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Best Skiing in Montana on a Budget

Best Skiing in Montana On a Budget

With 15 resorts, ranging from smallish local “hills” to world-class ski resorts, the range of skiing options in the “Treasure State” means that a ski vacation can be within reach of budget-conscious family travelers.  Here we will break down the best skiing in Montana on a budget.

Some of the links in this blog are affiliate links. If you click and purchase, we will receive a commission at no extra charge to you.  We only recommend activities or places we have experienced, and all opinions are our own.

Most Affordable Ski Resorts in Montana

Let’s start, though, with the elephant in the room. If the only Montana ski resort you have heard of is “Big Sky Resort” let me burst your bubble right from the start: “Big Sky” and “budget” do not go together. 

In fact, with daily lift ticket prices hovering around $200 for a single day (if purchased in advance, online) unless having the bragging rights of skiing Montana’s biggest (5,850 acres), steepest (4,350 vertical feet!) and most expensive resort is a must for you, we recommend looking elsewhere.  

Bozeman Ski Resorts

Closer to Bozeman than Big Sky is Bridger Bowl, our top recommendation.  Bridger Bowl is located 16 miles north of Bozeman, Montana on State Highway 86 (MT-86).

And they offer a free shuttle with two pick up points in Bozeman: at the Student Union Building (SUB) on the Montana State University campus, and at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds on Oak Street. 

While hotel and short-term vacation rental prices in Bozeman can be steep, you might be able to save by staying a bit outside of Bozeman and still have an easy drive for the shuttle pick up at the Fairgrounds where parking is free and ample.  

bBridger bus pick up at the fairgrounds
Gallatin County Fairgrounds
Park and Ride at Bridger Bowl
Park Here for Free

Cost to Ski at Bridger Bowl in 2022-2023

Be sure to plan ahead and buy your lift tickets in advance online. This advice applies to all Montana ski areas (and probably pretty much everywhere, actually).  2022-23 full day ticket prices at Bridger Bowl are $70 per day for adults.

You can save a bit more with a 3- or 5-day “Any Day” pack – multiple ski days that do not have to be consecutive and with no black out dates.

A 3-day pack costs $200 for an adult and a 5-day pack costs $325 for an adult.  This isn’t a huge savings from the advance online ticket price but come on: $70 for a single day lift ticket is fantastic!

You will need to purchase a reusable Bridger Bowl Card for $5.00. The card uses RFID technology and once you have one you can reuse it throughout the season or from one year to the next. They typically will survive five seasons.

With snow-making capability on only 5% of the mountain, Bridger Bowl is weather-dependent. But with an average annual snowfall of 300 inches to cover its 2,000 acres and 2,700 vertical feet, the conditions are often outstanding.

The resort area consists of two lodges at the base area: Saddle Creek Lodge and Jim Bridger Lodge. Both offer food and drink options.

Pick up your lift tickets and rent gear at Saddle Creek Lodge; retail shop and bag storage is available on the ground floor of Jim Bridger Lodge.  

Saddle Creek Lodge Bridger Bowl

Pro tip: even if you see others lining up their bags along the wall in the upper level of Jim Bridger Lodge, do not follow suit. Your bag will likely be swept into lost and found (located at bag storage) and you will have to pay the day rental rate to get your stuff back. 

The bag check rate is quite reasonable and you can check your bag in and out multiple times for one flat fee.  It’s definitely possible to bring a picnic lunch to avoid having to pay on-mountain rates for food.  

There are no on-mountain lodging options at Bridger Bowl.  Overnight camping is prohibited May-November but if you have a winter-ready camper, you may be able to park overnight during ski season. Per Bridger Bowl’s website, you’ll want to email for possible overnight parking permission.

best skiing in Montana on a budget at Bridger
Short Lift Lines at Bridger Bowl

Best Ski Resorts On a Budget 2 hours from Bozeman

There are three other reasonably-priced ski areas just around 2 hours driving time from Bozeman, all with day lift ticket rates similar to (or slightly less than) Bridger Bowl: Showdown Mountain ($60 adult day ticket), Great Divide ($64 adult day ticket), and Discovery Ski Area ($70 adult day ticket window price – less if purchased online in advance).

Of these three, Discovery Ski Area has a bit more to offer and is most comparable to Bridger Bowl.  

Missoula Ski Resorts

Discovery Ski Area is also about 1.5 hours from Missoula, a good option for a homebase. There are a number of less expensive hotel and short term rental options in Missoula. 

There are also lodging options closer to Discover Ski Area — in Anaconda, Phillipsburg, and Georgetown Lake. The resort has partnered with some local hotels to offer Ski and Staypackages. 

Less than 30 minutes (12 miles) from Missoula is our second favorite recommendation for reasonably-priced skiing in Montana: Montana Snowbowl.  Window price for a full day adult ticket in 2022-23 is $68. Until December 1st you can save $10 per day by buying ticket coupons online.  

If you like being able to roll up to the mountain and not worry about finding a parking place, Snowbowl has you covered. Their shuttle bus has two pick up spots in Missoula during most of the winter season and will only set you back $3 per person round trip.  

Their lodge offers relatively reasonably priced food and drink options and the entire ski area has a relaxed, no-frills vibe. But with 2,600 vertical feet  and an average of 300 inches of snow each year, you can absolutely have an epic day on the slopes for a reasonable price.

A third option if you have Missoula as your Montana ski break basecamp is Lookout Pass. Located about 90 minutes west of Missoula on I-90, Lookout Pass sits on the Montana/Idaho border. Ski in two states in a single day! 

As of this writing, Lookout Pass has not posted their 2022-23 lift ticket prices on their website. 2021-22 walk up ticket window prices, which they tout as “the most affordable lift tickets in Idaho or Montana” were $53 midweek (non-holiday)  $59 weekend (non-holiday) and $66 during holiday periods.  

Buying online in advance will save you $4 per adult lift ticket.  Lookout Pass is a smaller ski area (1,023 skiable acres, 1,650 vertical feet) but has ambitious plans for expansion. Phase 1 of this plan was completed in 2021-22. 

If you are members of your family are first-time ever skiers, Lookout Pass also offers very reasonably priced ski lessons, including their “Famous Free Ski School.”

Want still more Montana ski resort options?

If reading this got you excited – or if you’ve read and tried our recommendations but still want to discover more Montana skiing options, hope on the official Visit Montana website for the full list of Montana ski areas.

Some FAQs about Skiing in Montana On a Budget?

What airport, Bozeman or Missoula, usually has cheaper flights?

Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is the busiest airport in Montana. Because of the number of flights in and and out of Bozeman, it is most likely your cheaper option. 

However, if Lookout Pass is the resort for you, you will probably save money by flying into Spokane Washington rather than Missouli. Since Lookout is on the Montana/Idaho border it is equidistant from Spokane as it is from Missoula. 

What is the best month to go skiing in Montana?

February is the best time to ski Montana. While resorts typically open around Thanksgiving, Montana tends to get a big dump of snow in December and then have a lull in January. In February the flurries pick up again.

While December could be good, the base of snow will not be as deep in December, which is still the early season. Also, if you are skiing on a budget, you should always avoid the holiday seasons. Not only are lift tickets often higher during this period, places to stay and flights are also at their highest. 

How do you get all that ski gear on a budget?

We are big fans of thrifting ski gear before your time on the slopes. Especially if you live in a colder or mountainous region, thrift and consignment shops are the ideal place to find gently used gear that was donated because the owner was onto the new best thing.

If you do need to rent ski/snowboard gear, we definitely recommend renting off mountain. Check the prices with the resort, but often a rental shop will have a much lower price because they don’t have the convenience of being right at the base of the hill. 

Where to get used gear is just one of our 10 tips for skiing on a budget. 

What are other budget resorts in the American West?

Skiing is one of our favorite winter activities as a family so we are constantly looking for that budget lift ticket that still has multiple chair lifts, numerous runs and significant vertical drop. 

We have suggestions for budget skiing in Idaho and Oregon as well. 

Or if you are new to skiing and have your heart set on skiing the iconic Colorado front range, let us help you with the best ski resorts in Colorado for beginners.

Best Skiing in Montana On a Budget

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