by: Bryan - 30th December 2011

  • 4
  • Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced/Expert
  • 5All-Mtn. Terrain
  • 4Family Friendly
  • 2Aprés Ski
  • 3Terrain Park
  • Overall Value
excellent terrain
congested undersized base area

Full review

We drove out from Minneapolis over the Christmas week. This place has a monster rise off the local terrain. We had stopped in Billings on the way out to buy discount lift tickets - adults at $42 rather than $49, (college kids get them for $32 at the hill), and could see not only the hill but the runs from the edge of Billings - 50 miles away. The town of Red Lodge is at 5500 ft, the plains below probably at 4000 ft or less, so the view from the top was huge. You could see the Crazy mountains and I'm quite sure the Bridger range to the west. Behind were the peaks and high plateau of the bear tooth range - spectaular. The ski hill peaks are at 9700, chalet base is 7700, but the palisade area drops another 400' for the advertised 2400' vert. But the impressive part is it's 2000 ft straight down. Two main runs run from top to bottom, one is black diamond (upper and lower limited), the other intermediate (lazy M) (but in the midwest it would also be black diamond). All of us went down Lazy M, but it isn't lazy. You wouldn't be able to bomb it - and the limited, which is groomed - would get you up around a hundred if you tucked and kept your feet. That run, if left ungroomed would be a 2 mile mogul run all the way down. Even the beginner lift, Miami beach, has a grade like an intermediate run and is tilted to the fall line, so isn't the best for beginners, but is a full 300 ft in elevation. Our daughters spent much time on that run. The only true beginner area is right out front the chalet in the wide ravine though which all the runs eventually funnel to the main lower lift. The Miami beach area is in it's own side ravine. The main area has a long magic carpet off the north side and a roped area for beginners and lessons. Good area for true beginners. It was packed. Five days before we arrived they got 2 feet of snow. Three days before our arrival temps got up into the 40s. We saw little powder, almost all hard packed power, and a touch of the hard stuff. Conditions were actually very good and what we like to ski, but I was surprised it settled and got knocked down so fast. This hill was completely open, base of 4' +, nothing else in the West as far as I know was even 75% open at this time, so folks normally running off to Big Sky for the day or Bridger were here. The parking lot is small for ski area size and cars were parked on the side of the access road going a full mile down the road. My wife had an old guy sit with her for a while and said normally the top lot is only half full. Yet in spite of having record crowds, and mostly older lifts, there were no real lift lines. Even on day 2 when they closed the upper lifts, my son and I took the willow lift multiple times - no lines. An exception to this was the Miami beach lift which ran at a snails pace had a long line and the high speed quad in the palisades area had a bit of a line. The main triple lift flies along, they have a sign in front telling you you'll get knocked on your can if you don't pay attention. My son and I skied much on the front side and Latigo in the Cole Creek area. Again very steep grade for an intermediate run. His gps showed a 1000+ ft drop in about a mile. I skied true grit (double black) once - steep with mostly shallow bumps..And of course there was a family of 4 going down it - mom, dad, sister and little sister - about age 5. Not sure what their motivation was - at their rate they were going to get just one run in. Our second time down this area we took the trail that goes to the bottom of the palisades. My son said it was the best trail he's ever been on. Dangerous weaving thing, hard to keep the speed down. Other great mogul runs were Berrys, Thompsons' and Royals run. Even on the lower level of the hill off the side of the main ridge, they had runs like Bigfoot and Bear paw that longer bump runs than most in the Midwest. Best part of the hill is the terrain, from looking at google earth and the tail map, I underestimated the size and topography. It's much larger, steeper, and varied than I expected. Ridges, valleys and heavily treed. Much more interesting terrain than Solitude and Winter Park, and from what I remember of Keystone and A-basin. Similar but obviously smaller, yet more challenging than Snowmass. The Drainage area looked cool from the chair but not like the map... it's just tree skiing in a really steep gorge. I didn't try it. Short comings? Lower parking is 50 ft below upper parking. Upper parking is 20 ft below the chalet. Step out of the undersized Chalet, and you have to walk up 12 ft of hill to get to either of the lift lines. Had they not flattened out the area for the parking, they could have continued the runs down another 500 feet into the ravine. They're short of flat areas. Instead of fanning out onto flats, it all funnels in to a congested, overly steep area. I didn't mind, nor did our kids, but not an easy place for beginners. The upper chalet was very nice. Day 2 we stopped in early - almost empty. Next we stopped at noon, jam packed, but again the weather went from calm, sunny and 35 in the morning to maybe 40 mph gusts midday. The entire area is in a national forest with limited base facilities for the size of the hill. Sort of like Lutsen on a busy day. They did put in 2 high speed quads in sometime ago - for Cole creek and Palisades, but in my opinion they should have used the Palisade quad (not always in use) and used it to serve the base area, and moved dirt around to make base area more friendly. Also there is no on site lodging so it's a ski hill - not a resort. I imagine the locals would want it to stay the way forever. Limited older lodging in town, inconvenient for beginners, no glamour. In return they get great cheap skiing. I'd go back for another look. Can't say the same for three of the other places I've been to in the last few years.
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