6 Best Montana Ski Resorts for Beginners With Friends & Family

by Simon Knott | Updated On: September 1st, 2022
Montana Ski Resort

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Montana is blessed with some of the best powder in the country and in many resorts, you can enjoy a quieter, more rural charm. But which is the best beginner ski area?

Whitefish Ski Resort has plenty going for it with well-designed beginner terrain, ski school packages for beginners, and the nearby authentic ski town of Whitefish.

Our Top Picks

    6. Discovery Ski Area

    Ski Resort 7

    Known to regulars as ‘Ski Disco’ the Ski Discovery Resort in the Rocky Mountains is an hour west of Butte’s airport connections. Ski Disco is in a remote location and as a ski area, there is no on-slope lodging. However, the nearby towns of Anaconda, Philipsburg, and Georgetown Lake, offer a good choice of reasonable B&Bs, hotels, and rentals.

    What’s the Skiing Like?

    Ski Disco is spread over a medium-sized area, known as Rumsey Mountain, which has a top elevation of 8150 ft. Beginners are well catered for at Ski Disco and there is a small beginner area just to the right of the base Lodge. Two small lifts give you access to the green run, Lums Run, where you can find your confidence.

    From there you can progress to Jubilee Mountain, taking the Jubilee lift. From the top you can take the green run, Gold Bug, which forks further down into the scenic, Pintler Scenic Route back to base.

    On the opposite side, you can choose either the Anaconda or Rumsey lifts to the top of Rumsey Mountain. The ski trail map shows the right-hand run, Claim Jumper, as blue but it is in fact quite gentle and most beginners will have no problem using it to connect with the two green runs further down, Mills Road and Red Lion. As you progress you can graduate to some of the blue runs on both Rumsey and Jubilee Mountain.

    The Lodge at the base of the mountainside is an ideal spot to warm up and enjoy hot and cold snacks from the concessions. While you have a coffee you can pick up tips watching skiers heading down the mountain from a deck at the back of the building.

    Learning to Ski

    Ski Disco offers a comprehensive ski program for kids, which is best booked online in advance. It’s always best to book your lift pass and ski rental at the same time as Ski Disco is a popular ski area.

    The Kinder program, for the youngest aged 3-6, is designed as a gentle introduction to snow sports. Group sizes are kept small, and activities include games, using your imagination, and developing independence and confidence.

    For 7–12-year-olds Kid Kruizers gives kids a chance to learn to ski or snowboard or consolidate their existing knowledge. Groups are chosen to reflect similar ages and abilities to maximize learning. Working together in a group with similar abilities soon breaks down anxieties and improves skills.

    Adult classes can be taken as a group or privately. Private lessons are more expensive, but you get more individual tuition. Often when booking a private lesson it’s possible to add other members of your group or family to create a semiprivate lesson.

    Off the Slopes

    The ski area covers 2200 acres of patrolled terrain, which helps to ensure that queues are rare. Additionally, there are nearly 20 miles of cross-country ski trails for a change of pace. This is a great way to relax in the winter forests, close to the shores of Echo and Georgetown Lakes.

    What We Like About Ski Discovery Resort

    • Ski Disco is a more rural resort so there are fewer crowds.
    • The lessons for all ages welcome beginners.
    • It’s a large ski area with interesting beginner runs.
    • The resort is more remote but with good connections via nearby Butte.

    Discovery Ski Area Resort Stats

    Summit Elevation:8150 ft / 2484 metres
    Skiable terrain: 2400 acres
    Lifts:8
    Runs:74

    5. Red Lodge Mountain

    skiresort3

    Near the Wyoming border and among the Beartooth Mountains, Red Lodge Mountain has the upside of big mountain fun but without the drawbacks of queues and eye-watering prices.

    What’s the Skiing Like?

    On the slopes, 19% of runs are classed as beginners, with an equal spread of runs across other abilities.

    Complete beginners are well catered for with a magic carpet low down near the Lodge and a double chairlift, Miami Beach, for when you want to stretch your ski legs. This lift leads to 2 green runs, Miami Beach, and Ladies Aid which take you back to base.

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    When you want to move on to something more challenging it’s only a short stroll to 2 other triple lifts, Willow Creek, and Triple Chair. From the top of these you have access to numerous green and blue runs which weave down through the trees giving you plenty of variation where you can build your confidence.

    Once you feel comfortable on blue runs, you can safely ski down from the highest point of the resort, Grizzly Peak, at 9416 ft (2870 m). There are two runs on either side of the chairlift, Drifter, and Barriers.

    There are two terrain parks, the Beginner Park, located on Miami Beach, as well as an intermediate/advanced park. The snowfall may fall short of some other Montana resorts but at 250 inches per season, the difference is academic.

    Learning to Ski

    At Red Lodge Mountain they are confident enough to offer new skiers their Learn to Ski or Ride in 4 Lessons Package. It includes 4 lessons, 4 lift tickets, and 4 rentals for one low price, and you get a bonus graduation gift. All of the instructors at Red Lodge Mountain are fully certified members of the PSIA-AASI.

    For more conventional lessons, kids from 7-12 years, can join the Trailblazers. These have different lesson lengths and can be individual or in a group. Teen lessons (13+) and adults have their programs in a similar format.

    Wrangler lessons aimed at year 3, and years 4 to 6 can be booked as individual or group sessions and the instructors are confident enough in their skills to offer a ‘Get Better Guarantee’. The packages include lift tickets, rental, and tuition.

    Off the Slopes

    The nearby town of Red Lodge still has an old-west feel about it. All the shops and amenities cluster around the main street and a few blocks around. There is ample well-priced lodging, as well as chain and independent restaurants.

    What We Like About Red Lodge Mountain

    • You can keep your costs down on a beginner trip to Red Lodge Mountain
    • Specific lessons for first-timers Guess who’s going to be heading for the beginner terrain park Red Lodge Mountain Resort has a safe and laid-back vibe where you can relax.

    Red Lodge Mountain Resort Stats

    Summit Elevation:9416 ft / 2870 metres
    Skiable terrain: 1635 acres
    Lifts:7
    Runs:70

    4. Lost Trail Powder Mountain

    losttrail
    Photo by Forest Service Northern Region licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Lost Trail Powder Mountain resort has been family-owned and runs since 1938. Rurally located in the wilds of Montana without any nearby population the resort has developed a renowned reputation for the highest falls of powder in the state.

    What’s the Skiing Like?

    The resort is only operated for 4-5-days a week (Thursday to Sunday), which adds to its low-key, relaxed family-friendly feel.

    Lost Trail Powder Mountain sits on top of the Bitterroot and Salmon-Challis National Forest areas, which in turn straddle the Idaho and Montana border. With no conventional resort as such, the parking lot and Lodge House are located midway up the mountain at about 7000 ft.

    The Lodge at Lost Trail Powder Mountain is unusually halfway up the side of the hill. This means it’s only a short ride on the double chairlift to the top of the mountain from the beginner area.

    From the top, there are greens on either side, which take you down tree-lined runs back to the Lodge. There are plenty of opportunities to graduate to more difficult runs as your confidence improves. 20% of the runs are classed as beginner, which is mostly simpler green and blue runs lower down, which trail between the trees.

    Learning to Ski

    Lessons at Lost Trail Powder Mountain can either be taken as private or in groups. The instructors do offer a package for beginners, which includes three group lessons, three full-day lift tickets, and three days of ski rental equipment.

    Each lesson is 1.5 hours long and they cover specific features of skiing, for example, the first one is called an introduction to sliding on snow. There are also two terrain parks, one of which, Frontcountry Park, offers rails, boxes, wallrides, and kickers.

    Off the Slopes

    Being a ski area, Lost Trail Powder Mountain has an element of exclusivity, but this also means no accommodation on the mountain and a short drive to find lodging. The nearby small towns of Darby and Hamilton have a selection of well-priced chain hotels and motels.

    If you want a day of total relaxation, nearby Jackson Hot Springs Lodge will soothe away your skiing aches and pains in the natural waters of the Hot Springs Pool.

    What We Like About Lost Trail Powder Mountain Resort

    • This is an authentic, no-frills family-run skiing destination.
    • Lost Trail Powder Mountain Resort has a reputation for the highest powder snowfall in Montana
    • Even though the ski area is remote there are great lessons for beginners.
    • There are now many more economical lodging options in nearby towns.
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    Lost Trail Powder Mountain Resort Stats

    Summit Elevation:8200 ft / 2499 metres
    Skiable terrain: 1800 acres
    Lifts:8
    Runs:69

    3. Whitefish Mountain Resort

    Whitefish Mountain Resort is close to Glacier National Park, in northwest Montana.

    It has an old-school ski town character that has endured and which visitors like so much, although like anywhere more upmarket shops and restaurants have started to appear.

    What’s the Skiing Like?

    While Whitefish Mountain resort may have less expert terrain than many other Montana ski areas this is a distinct advantage for beginners, as they won’t be hassled by so many fast skiers.

    This is an ideal resort for beginners, with an extensive beginner area with two chair lifts and a magic carpet to provide the variety. When it’s time to move on from the beginner area head over to the village where there are two chair lifts and T-bar, which gives access to numerous interconnecting green and blue runs.

    The ski trail map usefully highlights the easiest route down from the top of a chairlift, so you are not left wondering which way to go when you arrive at the top.

    Learning to Ski

    There is a dedicated Learn to Ski or Ride Program at Whitefish Mountain. This is ideal if you’ve never skied before, and you don’t want to spend a fortune getting the basics under your belt.

    The package includes two half-day lessons (you choose out of 10 am or 1 pm), a two-day lower mountain lift ticket, and two days of ski rental. All instructors are fully certified, and lunch isn’t included.

    The program is for ages 7+ and is available for skiers and snowboarders. Once you graduate from the program you receive reductions on lift tickets and ski rentals.

    Care for kids takes place in the Kids Centre, right on the snow hill inside Base Lodge. There are various programs such as, the Play Program (ages 6 months to 6 years) which offers toddlers a chance to play and rest, while their families enjoy skiing.

    Activities include storytelling, art, music, games, and playing outside. Snacks and lunch are provided for half and full-day programs.

    For kids who want to get out in the big wide world, there is the Ski/Ride Program, which includes on-snow lessons, along with break time as needed. The resort takes its health and safety responsibilities seriously and its safety procedures are clearly laid out on its website.

    Off the Slopes

    There is plenty of lodging on the mountain, a lot of it conveniently slope-side. However, if you’re keeping an eye on the cash there is a good selection of chain motels, hotels, rentals, and condos, in nearby Whitefish.

    What We Love About Whitefish Ski Resort

    • Except during vacations lift lines and busy slopes don’t happen.
    • Whitefish Big Mountain is an ideal beginner resort
    • Whitefish, Montana is an authentic ski town that’s close to the resort.
    • Glacier National Park is close by.

    Whitefish Ski Resort Stats

    Summit Elevation:6817 ft / 2078 metres
    Skiable terrain: 3000 acres
    Lifts:14
    Runs:--

    2. Great Divide

    Great Divide

    You will find Great Divide in rural Montana, northeast of Butte and just over 20 miles from Helena. This is a ski area so there is no slope-side lodging but there are other amenities such as ski rental, lessons, and food and drink at the three restaurants.

    What’s the Skiing Like?   

    Great Divide has a reputation for being Montana’s sunniest ski area. Its microclimate tends toward good weather skiing.

    The slight downside is that snowfall rarely exceeds 180 inches, which when compared to other Montana resorts might appear meager, but it should be quite adequate during a typical winter.

    Beginners at Great Divide should head straight to the Mt. Belmont region. Here you’ll find a well-laid-out beginner area with two dedicated double chairlifts and a drag lift. There are numerous tree-lined green runs lower down and you can easily progress onto blue runs higher up.

    Some of the green runs have the original touch of trees dotted along the trails. These are well-spaced, providing variety and challenge.

    Progressing beginners can move on to Wild West at the north end of the ski area. You take the Wild West chairlift to access the runs. There are no dedicated green runs here, however, easier blue runs such as Trail Drive shouldn’t present any problems for beginner skiers.

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    The Great Divide website offers some great beginner tips on skiing and snowboarding. It covers clothing, ski school, and your responsibilities as a skier on the mountain.

    Learning to Ski

    There are a variety of options for beginners in ski school at Great Divide. There is a first-day deal, which includes a two-hour lesson and equipment. Or you can choose a discounted three-day deal, with three two-hour lessons, three full lift tickets and three rentals.

    There are options to take private lessons as well.

    Off the Slopes

    Despite being in a rural area there is plenty of accommodation mostly in nearby Helena. You can choose between private holiday homes and condos, as well as several reasonably priced chain hotels.

    What We Love About Great Divide

    • It’s a genuine ski area set in a beautiful country.
    • Great Divide has a reputation for sunny days.
    • The beginner area is extensive with dedicated chairlifts.
    • Beginner ski school is competitively priced.

    Great Divide Stats

    Summit Elevation:7330 ft / 2234 metres
    Skiable terrain: 1600 acres
    Lifts:6
    Runs:107

    1. Big Sky Resort

    big sky

    They called it Big Sky for a reason and spanning a total of 5850 acres it’s very apt, with more than enough for beginners and the experienced to explore. Straddling the rugged northern Rockies, Big Sky is one of the largest resorts in North America.

    What’s the Skiing Like?

    Press coverage of Big Sky often concentrates on the ostentatious big mountain skiing, particularly in the North Summit snowfield, and the Challenger Zone. However, with 5850 acres to choose from, there are plenty of alternatives for beginners.

    In addition, the size of the resort means it can accommodate visiting skiers without becoming overloaded.

    You are spoilt for choice with beginner terrain at Big Sky, with a choice of three areas to start. These include Madison’s Base, Moonlight Lodge, and the area just in front of the Main Lodge. Here you’ll find extensive green and blue runs, which mostly run down through designated quiet areas so you shouldn’t be harassed by faster skiers.

    When you start to look for a further challenge try some of the longer runs from higher, such as Mr K, Cinnabar, and Deep South, which are all still classed as beginners.

    Learning to Ski

    The resort designers at Big Sky developed their own system of grading runs to encourage beginners to transition from green runs to blue runs. Termed green plus terrain these runs are slightly more advanced than traditional green runs but still simpler than blue runs.

    Also, rather than limiting beginners to the lower runs, some blues and greens run down from the top to give great views When you arrive for your lessons at Big Sky check with your instructor to find out the best of the green plus runs.

    There is a full range of lessons for beginners with fully qualified instructors at Big Sky. You can choose between groups or private lessons, which are assessed based on age and ability.

    Off the Slopes

    Big Sky has plenty of family-friendly lodging, most of which are slope-side and with outdoor hot tubs. Infrastructure is well developed with a ski bus to get around town to visit the varied restaurants and après ski attractions.

    What We Love About Big Sky, Montana

    • Big Sky Ski Resort covers a large area, with 870 acres dedicated to beginner terrain.
    • The size of the resort means there is little crowding or queuing at lifts
    • Yellowstone National Park is only an hour away and is open throughout winter.
    • Most of the lodging is ski-in ski-out.

    Big Sky Stats

    Summit Elevation:11166 ft / 3403.40 metres
    Skiable terrain: 5800 acres
    Lifts:36
    Runs:317

    Why Choose Montana for Skiing?

    With its ‘big mountain’ and wild terrain Montana might not be the first State to choose for beginner skiing. However, you will have seen from our top picks, that most resorts and ski areas have more than enough versatility to welcome beginners and provide them with an experience they can use to build their skills.

    Our top pick for beginner skiing in Montana goes to Whitefish Ski Resort. There is a good, dedicated beginner area and the rest of the trails are designed so beginners can easily progress to take on new challenges. Similarly, the lessons accommodate the needs of beginners, helping them to build confidence. Finally, there is slope-side accommodation, which really helps to reduce the stress of a first-time skiing vacation.

    How Did We Order This List?

    To help rank our top selection of ski resorts for this list we compared the following ranking factors:

    👨‍👩‍👦 Ranking Factor📈 Power to affect Rank
    Amount of Beginner Trails (Mi) 4x
    Amount of Skiing Area (Mi) 3x
    Cost of two adult tickets + child ticket1x
    How many magic carpet lifts1x

    We gave each factor its own weighting depending on how important we feel it is for family fun across all ages. For example, a resort with more beginner trails is higher ranked than a resort with a lower-priced family ticket – with all else being equal. That’s because while cost is a factor, it’s not a primary one. We may also use our editorial judgment to remove or add resorts that we believe should make a list.

    When taking all of this into account, it gives us our awesome list above. We hope it was helpful in planning your next family ski vacation.

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    Best Ski Resorts for Beginners In Montana

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