The great state of Montana is certainly one of the most underrated ski destinations in North America.
What it lacks in volume of ski resorts, it more than makes up for in breadth and depth of wild mountains just waiting to be explored. In the spirit of exploration, ski mountaineer Brian Fletcher and I decided to make a visit to Montana the old fashioned way—via train. Named the Amtrak Empire Builder, the train bound for Whitefish, Montana, and eventually Chicago, leaves Seattle daily at 1:40PM.
Tell your boss you have to leave a little early on Friday afternoon, make a beeline to Seattle’s King Street Station and let your worries wash away the moment you step on board.
As you glide up the coast of the Puget Sound then turn inland via Stevens Pass, you may want to spend your time wrapping up the week’s business or just relaxing and enjoying the scenery from a completely new perspective.
The two-berth sleeper cars are extremely comfortable and provide a sound night of sleep as you rock to the rhythm of the train wheels. At exactly 4:26AM (if everything runs on schedule), you’ll arrive in beautiful but still sleeping Whitefish, Montana. Hunt down an early breakfast and coffee in town and get ready to hit the hills.
While the Whitefish Mountain Resort is just up the hill from town, and even provides shuttles from the train station, we had our sights set on loftier summits. Less than 24 hours after leaving Seattle we had arrived in Montana, climbed to 5,000 feet above the trailhead and were enjoying the amazing alpine landscape of Glacier National Park.
Glacier is an extremely beautiful park and is chock full of visitors in the summer months, but once the Going To The Sun Road closes for the winter, the population drops to almost zero and the mountains become a true wilderness once again.
Looking northeast from Comeau Pass hints at the lifetime of climbing and skiing to be explored in this massive section of the Rocky Mountains. Three separate mountain ranges and more than 150 named peaks over 8,000 feet are contained within the borders of the park.
Three days of climbing and skiing yielded brilliant sights and sore legs, but perhaps most importantly, we found some incredible powder. Montana local Zack Gidley makes the most of a stormy afternoon in the park.
Incredible solitude and diverse terrain from high alpine thrills to deep powder tree skiing awaits those who take the time and energy to explore the Montana backcountry in winter. Just make sure to do your homework and be prepared for winter wilderness travel and all of its inherent challenges. If you want a hand getting out, Glacier Adventure Guides will set you up with an experienced guide who can tailor a trip fit your group.
At the end of your last day of skiing, whether in the backcountry or the resorts, you’ll have time to pack your gear and have a nice dinner in Whitefish before catching the homebound train at 10:26PM. As your luggage is loaded into the train by a John Deere, you’ll realized that there’s something different about Montana, and that you like it…a lot. Fall into a blissful sleep and wake as the train climbs its way over the Cascades, rolling into Seattle just before noon. Who needs those morning meetings anyway?