out in the saloon all night. Yes, you might witness a fistfight or find yourself inexplicably covered in peppermint schnapps. But the cozy isolation of the joint promises a little more magic than your average downtown rowdy bar. It's open year-round, but winter time at the saloon means hanging out drinking whiskey and beers in the warmth of a large log cabin bar full of hospitable locals, good-timing forestry students in Carrharts and flannels, and random out-out-of-towners. It promises bar food galore, winter barbequing and cheerful sing-a-longs. And you can wander outside and warm yourself over the roar of a bonfire as snow falls.

On weekends, the saloon hosts country and cover bands of varying calibers, and if you're into dancing, you'll probably find someone who knows western swing. Best of all, when you've had 12 too many shots of Jägermeister, you can stumble out the front door of the bar and into the comfort of your cabin (you must reserve ahead of time) just a few yards away, where you can sleep it off until breakfast.

Erika Fredrickson

Nine non-traditional ways to play

Be like the guy on this week's cover. Grab a case of Rainier and enter the 2010 Pike on Ice fishing derby on Seeley and Salmon lakes. The competition will be held Jan. 16 and 17.

Play softball in the snow. Put together a team and enter the annual Blizzardball invitational softball tournament at Fort Missoula Jan. 30 and 31. This year's team theme is "Blue." Find out more at

Shoot things and ski. Compete in the Seeley Lake Challenge Biathlon on Jan. 23, hosted by the Seeley Lake Chamber of Commerce. Bring your own gun or borrow one. It's Nordic skiing combined with shooting balloon targets, with different races for both beginners and advanced. They even serve burgers, donuts and hot chocolate.

Join the Whitefish Curling Club at the Stumptown Ice Den. Saturday practices are open to the public from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Cost to cover ice time is $10, or buy a season membership for $20. More at

Win $1,000 in the Fifth annual Pond Skim Competition in Whitefish. Registration for the April 3 event is $25 per person, and wild costumes are a must. Have to be 21 or older to participate.

Try snowkiting on Georgetown Lake Feb. 13 and 14. The public demo and kitercross race is hosted by Montana Kite Sports.

Test your luck at the Moonlight Snowmobile Poker Run. The Snow Warriors Clubhouse is just a three-mile snowmobile ride from Hooper Park in Lincoln, and it's the place for poker on a full moon. Games start at 6 p.m., so ride fast.

Run in Missoula's Frost Fever 5K Fun Run on Jan. 30. Times and registration fees to be announced in December. Keep your eyes peeled and your quads warm.

click to enlarge Ice fishing and napping: two great things that go great together. - PHOTO BY ALEX SAKARIASSEN

Freeze your spandex off in the 31st Snow Joke Half-Marathon. Registration is $10. Race starts at 11 a.m. on Feb. 27 in Seeley Lake.

Grow a pair and try the annual Flathead Lake Polar Bear Plunge. The Raven Brew Pub in Woods Bay hosts the shivery dip every Jan. 1 at 2 p.m.

Seven signature spectator events

Northern Division Freestyle Competition at Snowbowl. We recommend watching this annual two-day event (Feb. 13 and 14) from the bar deck. The competition draws the best mogul bombers, freestylers and jumpers around.

Lookout Pass' "Battle on the Border" slopestyle competition. Freestyle skiers and 'boarders duke it out for bi-state bragging rights during this annual invitational on Feb. 21.

Snowbowl's annual Gelande Championship. Jumpers from around the country compete for an $8,000 cash purse—the largest on the Gelande circuit—on Feb. 27 and 28. Three local brothers—Rolf, Erik and Brent Wilson—have traded the trophy amongst themselves for years. It's a signature Missoula event.

U.S. Telemark National Championships at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Watch free-heeler Kelsey Schmid-Sommer of Whitefish, the four-time women's champion, try to defend her title March 18–20. Volunteers earn a lift ticket voucher for each day worked.

Flathead Sled Dog Days and the Seeley Lake Sled Dog Race. You've always wanted to see some good ol' Montana mushing. The Flathead race (Jan. 8–10) takes place in the Stillwater State Forest while the Seeley Lake race (Jan. 15–17) goes from Lincoln to Seeley and back.

Top Choice

2010 National Finals Ski-Joring Races

Outdoor recreation tends to take interesting, illogical turns when temperatures fall and blood-alcohol levels rise. Enter skijoring, sort of the Amish equivalent of winter waterskiing, whereby a skier is towed behind a horse going full-gallop down a snowy road. Any number of obstacles can factor: jumps, hoops, slalom poles, etc. One thing's for sure, it's safer to play spectator than competitor.

Good thing Red Lodge hosts the 2010 National Finals Ski-Joring Races March 12–14. Skiers from across the continent will hold on for dear life in the name of a $20,000 prize. A separate long-jump competition is scheduled, with record distances of more than 60 feet. Chances of viewing a grisly accident are pretty good. Just ask Chris Anthony, a professional skier who botched an on-camera skijoring attempt in downtown Leadville, Colo., for a Warren Miller ski film in 2008. Anthony walked away from his face-first spill, but not without an inch-long tear at the corner of his mouth. What else is winter for but cheering complete strangers on to personal injury?

Alex Sakariassen

Our nine favorite holiday traditions

Cut down your own Christmas tree. Pick up permits at the Missoula Ranger District office, located at Fort Missoula, for just $5.

Bask in the glow of Missoula's Parade of Lights. The downtown spectacle starts at 6 p.m. on Dec. 5. Santa arrives at the Florence Building at 1 p.m.

Take a tour of local Christmas light displays. We recommend the Rattlesnake and University neighborhoods.

Drunken caroling. Or, you know, just caroling throughout your neighborhood. But a little Jameson always makes "Jingle Bells" more fun.

Sit on Santa's lap. Who cares if you're too old or jaded to believe he'll finally bring you that Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle? You'd shoot your eye out anyway.

Go see The Nutcracker. Garden City Ballet's annual production runs Dec. 18–20 at the University of Montana's Montana Theatre. Call 240-6042 for tickets.

click to enlarge Staring at a hole in the ground never felt so good. - PHOTO BY ALEX SAKARIASSEN

Spin a dreidel. Don't know what we're talking about? Learn more from the good folks at Har Shalom (3035 Russell Street), or visit their Dec. 18 vegetarian latke potluck dinner, which is followed by dreidel games and music.

Eat yourself into a coma. Maybe use a recipe or two from our holiday food issue last week.

Build a gingerbread house from scratch. Don't succumb to the boxed variety available from Costco.

Top Choice

Stage your own live nativity scene

So, you ask, how does one go about staging a live nativity scene?

First, you need a handful of friends. At a minimum: Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, three wise men and an angel. Shepherds are optional. Mary should be demure and modestly clad. Tall hats are a nice touch for the wise men, and Jesus wears a swaddling cloth. I've found that a sheet twisted around the diaper area works well. It gets a little chilly, so you might want to wear trousers under your swaddling cloth.

After priming your nativity posse, I suggest taking the scene on the road. My crew, which included an archangel with a broken wing and a blue heeler wearing faux reindeer antlers (to impersonate a sheep), filed into Mary's Volkswagen van and hit Missoula's slant streets. Our rolling nativity scene culminated in Christmas caroling, and we found Madonna's "Like a Prayer" set the right tone while spreading a delicious dose of holiday cheer.

Baby Jesus 2006

Seven ways to drink your way through the season

Make the perfect hot toddy. Our recipe: Two shots of rye whiskey, one lemon slice, one sugar cube and hot water. Stir with a cinnamon stick.

Make snow cones with actual snow—and vodka. Our resident bartender suggests filling your cone with snow, then adding the vodka. Some of the snow will melt. Add more snow, then Kool-Aid for color and flavor.

Trade beads during the Mardi Gras celebration at the Snowbowl bar. This would be an excellent time to try the 'bowl's famous Bloody Mary.

Tour Missoula's three award-winning breweries. Our suggestion: Start with the Slow Elk at Big Sky (5417 Trumpeter Way), then travel south to grab a Doppel Bock at Bayern (1507 Montana Street) and end with a Cold Smoke at Kettlehouse (602 Myrtle Street). Consider hiring a designated driver.

click to enlarge No need to hurry. The beer won’t run out before you’re done. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

Wear your best platform shoes and knock back the pints at the Whitefish Winter Carnival Disco Party. This year's citywide celebration—including the grand parade—is scheduled for Feb. 5–7.

Educate yourself about single-malt scotch. Suggested starting point: The Rhino (158 Ryman Street) stocks roughly 50 different single-malts.

Toast in the New Year at the Northern Lights Saloon in Polebridge. Getting there can take a while, but the stories last forever.

Top Choice

Play Polish Horseshoes, aka Snowbee

Snowmen melt, but victory lasts forever. That's why, if you're looking for a new way to frolic in the snow this winter, you should drop the carrots and coal, call your buds, and try the addictive winter drinking game often called Polish Horseshoes. (We prefer a name less derogatory, like, say, "Snowbee.")

What you'll need:

Four people

Two ski poles

One Frisbee

Lots of beer

How to play:

Stick the ski poles in the snow, 25 feet or so apart.

Place an empty beer bottle or can atop each pole.

Split up into two teams of two, and stand behind the poles.

Throw the Frisbee back and forth, trying to knock the beer bottle off the poles.

Drink beer.


Three points for hitting the beer bottle, two for hitting the ski pole and causing the beer bottle to fall off

The receiving team can negate points by catching the Frisbee or beer bottle. If a Frisbee hits a beer bottle, but the receiving team catches the bottle, the throwing team only receives 2 points. If the receiving team catches the beer bottle and the Frisbee, the throwing team only gets 1 point.

You must be holding your beer at all times.

Play to 11. Loser has to do something cold and funny.

Matthew Frank

Six ways to spend the season indoors

Ride the waterslides at Currents. The indoor pool at McCormick Park features two fantastic indoor slides and a whirlpool. Note: Weekend crowds can be intimidating.

click to enlarge Honestly, it’s better than Wii. - PHOTO BY ALEX SAKARIASSEN

Try Bikram yoga. The key here is the heated room. And, we suppose, the two breathing exercises and 26 asanas central to Bikram yoga. Missoula Bikram Yoga is located at 211 N. Higgins Avenue.

Witness the greatness of Anthony Johnson. Missoula may be a football town, but the current point guard at the University of Montana is on pace to become the next great Griz. Considered the best player in the Big Sky Conference, the senior started the season averaging 22.3 points, 4.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game. The Griz host Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado Dec. 4 and 5, respectively.

Turn up the heat in your house and host a beach party. We suggest beach balls, tiki torches, drinks served with little umbrellas, mandatory bathing suit attire and—here's an important thing—establishing a coat room.

Take in four movies at the theater in one day. In Missoula, this involves the Carmike 10 or Village 6, and generally requires missing any three-hour epics. But, this weekend you could hit the 12:20 matinee of 2012, the 4 p.m. show of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Where the Wild Things Are at 7 and A Christmas Carol in 3-D at 9:50. Just keep an eye on the popcorn intake.

Watch teeth-shattering hits at a Maulers game. Missoula's resident minor league hockey team features some legitimate young talent, plus two freaks of nature: 6-foot-9 defenseman Sean Sanford and 6-foot-6 forward Jake Schutte. The Glacier Ice Rink offers thrillingly close vantage points to the action.

click to enlarge Terrain parks simulate highway construction for your snowboarding pleasure. - PHOTO BY ALEX SAKARIASSEN

Five practical possibilities for improving your karma

Actually shovel your sidewalk. Then shovel your neighbor's.

Pick up the dog poop in your yard. It's easier when it's frozen.

Write a love note. If you're lonely, write a note to the Indy. We'll always love you. Well, most of you.

Donate your old winter coat to the Poverello Center. Make sure the item's clean, and help keep someone warm this winter. The Pov's located at 535 Ryman Street.

Replace all your Christmas lights with new LED lights. The LED are more expensive, but they reportedly save 80 percent more energy.

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