Montana Snowbowl, Montana
Montana Snowbowl is a community ski hill for Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley towns. The access road rises right from the main artery in the city. It’s a relatively short drive up to some really great skiing. This review is based on one visit during average mid-winter conditions.
|Real Vertical ?||2,600′, Rank: 39|
|Size||1,200 acres, Rank: 66|
|Annual Snowfall ?||250″ (they don’t publish a number), Rank: 74|
|Lift Pods ?||4, Rank: 72|
|Distinct Trails ?||50, Rank: 82|
|Review Date||January 2022|
|Number of visits||1|
Montana Snowbowl Review
Just like Apex Mountain, Montana Snowbowl was on and off of the list at various times. We added it back on after some resort consolidations that freed up another spot. It turns out to be a very good decision because this was one of the highlights of our 21/22 ski season.
This place has a reputation for steep intimidating terrain and our arrival at the base area confirmed that. It’s a narrow steep canyon with very little room for the lift bases and lodges. From the base it seems like an unlikely place for a ski resort with few runs visible. The only lift out of the base is an ancient Riblet chair built in 1966: “Grizzly”. It rises almost 2,000 vertical feet up a very steep line.
LaVelle Creek and the upper frontside
We started on the LaVelle Creek chair which has a pleasing combination of mostly intermediate and advanced runs and almost 1,000 vertical. This is another 50+ year old rusty Riblet likely relocated from another resort. It’s cold being the highest lift and facing mostly north, but because of that this is where the best snow is found. From here you can also access our favorite run “Paradise” which is a long winding intermediate run that takes in the entire 2,600′ of vertical. The only problem is there is some walking required along the ridge top to ski the upper front side runs.
LaVelle is also how you access the other upper front-side runs like “Far East” which was just shaded enough to have good snow on it. We weren’t able to ski some of the other runs up there like “West Bowls” because they face south and there had been a freeze – thaw cycle that turned everything south facing rock hard. On a good day you could spend all day on those runs though.
This took all morning so at lunch time we skied down to the Gelandesprung Hotel for some food. They had awesome pizza and clam chowder there. Apparently both the hotel and the a-frame lodge cafe are known for good food and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Just like the $55 lift ticket, food was very inexpensive and a great value.
After lunch we tried to explore the rest of the resort in the time we had left. The Snow Park chair serves an area that used to be a whole different ski resort that was combined with Snowbowl in 2020. The lift is another ancient Riblet relocated from Snowmass Colorado. This place really likes their Riblets! Since the company folded in 2003 I imagine it’s getting hard to keep these lifts running, but this was clearly a way to build the resort inexpensively. Snow Park has some classic fairly easy and enjoyable intermediate terrain. It faces west so it’s a good place to go in the afternoon.
Grooming and snowmaking
This is a good point to mention grooming which was certainly adequate for a resort like this. The main routes were groomed with a good selection of trails all over the mountain for variety. There is little ski traffic mid-week so even if it wasn’t freshly groomed it was still pretty smooth. Snowmaking is only on the lower 1/3rd or so of the mountain. There is a fairly large difference between snow depth at the top and bottom so this makes sense. The fact that there was snowmaking at all was surprising here since it appears to be a really low-budget operation so kudos for making it work. I recall seeing snowmaking on “Longhorn”, “Paradise”, “Spartan Headwall”, “Levitation”, “Sunrise Bowl”, and the beginner terrain at the base. These are the main routes down to the base for most skiers.
We were also able to ski the T-bar pod, “Spartan Headwall” from the Grizzly chair, and another great long intermediate run “Longhorn” from the top as our last run of the day. The T-bar wasn’t running but was impressively steep. This is the lower flank of TV Mountain, which will be getting a new chair in 22/23. This is going to be more steep terrain but more north facing and shaded which will be a nice complement to the predominantly south facing advanced and expert runs they have currently.
- Impressive vertical drop of 2,600′ is 2nd only to Big Sky in Montana
- Lots of steep challenging runs
- Great small town ski resort culture
- Great views
- The steep terrain predominantly faces south
- Truly ancient lift network of mostly relocated lifts from other resorts
- Limited grooming and snowmaking
- Vintage lodges
The bottom line
We had a blast at Montana Snowbowl. Everything was perfect and we wished we had another day there. It would be the kind of place we would enjoy exploring over a whole season. The significant vertical really puts it into an elite category of resorts. We give it 3 stars but it was 5 stars of fun.