Trailhead: Visit Neihart

By Jacob Osborne

Though Neihart’s population has dropped from 4,000 at its mining-boom peak in the 1890s to 51 in 2015, it’s anything but a ghost town.

'Chief Product Tester' George Willet. PHOTO BY TYLER ALLEN

‘Chief Product Tester’ George Willet. PHOTO BY TYLER ALLEN

Located along U.S. Highway 89 in the heart of the Little Belt Mountains, Neihart is an ideal place to get lost. With food and lodging at Bob’s Bar and rations aplenty at the Inconvenience Store, the town provides easy access to top-notch hiking, fishing, and camping, as well as 250 miles of snowmobile and mountain biking trails.

Snow, however, is what Neihart does best. Nine miles south of town, Showdown Ski Area, Montana’s oldest continuously operating ski mountain, rises 8,200 feet to the summit of Porphyry Peak. Founded in 1936, Showdown offers 34 trails to riders of all abilities, and is celebrating its 80th season this winter by sticking with what works: friendly service and natural snow.

Neihart resident George Willett has owned Showdown for more than 40 years, and says early mountain mornings are still his favorite moments: “My main title here is ‘Chief Product Tester,’ so when there’s fresh snow, I need to get up and test it to make sure it’s OK for people to ski on.”

Willett is proud of Showdown’s legacy of all natural “product,” and he’s grateful, too.

“The ‘Big Guy’ – he seems to put snow here most years.”

This story was first published in the winter 2016 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.