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Double ski delightDouble ski delight

Bozeman, MontanaBozeman, Montana

Often called “the adventure capital of the Northern Rockies,” Bozeman is home to Montana State University and a strangely pleasing assortment of ski bums, cowboys, and unleashed dogs, many perched in the back of ubiquitous pickup trucks. It’s a blue-jeans kind of place where overpriced lodges and restaurants are the exception, unlike in most ski towns.

  • An Old West town of just under 40,000, Bozeman combines youthful energy and easy outdoor access. In winter, most visitors come to tackle two of America’s premier ski mountains. Bozeman’s first ski area, Bridger Bowl, opened to the public in 1955. In 1973, a second ski area, Big Sky (shown here), was opened 40 miles south of Bozeman by news anchorman Chet Huntley and has since grown into one of North America’s largest ski resorts. Lonnie Ball photo courtesy Big Sky Resort.
  • Extreme skiers go for Bridger Bowl, with some of the steepest, hairiest terrain you’ll find anywhere. Tom Jungst prefers an “old-fashioned hike up the Bridger Ridge and out to the Apron—preferably from the top—and Hidden Gully.” Another hardcore favorite is The Ridge, in-bounds hiking terrain with a plethora of steep, skinny chutes, as well as the newer Schlasman’s Lift that allows access to expert-only, backcountry-style terrain (avalanche transceivers required for both, partner and shovel recommended). Doug Wales photo courtesy Bridger Bowl.
  • Bridger Bowl’s terrain is like a Warren Miller film come to life. Doug Wales photo courtesy Bridger Bowl.
  • On-ice clinics are the heart and soul of the Bozeman Ice Festival, held in early December. Full-day clinics provide the opportunity to learn from and climb with professional guides, sponsored athletes, and climbing legends. Since 2006, Bozeman has hosted a highly regarded women’s-only clinic, tailored specifically to the way women learn and climb, for camaraderie and hardcore ice climbing in a supportive environment. Photo courtesy Bozeman Ice Festival.
  • The Museum of the Rockies houses the largest dinosaur collection in America, largely due to the efforts of its famed and outspoken former Curator of Paleontology, Jack Horner. He helped spread public understanding that birds are the evolutionary descendants of dinosaurs and served as a consultant on the “Jurassic Park” films. Although fossils discovered on federal lands are technically property of the federal government, Horner secured agreements with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the BLM to keep more local fossils in Montana and now the museum has 13 T. Rex specimens, including the largest skull ever found. Other standouts include a giant Triceratops and baby and dinosaur eggs and embryos. Photo courtesy Museum of the Rockies.
  • Bozeman offers a good range of hotel options. The Lark Hotel brings a welcome retro-'70s vibe to downtown. Rooms feature mod-Scandinavian-style platform beds and are accessorized with sheepskin throws, fish or mountain stencils on the walls, or colorful molded plastic chairs and shelving—all from local craftsmen and artists. The lobby opens onto a covered outdoor patio with wood-burning fireplace. Have a seat in their Map Room and plan your outdoor adventures with one of their helpful employee “guides.” Outside, a shiny vintage Airstream has been converted to the food truck “Victory Taco,” featuring fresh fusion Mexican-American goodies. Photo courtesy Lark Hotel.
  • For a more rural getaway, head to Fox Hollow Bed & Breakfast, at the end of a country road between the airport and downtown. Photo courtesy Fox Hollow B&B.
  • At Fox Hollow, five unique rooms each promise a good night’s rest, followed in the morning by the smell of fresh coffee and a delectable full country breakfast. Photo courtesy Fox Hollow B&B.
  • Big Sky offers the longest zip lines in the Yellowstone region. Photo courtesy Big Sky Resort.
  • At Big Sky, kids 10 and under ski free with their Mountain Sports lesson. Children 5 and under always ski free. Lonnie Ball photo courtesy Big Sky Resort.
  • At Big Sky, you can choose from hotels, condo-hotels, cabins, homes, condominiums, or luxury signature properties. The Snowcrest Lodge, shown here, is a ski-in, ski-out property. There is a bus from Bozeman to Big Sky and an in-resort shuttle at Big Sky. Jim R. Harris photo courtesy Big Sky Resort.
  • Alpenglow at Big Sky condos are located on the hill facing Lone Peak and Andesite Mountain. Some have private outdoor hot tubs. Private vehicle required for access. Jim R. Harris photo courtesy Big Sky Resort.
  • At Big Sky, Everett's 8800 is an elegant, rustic restaurant serving American Alpine Fare at the top of Andesite Mountain. You’ll enjoy panoramic views of Lone Peak Mountain from the expansive deck and dining area with massive indoor/outdoor fireplaces. Glenniss Indreland photo courtesy Big Sky Resort.
  • Quaff a refreshing libation at the Everett’s 1800 bar. Glenniss Indreland photo courtesy Big Sky Resort.
  • The Peaks lunch buffet is slopeside, for a convenient yet hearty lunch. The buffet changes daily and features soups, appetizers, salads, fruits, entrées, a carving station, desserts, and a variety of beverages for an all-inclusive price. Glenniss Indreland photo courtesy Big Sky Resort.

Bozeman, a cold-temperature-restricted airport, has three runways, although the turf Runway 11/29 is closed when wet or snow-covered. Arlin’s Aircraft Service has been locally owned and operated for over 35 years. If your only plans are to ski at the Big Sky Resort, Ennis-Big Sky Airport is closer, but only as the crow (or helicopter) flies. You can arrange for a 10-minute helicopter flight from Ennis to Big Sky through Choice Aviation, though it’s expensive. By road, you’re better off landing at Bozeman and then it’s a 60- to 90-minute car or bus ride to Big Sky.

In Bozeman, hardcore adrenaline junkies set their sights on Bridger Bowl, with some of the steepest, hairiest terrain you’ll find anywhere. Locals know to keep an eye out for the blue beacon atop downtown’s Baxter Hotel. Any time Bridger Bowl accumulates at least two inches of fresh snow, the beacon flashes for 24 hours. Powder hounds drop everything and head 20 minutes up Highway 86. It’s not all for experts though; Bridger has eight lifts and plenty of intermediate runs, plus an all-new beginner area for the less-vertically inclined. Crosscut Mountain Sports Center offers 30 km of trails on private and Forest Service land, with terrain from beginner to expert.

The non-profit, condo-free Bridger Bowl continues to attract self-described “ski freaks,” largely due to the influence of a few locals. In 1977, Tom Jungst moved to Bozeman to join the Montana State University ski racing team. Jungst, Scot Schmidt, and Doug Coombs pioneered extreme terrain in the area and appeared in classic ski films by Warren Miller and Greg Stump. Honing their techniques at Bridger, they helped spark the steep skiing gospel that has since spread worldwide. Pat Clayton photo courtesy Bridger Bowl.

For a break from skiing, drive up Hyalite Canyon, just south of Bozeman. This recreation area is surrounded by tall peaks and blessed with an abundance of creeks and waterfalls. In winter, dramatic frozen waterfalls turn Hyalite into a premier ice-climbing destination, with some 140 routes. Drive five miles past the reservoir to the road’s end and then take the Hyalite Peak Trail on foot, snowshoe, or Nordic skis to check out the 10 frozen waterfalls, ice climbers, and snow-clad peaks. Or, try a one-day guided ice-climbing adventure. There’s even an Ice Festival here each December.

The Museum of the Rockies houses the largest dinosaur collection in America, including 13 Tyrannosaurus Rex specimens. Other exhibits focus on Native Americans and miners, fur traders, and settlers in the Rocky Mountain area. The Taylor Planetarium features advanced projection technologies that unfold the universe in vivid color. In October, raptor (not Velociraptor) lovers head to Bozeman for the Bridger Raptor Festival, when the Montana Audubon Society and other conservation groups celebrate America’s largest migration of golden eagles and count the birds as they pass over Bridger Bowl. The festival features free walks, talks, and lessons on identifying and drawing birds.

When at Big Sky, your eyes will be drawn to the magnificent peak that towers over all. Ride the Lone Peak Tram to the vaulting, exposed 11,166-foot summit of Lone Peak and revel in an overload of Euro-style, high-alpine, big-mountain skiing. The tram’s cabins were originally painted pink inside to calm nervous passengers, but the view is worth the ride, even if you aren’t up to the expert terrain on the top. Chad Jones photo courtesy Big Sky Resort.

Gourmet, budget, or après-ski, Bozeman can satisfy any appetite. Situated inside downtown’s art-deco-era Baxter Hotel, Ted’s Montana Grill gives America’s original red meat—bison—the star treatment. Montana Ale Works is Bozeman’s most popular après-ski hangout, offering the area’s widest selection of craft beers. Warm up for little dough at Watanabe Japanese Restaurant. They don’t have a liquor license, but their authentic ramen and other noodle dishes are the perfect antidote to frozen weather. Nova Café boasts a good selection of breakfast and lunch dishes.

A 60- to 90-minute drive south of Bozeman, Big Sky is a gigantic ski resort that offers something for everyone, including shopping, zip lines, dog sledding, live music events, and a full-service spa. At Big Sky, beginning and intermediate runs make up 40 percent of the total so there’s plenty of variety. The enormous array of beautiful, comfortable, and convenient lodging options far exceeds what we can describe here. With almost 50 places to eat, Big Sky will cater to your every culinary need. At the top of the list (literally) is Everett’s 8800, where you can dine on top of Andesite Mountain in a gorgeous log cabin. Peaks Restaurant offers a midday gourmet buffet and fine evening dining plus a Wine Spectator award-winning wine list. Or just ski down to the Headwaters Grille for a quick lunch before hitting the slopes again.

This winter, try Bozeman for a great ski vacation. Whether you like your resorts big or small, your hills wild or mild, Bozeman delivers. Then make plans to return for summer hiking. Year-round, Bozeman is beautiful.

Big Sky bills itself as the “Biggest Skiing in America” and so it is, with some 300 named runs (the longest is six miles) on four connected mountains, 34 lifts, and seven terrain parks, all on 5,800 acres. With an hourly lift capacity of 38,300, lift lines are practically nonexistent. Michel Tallichet photo courtesy Big Sky Resort.

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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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