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I grew up in Montana, and growing up in Montana means skiing the Beartooth Pass every summer. If you haven’t skied it yet, you should. Like, tomorrow. Here’s the lowdown.
The Beartooth Highway is a 68-mile National Scenic Byway that winds though southern Montana and northern Wyoming and eventually spits travelers out in Yellowstone National Park or Red Lodge, Montana, depending which direction you’re headed. The Beartooth Plateau, where you’ll be skiing, is highest point on the highway at almost 11,000 feet.
Where to Stay
One of the best parts about skiing the pass is the free camping. Nestled between two 10,000-foot plateaus lies the main fork of Rock Creek, which is lined with camping spots for a good four miles. On weekends, the spots fill up with a diverse crowd of rednecks hauling ass down the dirt road on four wheelers, families in RVs looking to get out of town for the weekend, and you people. Skiers.
Where to Get Supplies
About 10 miles north of the campground you’ll find yourself on Main Street in the quaint town of Red Lodge, Montana. Red Lodge has everything you need: a grocery store that sells beer (beware: It closes at 8 p.m.), a few bars (I’d recommend Snow Creek), and a kickass candy shop.
Most of the skiing is located on top of the Beartooth Plateau which you can get to by following highway 212 south until the road turns into the Beartooth Highway and climbs to over 10,000 feet. Once at the top you’ll find yourself with a plethora of options accessible from the road.
There are two poma lifts that, for $45 a day, will deliver you to the top of a steep headwall all day without hiking a step. It doesn’t open every year (like this year) but when it does you can expect more crowds, park skiers, and kids. The season for the lift runs from May 23- July 5 (weather dependent).
The Gardiner Headwall is another option for those who are looking for more adventure. From the top of the headwall you can ski anything from a mellow bowl of corn to an adrenaline pumping 50 degree couli. If you don’t have a sled, it’s a short boot or skin out of the basin back to the road.
Probably the most famous of all is Rock Creek Headwall. This headwall sees the most traffic and requires a shuttle or hitchhike but is well worth doing—the entrance into the main couloir is a pee-your-pants puckerfest. This headwall is the first one you’ll see as you switchback up the highway.
Each one of these areas are close together and can be seen right from the road so scouting a line that’s right for you super easy.
The skiing here is awesome, but the real beauty of the pass is that it attracts so many different types of ski folk, from park junkies building kickers to hardcore backcountry babes to that ski-bum dad and his ripping 10-year-old kid. And, of course, they all come together afterward for beers around the bonfire.