A million memories with zero lift lines at Red Lodge Mountain in Montana

Posted By: Zeke Piestrup on January 20, 2011 3:10 pm

Red Lodge Mountain in Montana

Pondering a ski vacation?  Stuck in the mental rut of seeing ski vacation choices as a collegiate sounding acronym? UCCW, as in Utah, Colorado, California, Whistler.  Well free-thinker, follow me past the herd to a utopia of no lift lines, unmatched scenic landscapes, and an authenticity that breathes history.  Time for a ski adventure of the forever memorable kind.  The pictures will paint your brain in Montana.

The old mining town looks straight out of an old Hollywood western.  Although there are no two-dimensional facades in Red Lodge, Montana.  The history is a three-dimensional storybook filled with colorful characters that defined the wild frontier of the 19th century.  

There’s “Liver-Eating” Johnson, who must have had a screw knocked loose after having his Native American wife killed by the Crow Indians.  According to legend, Johnson went on a 12-year Hannibal Lecter killing spree that involved the eating of the livers of his victims.

With coal mines shuttering during the Great Depression, bootlegging illegal liquor became the de facto enterprise of choice.  “Syrup” from Red Lodge reached as far as Chicago and San Francisco.

Authenticity, it’s woven into the DNA of Red Lodge.  Ski film fans will recognize the ski town from the opening sequence of TGR’s Tangerine Dream.  TGR chose Red Lodge to re-create the old times, when TGR and Jackson Hole were on the outskirts of ski culture.  Red Lodge remains unblemished by the real estate explosion that turned ski areas into “plush” ski resorts.


Well, then what about the first word in “ski town”?  The skiing is much like that found at Keystone, Colorado.  Lots of rolling terrain with mellow groomers for families.  Then there’s Cole Creek with its steep chutes for the risk takers.

Received a local’s perspective from Shay Lee, one of the stars of an all-Montana ski film from Toy Soldiers Productions called “Come Find Us.”

Favorite lift:  Cole Creek lift.  It has the steepest terrain on the mountain with lightly gladed tree skiing, intermittent shoots.   There’s the Headwaters area, a backcountry zone that’s still inbounds.  It’s a little less cut into runs, the natural landscape.  That’s where you’ll find the most hidden pow stashes, most variety of things to jump off of, pillows, and great snow.

Pow day fun:  Drainage off the Grizzly Peak lift.  Super fun, starts wide and funnels down into a valley chute area.


Sun and fun at the Bierstube on Red Lodge Mountain

Apres ski spot:  Bierstube.  It’s gotta a big patio, perfect for the sunny ski day.  Inside there’s TVs with football games playing, X Games going when that’s on.  Lot of ski instructors, employees hang out there after skiing.  Great vibe.

Apres ski spot 2:  In Red Lodge, there’s the Red Lodge Pizza Company.  They have a dessert dish, called The Crazy Cookie.   That’s a must, a big 8″ cookie baked fresh with scoops of ice cream on top.  So good!


Other nuggets of Red Lodge gold:

–Before going to a ski town, it’s fun to check out the local radio station to get into the mountain town mood.  Check out FM 99 The Mountain, streaming live at http://fm99mtn.com/

–Beartooth Highway, called “the most beautiful drive in America” by CBS legend Charles Kuralt.  The winding highway starts its journey in Red Lodge and connects to the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway near Cooke City and the northeast gateway to Yellowstone National Park.  The highway is open from mid-May until November.

–“Skiing Red Lodge: Dead Man’s Curve to Grizzly Peak, A History” is a new book written by two former Red Lodge instructors.  The book features amazing old photographs of ski areas that came and went near Red Lodge.  Some seeing business for one year before being swept away by fire.  The beauty of Montana and its rich ski history is found throughout the book.

Zeke Piestrup ( More Posts)

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