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Snowbowl Mountain, Missoula MT, USA

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Snowbowl is a relatively unknown ski mountain located just outside of Missoula, Montana. While the mountain is pretty small and doesn't feature the expansive and high end lodges, shops and restaurants found at many of the larger Western ski resorts, it does have some pretty fantastic skiing and riding terrain. Snowbowl is the perfect place to discover the wonders of Western skiing on a budget. What Snowbowl does have is great terrain, low cost accommodations and friendly locals. It gets an average of 300+ inches of snow each year and has 2600 feet of vertical drop. The top of the peak, named Big Sky Mountain, tops out at 7600 feet and offers fantastic views of the surrounding mountains.

Snowbowl Mountain ski resort
flickr image by Evan Lovely

The entire bowl is accessed by only 4 lifts, but once you are at the top you will have access to tons of terrain, including open bowls, winding groomers and some serious glades. Cloud inversions sometimes occur and really look cool from the runs. Getting to Snowbowl is easy. The resort is located north of Missoula, which is about a 20 minute drive up I-90. Shuttle buses run from town to the mountain and cost a few bucks to ride. Folks who are flying in will use Missoula's airport.

Snowbowl has terrain for beginners, experts and everything in between. Lift prices and on-mountain lodging are much cheaper than most Western resorts. To reach the summit of Big Sky Mountain you have to take two lifts. First you ride the Grizzly chair half way up, and then you ski over to the LaVelle Creek Chair. Once at the summit there are beginner's, intermediate's and expert's trails down. Easy trails from the summit include Upper High Park, which leads to High Roller and Mission Magic. These are all intermediate blues and are great runs to experience open powder skiing. More easy trails from the summit include Upper Hot Fudge, White Bark and Lower Hot Fudge. The North Dakota Downhill is a long blue square that offers some really spectacular views. Beginners and young skiers who want to experience some classic Western bowl rides will enjoy the Upper and Lower Sunrise bowls, which are accessible from the Sunrise T-bar.

This mountain offers plenty of terrain for expert riders and skiers as well. Those who love to ski the bumps should try out Whipped Cream. Those who want to drop into something that is steep and deep will like the Spartan Headwall. Open bowl action can be found on the East Bowl and the West Bowl as well as in the Far East trees. Tighter glades can be found where Upper Paradise and Centennial Trail split and from the top of the Big Sky run.

Some backcountry trees can be accessed skier's left of Upper Paradise, but skiers must shoot to the right back on-mountain before the bottom of Lower Paradise or risk skiing off the wrong side of the mountain. Ending up on the wrong side of the mountain could spell trouble and these areas are not patrolled by the Ski Patrol. More backcountry access can be found on skier's right of the White Bark trail, where the trail makes a left turn and goes downhill. Again, skiers must shoot to the left and be back on mountain before the base of the LeVelle Creek chair or risk skiing down the wrong side and away from the mountain.

Staying on-mountain at Snowbowl is cheap and fun. The Gelandesprung Lodge is a classic European-style lodge with individual rooms with shared or private bathrooms. The lodge also offers a kitchen space for guests who want to cook their own meals. There is an outdoor hot tub for guests to relax their muscles in after a hard day of skiing and the lodge's decks are the perfect place to have a beer. The small restaurant and bar located just next door to the hotel section offers a great après ski scene. This small bar has great wood-fire pizza, live entertainment and a cosy fireplace. This is also a great place to meet some of the friendly locals.

The bar also serves world famous and award winning Bloody Marys, from a recipe that is kept highly classified. The base lodge next door also has a fireplace and is a good place to warm up on cold days. It is where the day skiers dress and store their gear. The tiny shack between the Gelandesprung Lodge and base lodge sells fat breakfast burritos in the morning. Not only are these delicious burritos great for breakfast, but they are also large enough to store half-eaten and wrapped in tin foil in a pocket for lunch on the chair lift.

Snowbowl may be a quaint little ski resort, but it is big on fun. It offers a different kind of ski vacation from what you usually find from the big Western ski resorts. The days at Snowbowl are about fun, awesome skiing and riding and relaxing with a good local crowd in a more intimate setting. Snowbowl is the perfect choice for anyone who wants to experience the West's skiing, without spending a ton of money.

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