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Montana Snowbowl

posted: 07/25/2005

Elevation: 7,600 feet
Vertical: 2,600 feet
Snowfall: 300 inches
Acres: 950
Info: 800-728-2695;

Beta: Sitting at the dead end of a gnarly, nine-mile dirt road, all you see when you get to the 'Bowl are two muddy parking lots, two modest lodges, and an ancient double chair. First impression: Po-dunk. Well, get over it. The 'Bowl is as big as Taos—and gets more snow. And because it's a half hour from Missoula, there are tons of rippers.

First Tracks: If you're in line for an early chair midweek on a powder day, start with Grizzly Chute, under the Grizzly Chair. Traverse skier's right before descending to counter the double fall line at the top of this 2,000-vertical-foot shot. After that, ride both lifts to the top and head for the East Bowl.

Must-Hit: So as not to waste a scrap of the 'Bowl's 2,600vertical, ski past the patrol shack to the West Ridge. Skier's left of the ridge, you'll find West Bowl's open, 40-degree terrain with surfy features; to skier's right you get the sheltered snow of West Trees (a.k.a. The Windows).

Après: The Last Run Inn, the 'Bowl's only bar, is usually crammed with college kids from the University of Montana, bearded local skiers, and the occasional meth-addled Rush fan willing to huck off the roof. Our recommendation: one of their specialty wood-fired pizzas and a pint of locally brewed Moose Drool. Tired of the sausage fest? Head to Fred's Lounge (Hwy. 96 & I-90 junction). I've never been there, but they tell me it's nice.

The Tip: When it dumps big—which is good—the guard-rail-less and corkscrewing road to the 'Bowl can be…bad. Snow tires are a must, and you'll want to keep it in second gear for the majority of the descent.

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