A blue strobe flashing on downtown Bozeman's tallest building means snow. The beacon - which lights up when Bridger Bowl receives two inches of snow - signals skiers to check the snow report for the powder depth. Bozeman, located in Montana north of Yellowstone National Park, is the type of ski town where the snow isn't hype, but real.
Bozeman serves as the gateway to three ski resorts: Bridger Bowl, Big Sky, and Moonlight Basin. Bridger Bowl sits about 20 minutes from downtown hotels while Big Sky and Moonlight Basin flank Lone Peak about an hour's drive south.
Bridger Bowl, Bozeman's hometown ski area, is a day resort, with lodging, nightlife, and restaurants aplenty in the college town. Moonlight Basin and Big Sky, which neighbor each other, border with hotels, lodges, condominiums, cabins, and vacation homes. Economy hotels line the highway less than a 10-minute drive from the ski areas while luxury lodging claims ski-in-ski out ease. Big Sky, the largest resort, offers more restaurants, nightlife, and shopping in Mountain Mall, while smaller Moonlight garners raves for fine dining in Moonlight Lodge. Both resorts include spas.
All three resorts offer gentle beginner slopes, learn to ski or snowboard programs, and terrain parks. But they excel at buffing out long blue runs for intermediate skiers and corralling steep slopes inbounds for experts.
Bridger Bowl, sprawling across Bridger Mountain north slopes, rolls blue groomers down the Thunder Road ridge and across Wolverine's undulating meadows, while Powderhorn slices through the area's belly with an even-pitched swath for arcing wide GS turns. Most beginner runs concentrate in the base area, with upper lifts dropping on to a mix of groomers, mogul fields, and powder stashes. Two lodges in the base area and one mid-mountain provide places to grab a burgers, chili, and homemade baked goodies.
Big Sky and Moonlight Basin flank 11,166-foot Lone Peak, offering the highest elevation skiing in Montana and shared boundaries. Each sell individual resort tickets, but also a single lift ticket valid at both resorts.
Big Sky, enveloping the most terrain and granting the only access to Lone Peak's summit via the tram, stretches lifts across two faces of Lone Peak and two sides of Andesite Mountain. Blue cruisers ramble off Andesite and zig-zag through Lone Peak's lower ridges and ravines.
The longest run, which hops across black diamonds to reach groomers, stretches to six miles from Liberty Bowl to Mountain Mall. Lone Peak's expert upper elevations dish up the A to Z Chutes, wind-scoured cliffs, broad powder bowls, and glade skiing in Dakota Territory. Pinnacles Restaurant atop Andesite serves as the only on-mountain eatery while multiple restaurants rim the base area.
Moonlight Basin tucks under the north side of Lone Peak, its lengthy blue runs sporting seamless grooming on rolling fall line plunges through firs. Horseshoe, the longest run, circles 2.8 miles along the resort's western perimeter while black diamond runs hide powder and moguls off Lookout Ridge. Experts aim straight for The Headwaters-a line-up of steep chutes cutting a rocky bowl. Dining is available at three base areas-two with temporary facilities and one home to elegant Moonlight Lodge.
All three Bozeman resorts offer a unique steep inbounds backcountry-like experience that requires avalanche beacons. Bridger corrals two immense bowls and ridge hiking from its new experts-only Schlasman's lift. Experts with tickets valid for Big Sky and Moonlight can catch the Big Sky Tram to Lone Peak's Summit to descend Moonlight's several-thousand-foot North Summit Snowfield.
Direct flights on six airlines link to Bozeman's Gallatin Field Airport from seven large metropolitan areas. Rental cars and shuttles are available from the airport, plus free busses run to Moonlight and Big Sky throughout the day from nine locations around town. A free bus runs on weekends to Bridger Bowl.
When in Bozeman, keep your eyes out for the flashing blue light. Then, head to the slopes for powder.