By E.J. Daws
Explore Big Sky Staff Writer

If you haven’t spent time in Red Lodge, stop what you’re doing, find a weekend, grab your skis and vamoose.

With just over 2,000 residents set at the base of Montana’s Beartooth Mountains, Red Lodge has the classic American mountain town story. Born from a coal-mining boom in the 1890s, and busted during the depression, it is steeped in a colorful history of mountain men, miners, cowboys, ranchers, bikers… and skiers.

A town that once hired “Liver-Eating Johnson” (the basis for Robert Redford’s film, “Jeremiah Johnson”) as its Sherriff is sure to have nooks and crannies, watering holes, and along with that, untouched ski lines.

Known mostly as a summer destination because of its proximity to the Beartooth Highway – lauded as one of the most scenic drives in the country and an All-American Road – as well as the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park, Red Lodge bustles in the summer. But the low-key winter vibe lures folks from all directions to its quaint Western downtown, set to a backdrop of the state’s highest mountain range.

Just a touch over two hours from Bozeman, Red Lodge sees its weekend warriors mostly from Billings and Cody Wyo., but also the oil fields of Williston, N.D., and eastern Montana.

But even on the biggest powder days there are very few lift lines, as the upper portion of the mountain soaks up skiers and riders into its various glades, gullies and groomers.

 

Play – Red Lodge Mountain Resort
Red Lodge Mountain Resort offers 2,400 vertical feet of chutes, glades, rollers, groomers, bumps and ridges on 1,600 acres of Custer National Forest. Its slogan “Montana Skiing, Pure and Simple,” rings true with a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Expect to see cowboy hats alongside racing helmets, and Carhartt coveralls rubbing elbows with Spyder jackets.

A 10-minute drive from downtown Red Lodge, the resort’s location allows for minimal planning. Have a casual sit-down breakfast, and in minutes you’ll be sliding through the 250 inches of annual snowfall the resort receives each year.

The mountain has long been about skiing, from the Silver Run Ski Club’s 1930-era rope tow, to the mid-1960s when it built new lifts and opened new terrain for the visitors discovering the area and its treasures.

Spanning two peaks, Grizzly and Nichols, both over 9,000 feet in elevation, the area has something for every type of skier. Start your day with a top-to-bottom ride on Lazy M, the signature 2.5-mile groomer with almost perfect pitch. Next, dive into Drainage, a steeper run that allows you to play among trees or slash powder as you navigate the fall line down.

Keep heading across the mountain and lap 3rd Street, a playful wide open run with plenty of rollers, and bumps to trick. After that, sneak along Drifter to access the Cole Creek lift area, which will place you smack-dab in the middle of powder heaven.

A few laps in the Coal Chute and True Grit will have you salivating for more Beartooth powder, so venture into the steeps on Headwaters for face shots that will have you laughing and yarning over beers après in town.

Red Lodge Mountain Resort has seen several storm cycles this year that produced deep powder days for those lucky enough to have planned right. Be sure to make plans for April, as there are always a couple of nice late-season dumps.

 

Breakfast

Any ski day needs to start with good coffee and a hearty breakfast. Café Regis will cover both, along with a commitment to sustainable business practice. Ingredients are sourced locally (many coming from the greenhouse in the back of the restaurant) and the café is solar powered. Fill up with a “No. 1” which is the Regis’ take on eggs benedict and includes a homemade sour cream dill sauce. As you head out toward the hill, snag one of the made-from-scratch baked goods.

 

Dinner

Having the resort only minutes from authentic Montana dining and watering holes is a huge bonus. Nothing says refuel like a Montana steakhouse, and in Red Lodge you can find the choice cut downtown at the Carbon County Steakhouse on Broadway.

The casual, fine-dining experience in the quaint dining room is comforting, and so is the food. Flown in twice weekly, the Flat Iron Traditional Mussels are a must, as is the French Onion Soup. Pick from an impressive list of hand-cut signature steaks (the Cowboy Coffee Ribeye has an award-winning sauce and coffee rub), and wash it all down with your choice of Carbon County’s Wine Spectator awarded wine list.

 

Drink

As a former mining town, there is one thing Red Lodge does not lack: saloons. After dinner, roll across the street to the historic Snow Creek Saloon for well drinks, longneck beers and live music to get boot-scootin’. There is plenty of elbow room to throw around your partner, considering the stage is elevated in a loft tucked 15 feet up from the dance floor.

Once you’ve had your fill, escape the madness and slip into Natali’s Front Bar on Broadway for a quick nightcap. Sip a “Tatonka” (Buffalo Trace Bourbon with a single, large ice cube) and recap your day.

 

Stay

The Pollard, Montana’s premier historic hotel, lies in the center of town. Built in 1893, these elegant digs have hosted a who’s who of Western characters, outlaws and celebrities.

If the walls could talk, they would tell of Buffalo Bill Cody gambling in the parlor, or of Calamity Jane’s wild debauchery. Even the “Sundance Kid” Harry Longabaugh robbed the place in 1897 in front of an entire room of Pollard guests.

General Manager Zaven Yaralian (former NFL player and defensive coordinator, and Nebraska Cornhusker) has brought his success from around the world as a restaurateur and manager to continue the Pollard’s place as destination unto itself. The hotel now features a perfect balance of Western style and preserved history, alongside modern creature comforts like the health club and sauna.

Yaralian’s meticulous management is evident from the individually decorated rooms to the chef-prepared meals, and the comfortable pub to the History Room.

 

THE ACCOUTREMENTS

Arc’teryx Lithic Comp Jacket – 2014

Arc’teryx is the Apple of outdoor gear products: sleek and intuitive design, simple and functional features, and world-class quality construction. The Lithic Comp jacket (to be released in fall 2014) will make moves in the backcountry skiing and touring world.

The Lithic Comp combines the breathability of softshell panels – for your trips uphill – with a GORE hardshell for your (hopefully) deep pow turns on the way back down.

World renowned ski mountaineer Greg Hill – you know him from skiing 2 million human-powered vertical feet in 2011 – wears the Lithic Comp, and is currently attempting to ski 328,000 vertical feet in just 31 days this month.

If it’s good for Greg Hill, it’s good for you. arcteryx.com

 

Thule Chasm Duffel Bag

In the outdoor world, having a go-anywhere, oversized duffel is a must. The Swedish gear company Thule, mostly known for car racks, has made a nice push in the adventure travel gear category.

The Chasm is constructed from heavy-duty, waterproof PVC fabric, which is important when there is a good chance that ski boots will be alongside soft goods or clothing in varying weather. And in true Scandinavian fashion, thoughtful details set this bag apart.

Sneaky mesh pockets combine with a large zipper mouth allowing easy access to the main compartment. In a clever design twist, Thule allows you to slip two straps (included) converting the duffel to a backpack in no time. With 4,270 cubic inches of storage space for the medium, and a 25-year warranty, you won’t need another adventure duffel, ever. thule.com