There's a lot of mystique associated with Montana—and rightly so. The place is a poem. With wide-open spaces, a friendly population of rugged individualist types, and mountains that are equally awe inspiring and humbling, it is the place to escape the hectic pace of points more populated. And for the snowboarder in search of a few empty mountains to get lost in, the southwest corner of the state is a Shangri-la.
Bozeman is the epicenter of the shred in southwest Montana. There are three resorts just a short drive from town and more accessible backcountry than you can shake your pow stick at. And with Montana State University drawing a steady stream of nature loving coeds to town, the place is alive with the energy of youth. The young community is only complemented by the older working-class folks who found something, or everything, in southwest Montana and decided to settle down and indulge in a lifestyle that's slow of pace, high in quality, and found few other places in the States.
But, be warned, it gets bitter cold in this part of the planet. Temperatures can and will dip down to 40 below in the winter, and if it's a good season, snow will fall from October to May—maybe even June. The harsh conditions keep fair-weather shreds away, and because southwest Montana isn't as convenient to fly to as say, Utah, Colorado, or Cali, you'll find that crowds are pretty much non-existent. Snowboarding in Montana is as good as you've heard, or imagined, and worth finding out for yourself.
Photography by Ryan Turner
Shane Stalling blasting an air-to-fakie out of Big Sky’s Superpipe with Lone Peak looming in the background.
Where To Ride
Bridger Bowl—Locals Only
Located just twenty minutes from downtown Bozeman, Bridger Bowl is the local's hill. But it isn't just the resort's proximity that makes it the spot of choice for Bozemanites—Bridger gets it good. The place has a real mom-and-pop feel and is actually a co-op that's essentially owned by those who shred it. The lifts are old and slow—only one high-speed quad here—but this only helps keep the fresh snow from being slashed into oblivion by 10:00 a.m. And Bridger gets more than its share of blower. A couple winters back the mountain received 72 inches in one night. True story. And if you're willing to do some hiking, a slog up "The Ridge" can yield some truly world-class pow slashing, just make sure you're equipped with a beacon, shovel, probe, and a buddy because you can't hike the ridge without them.
Distance from Bozeman: 13 miles
Best for: Neck-deep powder, tight tree runs, and hike-accessed freshies
Web site: bridgerbowl.com
Josh Marcus getting pitted at Bridger Bowl.
Moonlight Basin—Your Own Private Resort
Situated on the northeast face of Lone Peak and sharing a ridge with Big Sky, Moonlight was built from scratch in the mid-1990s. And while most mountains in Montana could be considered undiscovered gems, Moonlight remains the best least known resort in the state. The terrain is diverse with everything from long rolling groomers to narrow hairball chutes. Did we mention the crowds? There'll be days when there are only 100 people on hill, and this is a full-sized resort we're talking about. No joke, the place can look like a ghost town, mind you a ghost town with the kind of amenities millionaires are accustomed to. What's more, the owners (former ranch hands from a nearby town) are doing their best to be good stewards of the land by balancing development with a number of environmental initiatives.
Distance from Bozeman: 60 miles
Best for: Empty runs and a lap-of-luxury après experience.
Web site: moonlightbasin.com
Big Sky—World-Class Riding
Big Sky is the full resort package. It has high-rise hotels in the base area, mansions and condos popping up all around, and more absentee homeowners than locals. But it also has more than a dozen lifts, a gondola, a tram, some of the gnarliest inbounds terrain in the Lower 48, and two parks and a Superpipe. The mountain claims an average of 400 inches of snow a year and boasts 3,812 acres of shreddable terrain, which allows plenty of room for riders to spread out and makes liftlines almost nonexistent. The longest line will be for the tram, but the wait is worth it when you arrive at the top of Lone Peak and get to take your pick from all kinds of completely exposed big mountain lines. If you want to really test your ability to link turns on a 40-degree slope, give the Big Couloir a go. You'll have to sign out with ski patrol, have a buddy, a beacon, probe, shovel, and a cool head to keep your wits about you.
Distance from Bozeman: 60 miles
Best for: Big mountain steeps and parks built for every level of rider
Web site: bigskyresort.com
Kyle Miller finding his way up and over one of the many log jibs stashed in and around Big Sky’s terrain parks. Photo: Liam Gallagher
Bozeman has long been called a cow town, but as with all places cool, it has seen a lot of out-of-staters transplanting. Burberry scarves and Dockers are replacing cowboy hats and Carhartts. And while full-sized pickup trucks remain the preferred mode of transportation, expect to see a couple Hummers polluting around town. This melting pot of demographics promises to offer a little something for everyone.
Good Cajun food served up in portions that'll fill your gut and priced so it doesn't empty your wallet. The jambalaya and étouffée are sure to warm you up after braving the bitter cold in the Bridgers.
1520 West Main Street, Bozeman. (406) 994-0188
Every mountain town needs a good burrito joint, and the Wrap Shack is Big Sky's. It's owned by some of the nicest ski-bums turned business owners in Big Sky and as their slogan touts, they "roll 'em fat." They also pour a mean margarita. Oh, and grab a couple of the raspberry bars or a slice of banana bread on the way up to the hill and you won't have to stop for lunch.
Westfork Meadows, Big Sky. (406) 995-3099
Gourmet Gas Station
This place is easy to miss because it's actually a gas station with a restaurant attached to the side, so keep your eyes peeled and pull over for breakfast on your way up to Big Sky. And as with every eatery in Montana, you can expect oversized portions at reasonable prices.
76250 Gallatin Road, Gallatin Gateway. (406) 763-4564
MacKenzie River Pizza Company
A Montana chain of pizza places with gourmet pies (and great local brews) for any and all tastes. Its rustic décor will really give you that Big Sky country feel.
232 East Main Street, Bozeman. (406) 587-0055
The Garage Soup Shack & Mesquite Grill
A huge selection of soups, burgers, fries—in a renovated garage setting. What more could you want?
451 East Main Street, Bozeman (406) 585-8558
The signs don’t lie at Bridger.
The bars on Main Street in Bozeman are full of college kids, farm hands, Hollywood types, and dirtbag shreds. Plus, drinks are cheap and served stiff. And since Bozeman sits on Interstate 90, it's a stopping-off point for bands touring east or west, so a few of the bars manage to pull in a surprising number of live shows.
The Zebra Lounge
Although its dungeon-esque quality can be a little less than inviting, it's one of the best places to see live music in Bozeman. There're lots of couches that are great for flopping down on after a long day on hill. College kids fill the joint, so if it's love or at least some fleeting romance you're looking for, the Zebra is your best bet. Plus there are always some crazy drink specials.
321 East Main Street, Bozeman. zebracocktaillounge.com
The Black Bear
More often than not, the scene at the Black Bear is depressing, but on the right night, it can be damn fun. The spot pops when bands decide to do a show in Big Sky. It's a small joint, so it fills up fast, and if the music is right and the crowd is into it, it can transform into a place full of great energy. But, a lot of the time it's just a dark, smoky, and dimly lit bar filled with local dudes who are overtly bitter about the lack of females in Big Sky. Guess it could be considered a good place to drown your sorrows.
Big Sky. (406) 995-2845
The Pour House Bar & Grill
This is a good, wholesome drinking establishment with lots of seating, televisions that are usually showing snowboard movies, 25-cent chicken wings, and especially potent cocktails. Oh, and the bar staff and, for that matter, most of the patrons are usually pretty easy on the eyes.
15 North Rouse Avenue, Bozeman. (406) 587-7982
The Filling Station
Another great place to catch live music and rock out with your snowboard socks out.
2005 North Rouse Avenue, Bozeman. (406) 587-0585
The Big Sky base area on a busier day.
Bozeman is where you'll find the best deals on lodging for hitting up Bridger Bowl. If you want to stay closer to Big Sky and Moonlight, there are plenty of options down the Canyon.
Stay slopeside—the Huntley is the most reasonable option. The rooms are nice, the enormous breakfast buffet will make you want to go back to bed, and the hot tubs will melt your face off. $160–319.
Best Western City Center Motor Inn
This is a somewhat inexpensive place to stay in downtown Bozeman. It has nice rooms, wireless internet, free fresh baked cookies, and it's located right next door to World Boards Snowboard Shop—get a hot wax and some clean socks. $75–90.
507 West Main Street, Bozeman. (406) 587-3158
Probably the cheapest room you'll find in Bozeman. Located 15 minutes from Bridger and walking distance from downtown Bozeman. $60.
1235 North 7th Avenue, Bozeman. 1-800-648-7515
Big Sky’s Challenger lift.
2002 Transworld Business Shop Of The Year
World Boards is the only 'core shop in Bozeman and it offers everything you'll ever need from a snowboard shop. The staff defines anti-vibe and is insanely knowledgeable about all things shred. They're good at operating waxing irons and their board techs can repair even the most rock-damaged boards with surgical precision. The shop carries a great selection of the best gear and is also known for its trademark window displays that could be considered more art than advertising. Support World Boards because the owner, Jay Moore, supports snowboarding in the Big Sky state.
601 West Main Street, Bozeman. (406) 587-1707
Blower at Bridger Bowl.
Paid Powder For The Upper Tax Bracket
The Yellowstone Club is private resort located next door to Big Sky resort. It's where the über-rich go to really get away. Members are rumored to include Dick Cheney, Jay Leno, Bill Gates—we even heard Jerry Seinfeld was looking into joining last winter. And as you can imagine, it's as swanky as it gets. You can swap boots for slippers upon entering the lodges, there's a caviar bar that rings up at hundreds of dollars per spoonful, and all the high-speed quad chairs have bubbles to protect you from the elements. Ahh.
This is no small mountain operation, but a full-sized resort, with genuinely gnarly terrain. Right now, there're only 200 some members, so even on the busiest days most of the groomers still have fresh corduroy come last chair. Imagine—the powder never gets tracked out.
Want to join? You're not alone. But, unless you have a couple million in liquid assets, you won't even get past the security gate. In order to become a member you have to buy a plot of land and build a home, or rather, mansion on it. Start buying lottery tickets or look into employment at "The Club," 'cause employees get to ride. Just something to think about …
Montana State University—Get Edumacated
A good college in a resort town is a rare thing indeed. MSU is an agricultural/engineering college, but the liberal arts offerings in both film and architecture stand out. Students also have the opportunity to deejay at the college station KGLT. If you're torn between shredding and education, MSU can offer you a legit hybrid shreducation.—A.F.