When it comes to picking a destination for a family ski trip, there are many options to choose from. But there’s only one place that delivers 14 ski areas, 15,000 acres of terrain filled with deep, light powder (the kind that’s perfect for a variety of skill levels) and two national parks that anchor the state’s northern and southern ends—Montana.
With two world-class ski resorts and 12 mom-and-pop ski hills, the hardest part may be picking a spot for your winter family trip. But around here, if you ask a local, they’ll tell you there’s a bit of magic dancing around Montana’s mountain towns. And truth be told, they’re probably right. Meet Whitefish and Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Located a 15-minute drive from Whitefish and with jaw-dropping views of Glacier National Park and the Flathead Valley is Whitefish Mountain Resort. With 3,000 skiable acres, half of the resort’s runs are for beginner and intermediate, while the other half is designed for advanced and expert skiers. For families traveling with kids of diverse skill levels, the resort offers group lessons and child ski/board and play programs, making it easy for both parents and kids to have a perfect winter getaway. An added bonus, if you buy lift tickets for two or more days, adult tickets are discounted to $74 per day, teens (13-18) are $64 per day and juniors (7-12) are $36 per day. Children 6 and under ski free.
Whitefish Mountain Resort has a large selection of on-mountain lodging, including ski-in/ski-out accommodations, condos and more. Plus, the world’s first ski-in/ski-out luxury treehouses—Snow Bear Chalets—are located slopeside. The first accommodation of its kind, the chalets have a cozy cabin feeling, complete with outdoor decks, full kitchens and hot tubs.
Meanwhile, a short drive down Big Mountain Road will take you to one of the most charming mountain towns in the West, Whitefish. Any family ski trip to Whitefish Mountain Resort should include time spent in town strolling along boardwalk-covered Central Avenue, checking out local shops and tasting Montana at breweries, distilleries and restaurants. Additional winter-themed activities include bundling up behind a team of horses on a sleigh ride at Bar W Guest Ranch, ice skating at Stumptown Ice Den, taking a ranger-led snowshoe excursion in Glacier National Park or spending the day skiing at nearby Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, a mom-and-pop resort just south of Kalispell that overlooks the largest natural freshwater lake in the west—Flathead.
For family travelers looking to hop direct flights to Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, winter flights arrive from Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Salt Lake City and Seattle. Plus, the airport is a short 20-minute drive from Whitefish.
The southern anchor to Montana’s family-friendly skiing is the aptly named Big Sky Resort in Big Sky, a mountain community of around 2,300 people. While the town of Big Sky may be small, the resort is known for “the biggest skiing in America.” Widely known for its advanced and expert runs, 40 percent of its terrain is beginner and intermediate, making it a perfect choice for families of varying experience levels. Additional family perks, the resort has youth group lessons for ages 3 and up, children 6 years old and under always ski free and they offer ski and stay packages that combine lift tickets and lodging.
Big Sky Resort also has a charming mountain village with four hotel properties and condo accommodations, as well as 15 dining options. Plus, it’s located a few minutes from the town of Big Sky where families can find plentiful culinary selections, with a special focus on locally sourced meals and entertainment at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.
For families looking for off-mountain fun, Big Sky has a wide array of activities, including sleigh rides at Lone Mountain Ranch, 320 Guest Ranch and Cache Creek Outfitters. During the winter season, Lone Mountain Ranch and 320 Guest Ranch have winter lodging packages, making it easy for families to experience a cozy ranch stay as part of their downhill ski trip. Additional family-friendly offerings nearby include: Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Bozeman Hot Springs, Bridger Bowl (Bozeman’s local ski area) and Yellowstone National Park.
Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport—located about a 60-minute drive from Big Sky—welcomes direct flights from 16 cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Newark, New York City, Phoenix/Mesa, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Seattle.
For families looking for an easy road trip option—that perfectly pairs downhill skiing with soaking in natural hot springs—Lookout Pass Ski Area (located on the Montana/Idaho border just off I-90) provides fun terrain, offers free ski lessons for kids 6-17 years old and has 25 kilometers of on-site cross-country ski trails. In addition, it’s just a 45-minute drive to Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort, one of the region’s best family destinations. The resort is decked out with lodge rooms, cabins and natural hot springs pools.