An Montanan’s Guide to What Makes Red Lodge Mountain So Special
Most people who visit Montana for skiing head to Big Sky Mountain where they pay premium prices for lift tickets and accommodation. Big Sky is great, but it’s…well, big, and can be quite expensive and busy. So a little known secret that Montanans know of is Red Lodge Mountain, a ski resort located 90 minutes east of Billings that is a wonderful place to spend the day going down the slopes.
What Makes Red Lodge So Special?
Red Lodge Mountain and the adjacent little resort town caters mostly to locals of Billings and other towns around Southeast Montana, meaning the ski runs are fairly empty (with the exception of beginner-central run, Miami Beach) as there really aren’t that many people who live in Montana.
As such, the equipment is a bit outdated: not all the chairlifts have bars you can pull down and you won’t find any fancy heated bubble chairlifts. It’s also not a huge ski resort and has just six lifts.
What you will find are friendly employees both in the chalet and operating the chairlifts alongside excellent ski runs with good snow (relatively speaking – obviously weather has control over this, but for the most part, Montana mountains aren’t lacking in the snow department). And those six lifts makes the resort feel easily navigable instead of overwhelming trying to figure out what run to do next.
At the top of the chairlift, you’ll find stunning views that stretch over the Beartooth mountains, the Beartooth-Absaroka Wilderness, and onto more peaks and valleys in the distance.
Favorite Ski Runs at Red Lodge Mountain
Red Lodge Mountain is home to 70 different runs. Red Lodge provides runs for every level, ranging from bunny hill to double black diamond, plus it has moguls and a terrain park. Less than 20% of those runs are for beginners, hence why Miami Beach gets crowded, since it’s a long, wide run that meets up with the bunny hill and is also home to a beginner terrain park. There are also easy trail runs ideal for skiers like Rabbit Trails.
About a quarter of the runs are blues (aka intermediate) while expert skiers and snowboarders will enjoy that 20% of the runs are considered difficult while the rest are classified for advanced skiers. Those looking for a tougher terrain park than what’s found along Miami Beach can try the intermediate and advanced park located on Hancock and Lower Continental.
Another run that stands out for advanced skiers and snowboarders is Main Drainage when there’s plenty of snow.
My favorite run is Paradise via the Palisades lift, a wide blue (medium skill) run that takes you past scenic rocks jutting up out of the mountainside and which also gets a lot of sun. It also doesn’t have any trails or flat areas, which as a snowboarder, I prefer.
For a leisurely run, the intermediate trail called Lazy M is also nice. It’s the longest run at Red Lodge, clocking in at 2.5 miles and the start of it begins at the top of Grizzly Peak, so you’ll get some of those fantastic top-of-the-world mountain views in before you begin your descent. A much more difficult alternative run from the top of Grizzly Peak that is also pretty long is Drainage — a double black diamond.
Red Lodge in general is great for snowboarders as there are very few flat areas between chairlifts or along runs.
Food and Drinks at Red Lodge Mountain
There are two chalets serving food: Bierstube at the base of the mountain and Midway Chalet located at Mid-Mountain at the top of the Willow chairlift and bottom of the Grizzly Peak chairlift. In addition, the Main Lodge has a cafeteria that is self-service.
A small warning that I’ve found it can be incredibly slow to get your food when doing table service at the chalets so if you want a quick lunch so you can get back on the mountain, head to the Main Lodge cafeteria for lunch (or bring your own and eat in the lounge area).
Montana is starting to become known for its craft breweries and the chalets at Red Lodge have many of those craft beers on tap along with favorites like Bud Light and PBR on tap (the best PBR you can get on tap is at Red Lodge Mountain according to locals).
I love that the menu options at Bierstube recommend a beer pairing, encouraging you to try new Montana beers. You can also do the “shotski” with friends at the Bierstube, which is a long ski that has shot glasses glued onto it; then you and your friends lift the ski at the same time and take the shots! My husband and brother did it last time we were there and it was quite entertaining!
Ski Lessons and Rentals
If you need to rent ski or snowboard equipment for your day at Red Lodge Mountain, you can do so right onsite.
As for lessons, I learned to ski at Red Lodge snowplowing down the bunny hill between my parents legs.
Later in life when I decided I wanted to switch to snowboarding in college, my dad got tired of seeing my sister and me fall down the mountain so impulsively got us into a last-minute snowboard class one day and it was the best! Super friendly instructor who didn’t make us college-age girls feel silly learning to snowboard down the mountain with a bunch of kids (who were already better than we were, haha). And most importantly, he gave me great tips that helped me finally start to get the hang of snowboarding.
Group lessons range in price from $59 to $99 and differ depending on age, skill level, and time of year. Intermediate and advanced lessons are a bit more expensive than beginner lessons, while the youngest age group (age four to six) is slightly more than older ages. It’s also more to take lessons during the holiday season than it is during regular season.
In addition to group lessons, there are also private lessons where you can be one-on-one with the instructor for a lesson specifically tailored to you and your abilities and what you’re hoping to learn to do on your skis or snowboard.
Where to Stay When Skiing Red Lodge Mountain
If planning a trip to Red Lodge Mountain, you can stay in the tiny town of Red Lodge located a short 10-minute drive from the entrance to the ski resort. Check out the Yodeler, which has steam showers ideal after a day of skiing.
You also may want to consider staying in Billings, Montana’s often overlooked largest city. With affordable hotel prices and several craft breweries and distilleries in town, Billings is gradually starting to mix in some cosmopolitan with its farm roots and you may find yourself falling in love with the city. I love it! Stay downtown near Montana Blvd.
I’ve skied at Red Lodge all my life. Though I live in Washington now, Jackie’s and my younger sister, Ang (a busy mom who serves as a consultant for this blog when her older sisters bug her 😉 ) and her husband live in Billings and they have long loved going to Red Lodge (she’s a skier and he’s a snowboarder) both before and after kids — it feels like their own little local ski resort and is rare they don’t run into someone they know when there.
As for Jackie, she’s not a skier or snowboarder, but she likes reading in cozy chalets!
So if you want glitz and glamour, head to Big Sky Mountain. If you’d like some Montana small-town friendliness with not an ounce of pretentiousness, give Red Lodge Mountain a try next time you’re planning a ski trip to Montana. You may be pleasantly surprised with Red Lodge and find yourself wanting to go back again and again just like we do here at Travel Montana Now!
Red Lodge Mountain Quick Tips
Number of Lifts: 6 (plus one surface lift)
Number of Runs: 70
Lift Tickets: Full-Day and Half-Day tickets are available. Half-Day tickets give you access to the mountain starting at 12:30 p.m. There is also a ticket that just gives you access to the Miami Beach run, which is great for beginners. Tickets are available to purchase online in advance.
Cost: Adult tickets start at $69 for full-day, $51 for half-day, and $39 for Miami Beach.
Child tickets (age 6-12) start at $29 for full-day, $21 for half-day, and $18 for Miami Beach.
Teen tickets (age 13-17) start at $54 for full-day, $39 for half-day, and $30 for Miami Beach.
Prices go up during holidays and peak season times.
Discounted tickets are available for senior citizens. Children five and under are free.
Open Times: As long as snow conditions are good, Red Lodge opens the Friday after Thanksgiving and closes the first weekend in April. Weather permitting, lifts run daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Elevation: The base areas are just over 7,000 feet while the highest summit (Grizzly Peak) is 9,416 feet above sea level.
Lessons: Group and Private lessons available for ages 4+ www.redlodgemountain.com/lessons/