Each winter, America’s snow lovers flock to the northern Rockies of Montana, hoping and anticipating an epic experience in the powder of Big Sky Country. The snow falls in Montana are the definition of beauty, and on bluebird days, with no wind, it’s hard to find a more majestic and wonderful place on the planet. It doesn’t matter if you snowshoe, climb, or cross country ski, the soft crunch of snow underfoot is one of the only sounds you will hear breaking the silence of the vast wilderness that surrounds you—mountain vistas, frozen lakes, wanderlust inducing panoramas, and some of the world’s most amazing destinations.
Before you head out into the wilderness for an adventure, remember, winters in Montana can be rough, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience in higher elevations and extremely cold temperatures—both very real challenges in the Rockies. Knowledge here is truly power, and having decent gear is essential. Be sure you have all your bases covered, and stop at either the Kalispell or Whitefish Sportsman and Ski Haus. This employee-owned sporting goods store, located close to two ski areas, endless lakes and mountains, Glacier Park, and some of America’s prettiest wilderness areas, has all the gear you need to have a safe, smart, and amazing winter adventure in this Rocky Mountain playground. The staff here are knowledgeable and committed to helping you find what you need for your adventure.
Carrying gear in the winter can be clunky and burdensome, which is why it is important to find the right backpack for your trip. To explore winter in the great outdoors of Montana, Sportsman and Ski Haus sells a great selection of Osprey packs and accessories. Pick up an Osprey Variant 52, which is excellently designed to carry skis, snowshoes, and other winter gear for your longer trips. If short distances and speed are more your style, a great pack for adventuring would be the Osprey Kode 22, as it is perfect for quick winter getaways in the backcountry. Once you have your pack loaded up, it is time to head out on the best trails in the region.
Near Kalispell, the Swan Range on the east side of Flathead Lake, is one of Montana’s best- kept secrets. Stacked up against the Great Bear and Bob Marshall Wilderness, this gorgeous area has snowshoeing, world-class cross-country skiing, and rugged mountaineering. It’s close to town, yet visited rarely by the masses who descend on northwest Montana each winter. With the right gear and a positive attitude, the trails, roads, and mountains of the Swan Range provide a lifetime of exploration not far from the fantastic amenities in town.
In the picturesque mountain town of Whitefish, endless adventures in pristine rocky wilderness await. The Whitefish Ski Resort, a short drive away from the local Sportsman and Ski Haus outdoor store, offers skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts deep powder, unmatched terrain, and stunning views. Cross-country skiers will love exploring the many miles of trails at Big Mountain Nordic Trails, and participating in the area’s races, and fun group events.
Those looking for pristine snow and true wilderness adventure, however, should take the short jaunt out to Glacier National Park. Here, in one of America’s most-popular national parks, winter adventure is around every corner, with incredible snowshoeing and skiing destinations. One of the most classic Glacier experiences is the 7.2-mile round-trip hike to see the stunning, panoramic view from Apgar Lookout. Few locations are as jaw-dropping as this one, with Lake McDonald below, and the mountains that make up the spine of the Continental Divide to the east.
Or, for a truly majestic experience at Glacier, head down the closed Going-to-the-Sun road toward the Avalanche Picnic Area. This gentle, 11.6-mile route is great for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. It has easy trekking and good views of McDonald Creek, and the mountains surrounding the McDonald Valley. If conditions and time allow, think about heading up another 2.25 miles to Avalanche Lake. While it’s 16 miles round-trip from the parking lot, the view at the lake is worth every step. Avalanche Lake sits at the base of 8,694-foot Bearhat Mountain, which rises 4,800 feet above the frozen, snowy lake. With the 7,886-foot Little Matterhorn dominating the view to the south, this is hands down one of the best viewing experiences you can have during a winter adventure in Glacier.
Winter in northwest Montana is for snow lovers of all ages, and everyone should come and enjoy. Thanks to breathtaking wilderness areas, a stunning national park, and world-class skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing, a winter adventure around Kalispell and Whitefish is exactly what your soul needs. Remember to grab a new pack, warm winter gear, and advice from the staff at Sportsman and Ski Haus to make sure your winter vacation or weekend trip to the region is the first of many awesome Big Sky adventures.
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