Great Divide Ski Area is full of surprises. Located off the continental divide about 25 miles from Helena, Great Divide has excellent skiing and snowboarding over an exceptional variety of terrain that covers more than 1600 acres. This size makes Great Divide one of the larger ski areas in Montana. Moreover, Great Divide is one of the most affordable ski areas in Montana.
The skiing at Great Divide is excellent. The large size of the ski area provides great terrain diversity. Great Divide has a beautiful mix of open bowl skiing, steep bump runs, glade skiing, groomed cruisers and more. This ski run diversity pretty much guarantees boredom won’t happen during a day of skiing at Great Divide.
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|Intermediate Runs on Mt. Belmont|
Great Divide is built on a mountain called Mt. Belmont, which has an elevation of 7330 ft. As the mountain is the tallest around and because the terrain is quite open, the summit provides great views.
If Great Divide is lacking in anything it is, unfortunately, snow. Great Divide doesn’t get pounded with snow like other ski areas in Montana do. As a ski patrol person told me, it is not uncommon for huge snowstorms rage right around the mountain, with the ski area itself basking in mid-winter sunshine. And this weather phenomenon shows up in the average snowfall for Great Divide, which is 180 inches.
Now, 180 inches isn’t a lot of snow in comparison to other Montana ski areas. However, it is more than enough to provide a solid base during a normal winter. Additionally, the snow Great Divide receives tends to be pretty light and fluffy owing to its location on the east side of the continental divide and its elevation. And, because the crowds are generally light, this powder can lie undiscovered in the glades for many days after a snowstorm.
Getting to Great Divide is pretty easy. Just follow the signs. From Helena, follow I-15 north. Get off at exit 200, Lincoln Road (Highway 279). Then head west 10.5 miles to Marysville Road. Look for a Great Divide Ski Area sign along the road and/or the road marker for Marysville Road. These signs are located on the left (southern side) of the highway. Turn on Marysville Road and then drive 7 miles to Great Divide, going through downtown Marysville in the process.
Parking at Great Divide is free, like virtually every other ski area in Montana, and is abundant except on the busiest of weekends. The lodge at Great Divide Ski Area is great, being roomy, comfortable and in general making for a perfect place to change into ski clothes (instead of doing it in the car). The lodge also has a large deck that is used for barbecues during warmer weather.
Great Divide is divided into three different “ski regions”, for lack of a better word. The first region is the Mt. Belmont, which is what you see at the base area. The second region is called Rawhide Gulch, which is primarily a vast open bowl and is THE place to hit after a good snowstorm. And the third region is the area called the Wild West. Each of these "ski regions" is described below.
The Mt. Belmont region at Great Divide is the most popular part of the ski area, if only because it is closest to the base lodge. The Mt. Belmont region is serviced by three double chairs. The Mt. Belmont region consists of the widest variety of ski terrain in terms of difficulty levels. Mt. Belmont is home to all the beginning ski runs, some nice groomed intermediate trails and steep expert runs full of big moguls.
|Snow Fence On the Summit|
At the summit of Mt. Belmont there’s an interesting sight, at least one I thought was interesting. Great Divide Ski Area uses snow fences near the summit to catch the snow. What happens is that the winds, which can be pretty strong at times, blow the snow around the summit during storms. These snow fences then catch the snow and deposit the snow in the trails. This keeps the summit trails open and full of snow even during low snow years.
For beginners, the Mt. Belmont region is the place to ski. It has its own beginner chairlift, the Meadow Mountain chair. The beginner runs on Mt. Belmont are wide, well groomed and long enough to prevent more advanced beginners from getting bored. Some of these beginner runs also have very widely spaced trees in the trails, adding a nice variety to Great Divide’s beginner terrain.
Intermediate skiers will find many excellent ski runs in the Mt. Belmont region, especially those accessed off the Mt. Belmont lift, which is the only lift that leads to the summit. From the summit of Mt. Belmont, numerous excellent intermediate ski runs meander down the mountain. The trails are a mix of wide, open, well-groomed cruisers and narrow, meandering trails that pass through wooded terrain. Also, the views are excellent from the summit, so bring along a camera is the weather is nice.
Advanced skiers will also find some excellent skiing terrain in the Mt. Belmont region. All of the advanced skiing in this region is accessed from the summit of Mt. Belmont. The advanced ski runs tend to be steep and full of bumps. Many of the expert trails also cut through the woods, providing fine tree skiing. Excellent advanced ski runs in the Mt. Belmont region include Dark Forest, The Drifts, Huckleberry Hill and Surprise. Just watch out for rocks and cliffs on some of these trails, especially if snow levels are low.
Rawhide Gulch is a large and beautiful bowl that sits on the southern edge of the ski area and can only be accessed from the Mt. Belmont summit. This bowl contains a wide mix of terrain. In particular, Rawhide Gulch has some beautiful open skiing terrain for both intermediate and advanced skiers (there is no beginner terrain in Rawhide Gulch). As the bowl is so open, skiers generally make their own trails when snow levels are decent, weaving from one “trail” to the next.
|Rawhide Gulch With Little Snow|
There is one lift in Rawhide Gulch, the Rawhide Gulch Double Chair. However, this chair doesn’t go to the summit. Instead, the chair leads back to toward the base area. From the end of this lift, it is short ski run back to the base area to pick up the Mt. Belmont lift to the summit.
While the Rawhide Gulch area contains the widest variety of intermediate and advanced terrain at Great Divide, because this bowl faces to the southeast, it loses snow faster than the rest of the mountain. During low snow years it isn’t uncommon for Rawhide Gulch to be bare in spots. The whole bowl itself won’t be bare, but parts will be. Thus, exercise care when skiing down Rawhide Gulch during low snow years.
Overall, the Rawhide Gulch area is "the place" to go during good snow. It is the prime spot for skiers and snowboarders in search of open bowl skiing and glade skiing, since the wide open spaces of Rawhide Gulch allow skiers and boarders to find their own way down.
The Wild West
The Wild West region at Great Divide lies on the north end of the ski area. This part of the mountain is served by its own lift, the Wild West double chair, and has a vertical of 1200 feet. The trails in the Wild West area are a 50-50 mix of intermediate and advanced terrain. There is no dedicated beginner runs in the Wild West area, although some of the intermediate trails such as Trail Drive shouldn’t give most beginner skiers much trouble.
|Riding the Wild West Chair|
The terrain in the Wild West section is excellent for anyone who enjoys off-trail skiing. Few of the runs in the Wild West are groomed. As such, anyone who enjoys skiing in open terrain or in the trees will love the Wild West, particularly following a storm. Moreover, there are so many lines available to the bottom that more adventurous skiers should be able to find powder stashes many days after a snowstorm.
The Wild West offers very unique terrain compared too many other ski areas in Montana. Other than a handful of groomed runs, the Wild West area consists of skiing through widely spaced trees on moderately steep terrain. Most of the tree skiing isn’t “tight”, yet there are more than enough trees around to keep a skiers attention and to prevent the area being called an “open bowl.” I think the Wild West area offers the best skiing at Great Divide during good snow simply because it has such great diversity and nobody really skies back here. Crowds are a rare event in the Wild West at Great Divide.
Overall, Great Divide Ski Area is one of those undiscovered gems in Montana. With 1600 acres, a wide variety of terrain and a general lack of crowds, it is hard to not have a fine day of skiing or snowboarding at Great Divide. And the affordable lift tickets insure skiers won’t go home bankrupt at the end of the day, too.
- Snow : 180 inches
- Vertical Feet : 1500
- Lifts : 5 doubles, Beginner Tow
- Acres : 1600+
- Terrain : 15% Beginner, 40% intermediate, 45% advanced/expert.
- Nearest Towns : Helena