Hitting the slopes outside P-Burg.
The time has come. You know Bridger like the back of your hand, and the parking lot and lift lines are tiresome some days. You don’t have the poshness tolerance, or pocketbook size, for Big Sky. So the itch to ski expands your horizons outside the Gallatin Valley. You’re looking for something that marches to a slower beat than the bustling Bozone, something where high-speed chairs and Type-A attitudes are laughed at by locals. Something, dare I say, Montanan.
Luckily for you, mom-and-pop ski hills still abound in the Treasure State, and you don’t have to look far. This winter, load up the family, wrangle your college buddies, or take a romantic weekend on a road-trip west of the Divide to the town of Philipsburg and the happy slopes of Discovery.
Disco is a stone’s throw from both Anaconda and P-Burg, nestled at the southern foot of the Flint Creek Range and in view of the high-elevation Georgetown Lake. Take a stop in Anaconda to stock up on amenities, since things get a little sparser afterward. Anaconda Outdoor has you covered for gear & equipment, and if you’re looking for a place to rest your head on this side of the mountains, Hickory House Inn should be your first choice. This old, converted church rectory makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, to the early-1900s mining boom. In the morning, the friendly staff will get you fueled up with a hardy, locally sourced meal, served at the dining-room table with all the other guests—classic bed-and-breakfast style, allowing you to get to know your neighbors and compare notes. Leave the phone in your room and enjoy the company.
Now, onto the skiing. The hill has seven lifts (though five are typically all that run) covering all aspects and angles. Beginners stick to the sunny front side with the Jubilee and Anaconda chairs providing access to long and mellow groomers like Gold Bug, the Pintler Scenic Route, and Red Lion. Intermediates enjoy similar slopes off the same chairs but may wish to venture to steeper grades like Sluice Box or even the Granite chairlift off the back side. Granite is renowned for its long black diamonds with a sustained pitch the whole way. If you can ski Center Stage from top to bottom without stopping, consider yourself in strong ski shape. The ride back up is lengthy and often cloaked in shade. While you may land at the bottom with legs burning and chest heaving, you’ll probably arrive back on top shivering and anxious to get moving again.
The mountain’s biggest steeps are found on Limelight, a short lift that offers nothing under a double diamond. Right or left, near or far, you ain’t finding an easy route here. Nearly two dozen named runs, each with its own unique character, shoot off the ridge directly down. Skiers will find tight trees in Neversweat, daunting pillows in the Fingers, and a beautiful launch pad of a cliff in Mother Lode. The laps are hot, too. Limelight’s sharp vertical drop coupled with the chair’s quick turnaround time mean you can bang out six or seven runs in an hour—provided your legs hold up.
When your quads do begin to quiver, head back to the front side and pull up a seat at the Tap ‘Er Lite Bar. Order one to go, tip your bartender, and enjoy it on the patio outside. Or, ski to the door of your car, drop the tailgate, and cook lunch in the parking lot. (For tips on how to throw a proper ski shindig, read “Tips Up, Gates Down.”) When your belly is full and your body rested, head back up for a second half before making your way into the quaint mining town of Philipsburg.
A good day on the hill calls for some good après. Down the highway a few miles, in P-Burg proper, is your first stop: Philipsburg Brewery. You’ve probably seen their Haybag Hefeweizen on tap around Bozeman, or their Otter Water in stainless-steel bottles; this is where it’s made. Enjoy a pint in the old 1888 building the brewery calls home. Then continue on to the Winning Ridge Ale House & Wine Bar. Between their hot food and beer taps a-plenty, what more could you want after a day on the hill? Be good to your server and make sure you have a safe ride—or walk—back to your accommodations.
In the morning, with bright eyes and sore legs, take the time to check out some local shops. Mosey into the Granite County Museum to see how things used to be in these parts. A lot has changed, and a lot hasn’t. Then, indulge in some local saltwater taffy at the Sweet Palace downtown, and pop into the Sapphire Gallery to check out some brilliant Montana gems—though you’ll probably be thinking this whole place is a gem of its own! That thought will only grow stronger when you find your way to the Illume Gallery West; it’s a cool art gallery that feels like a museum, too. However surprising, all the works are for sale and sourced from renowned artists from around the world.
By now, your legs and lungs are gettin’ antsy. No problem: Philipsburg maintains a free, public skating rink in partnership with the Philipsburg Ice Association: the Winninghoff Park Ice Rink & Arena. Strap on your skates and hit the ice. Or take a quick hike on the Ridgeview trail, just a few blocks south of downtown.
After a half-day (or more) of towning around, it’s time to load up and head back into the mountains for another day of skiing—this time on the Nordic sticks.
On the access road to Discovery, before you hit the hill, a network of cross-country trails shoots off in all directions. The tracks consist of everything from groomed trails to improved dirt roads to unmaintained exploratory routes. Whatever your Nordic tastes, Echo Lake is sure to satisfy them, with one flavor or another. Choose wisely, though. You won’t have time to do them all before the sun sets and it’s time to point the rig back to Bozeman. But in the end, that’s the beauty of it all—there’s more to explore on a return trip.
And there you have it. Sure, it ain’t a trip to the Alps, but how much planning did that take? Two days in small-town Montana that’ll end with filled hearts and clear minds. But don’t take my word for it. Head west for your own Disco party and let the snow do the talking.