Two for One
A long weekend ski road-trip.
The high-altitude mountains of western Montana usually get all the attention come it comes to skiing. But nestled away in central Montana are two of the state’s best-kept ski-resort secrets: Showdown and Teton Pass. Take a long weekend and kill two birds with one stone, enjoying some of Montana’s most spectacular scenery along the way.
From Bozeman, you have two options. Head east to Livingston and Hwy. 89, or take Hwy. 86 over Battle Ridge Pass. Pack your binoculars, because the chance of spotting wildlife on either route is good. Point your wheels north on Hwy. 89 and get ready to kick back and soak up the serenity of the Shields Valley. Several island mountain ranges come into view—the Crazies to the east and the Castle Range to the north. A glance westward will bring the Little Belt Mountains into focus—a triangle of mountains framing a perfect river valley.
Grab some java in White Sulphur Springs at Garden Shop Espresso or Smith River Espresso (located in the Strand movie theater). Your next stop is Showdown Ski Area—Montana’s oldest—located on Kings Hill Pass since 1936. Time to ski. Three chairlifts take you to a top elevation of 8,200 feet, and 36 runs head down 1,400 feet of vertical drop. With an average annual snowfall of 255 inches, there’s plenty of powder to go around. A quick glance at your trail map reveals how Showdown’s ski runs were named. Years ago, the area had several mines and names like Quicksilver, Sluice Goose Caboose, Paydirt, and Ruby Gulch reflect early-day fortune seekers.
Family-friendly, casual, and affordable are just a few adjectives that describe Showdown. Lunch in the lodge at the Kings Hill Grille may give way to chatter about cattle prices or high-school basketball games as you order tacos or a housemade pizza. Quench your thirst with one of many regional microbrew taps lining the bar in the Hole in the Wall Saloon.
After your day on the slopes, hop back in the car and drive 65 miles north to Great Falls. You’re too late to tour the C. M. Russell Museum or the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, so put that on your list for the next trip. After checking into the Holiday Inn, head downtown to the Celtic Cowboy because, well, we’re all a little Irish. Bloody-Mary-battered fish and chips go well with a seemingly endless selection of brews. After dinner, it’s time to join Piano Pat and the mermaid at the Sip ‘N’ Dip lounge in the O’Haire Motor Inn. Put this Montana tiki bar on your “I-can’t-believe-I’m-in-Montana” list.
Rise and shine early, driving 55 miles north on Hwy. 89 into Choteau, a small town of 2,000 friendly folks. About five miles south of town, stop in at Grizzly Sports’ drive-through beverage lane, where the baristas will blend some java to your liking. From Hwy. 89, turn west on Teton Canyon Rd., where rolling plains gradually give way to the majesty of the Rocky Mountain Front. In 26 scenic miles you’ll be at the doorstep of Teton Pass Ski Resort, where 39 runs are calling your name. Enjoy the grandeur and sweeping vistas as the double chair takes you up to 8,600 feet.
In the lodge, the Lazy Moose serves lunch daily, and beverages at Waldron Creek Bar will quench your thirst. Looking to impress? Rent the entire resort on Tuesdays or Thursdays for your very own private party. That amounts to 400 acres of skiable terrain for you and your buddies. Locally-owned Teton Pass also hosts a wide variety of events throughout the season. From monthly Supper on the Slopes with themed menus to uphill scrambles, vintage skiwear contests, and a Jack ’N’ Jill Randonee (alpine touring) race, there’s something for everyone.
After a day of quad-busting descents, head back to Choteau and enjoy a dunk in the pool at the Stage Stop Inn. For dinner, try some chicken-fried steak at the Log Cabin restaurant, also noted for their homemade pie. Go ahead, try a generous helping—you’ve earned it. Overnight at the Stage Stop Inn where you can quaff an ale in their new on-site saloon.
From Choteau, Bozeman is only about three hours away, so take your time getting up. Your body will thank you for the rest. About 26 miles south of Choteau is the hamlet of Augusta. Stop here for a sit-down breakfast at Mel’s Diner before heading back to Bozeman. Three days in central Montana should have you feeling refreshed and clamoring for more. Luckily, winter comes every year.
For more on Montana’s ski areas, check out Montana: Skiing the Last Best Place, by Craig Hergert. It’s full of awesome photos, useful info, and helpful tips about some of the state’s lesser-known hills.