Western Montana’s beautiful—and bountiful—backcountry beckons all year long. When the snow flies, however, it’s especially bragworthy. Our winter wonderland offers a world-class backcountry skiing experience hard-core downhill enthusiasts will not soon forget.
Setting out on your own backcountry tour can be as simple as skinning up a closed logging road or any number of Western Montana’s peaks, but, you can also dial it up a notch or two. For the backcountry trip of a lifetime, where deep, untouched powder is second to none, pair your off-the-beaten-path ski adventure with a backcountry yurt stay, or take a guided snowcat to awe-inspiring elevations. A yurt rental takes your backcountry journey to the next level, whether you’re taking a self-guided ski tour or hiring a guide to show you the way.
First things first: What’s a yurt? Yurts are portable, round, lattice-framework tents covered with canvas, skins or felt. They’re rustic but cozy and can sleep multiple people—typically 4 to 14—on padded bunks and cots. Yurts are usually equipped with wood-burning stoves, firewood, drinking water, lanterns, propane stoves, kitchen equipment, and outhouses/pit toilets, meaning outdoor winter camping has never been cozier. It’s important to note that each yurt is unique in its offerings; you will need to haul in some of your own gear—like sleeping bags and food—though some outfitters do provide a gear haul service.
For unforgettable cold-smoke powder skiing in the Swan Range—the heart of Montana’s backcountry—book a stay with Montana Backcountry Yurts. Nestled between the Mission Mountains and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, these yurts are approximately 8 miles from the trailhead, an hour northeast of Missoula, and the terrain ranges from mellow glades to wide-open bowls.
Just outside Bigfork, the Jewel Basin Yurt is off the grid and on record for epic snowfalls. Jewel Basin backcountry offers incredible skiing well into the spring. The yurt sits atop a deck perfect for watching Montana sunrises and sunsets, with jaw-dropping views of Flathead Lake and the Swan Mountain Range.
The Bitterroot Valley offers plenty of backcountry bliss. From chair 4 at Lost Trail Powder Mountain ski area, access the backside of the mountain, where sublime backcountry reigns. The Stateline Yurt—just over a mile from the ski area boundary—offers varied terrain, from low-angle trees ideal for the novice backcountry enthusiast to extreme skiing for the expert.
Also in the Bitterroot, the Downing Mountain Lodge near Hamilton offers a more luxurious stay and 3,000 feet of gladed, backcountry skiing and open bowls. Explore the terrain on your own or go with a guide. Après ski consists of hot tubbing on the lodge’s north lawn and warming up by the massive central fireplace inside the lodge.
You’ll find even more exceptional Bitterroot backcountry on the ridgeline at Lolo Peak; Carlton Ridge offers the most popular backcountry skiing in the area. Between the Bitterroots and the Sapphire Range, St. Mary’s Peak, Gash Point, Lost Horse Canyon, Trapper Peak and Camas Peak are some of the local favorites. Note, some areas require snowmobile access.
Another way to slay the backcountry is to access higher elevations by snowcat on a guided backcountry ski trip. Let Great Northern Powder Guides show you the way. Their custom snowcats access terrain as high as 7,500 feet in the Stillwater State Forest just 20 miles north of Whitefish. This powder playground boasts diverse terrain for cat skiers and boarders, steep and deep seekers, and even first-timers. Book an overnight yurt adventure; This fully guided excursion offers the quintessential backcountry ski experience.
As always, it’s important to stay safe while exploring backcountry terrain. Be avalanche aware at all times. When skiing in the backcountry you should read local avalanche forecasts. You should also have basic avalanche gear and know how to use it. Many outfitters in the region offer avalanche and backcountry clinics. For updated avalanche conditions in the region, visit the West Central Montana Avalanche Center and the Flathead Avalanche Center.
For more information and backcountry travel planning resources, visit the Montana Backcountry Alliance.
January 6, 2020