Missoula Montana Backcountry, Telemark Skiing

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Backcountry Skiing

There is a different sort of reward after hiking and sweating your way to the top of a peak, so skin up at hit Missoula's backcountry for a day of alpine touring that is sure to get the adrenaline pumping.

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  • Feel the cold, crisp mountain air as it pierces your lungs as you blaze your way through the powder.
  • For the inexperienced backcountry adventurer, hire a guide and let them show you the ropes.
  • Backcountry skiing can be a great fun, but make sure to be properly prepared.


Step into the backcountry and experience life out of bounds. Missoula backcountry skiing offers you access to some of the best snow and terrain out there. Skin up and ski down through the glades and down the bowls. Create your own line.

It doesn't matter if you board, ski, or tele, there is room in the backcountry for everyone. Take a chance and try this exhilarating sport. Alpine touring is a great way to add a little flair to your winter ski vacation.


There are hazards to backcountry skiing. Here, nobody is checking the snowpack or protecting you from avalanches. Alpine touring is great fun, but don't let unpreparedness turn your fun day into a nightmare.

Simple precautions go a long way: bring food, water, first aid kit, layers, and a warm space blanket. For avalanche safety always have proper gear as well like a shovel, probe, and beacons. Know your surroundings, know how to use your avalanche gear and always tell someone about your backcountry plans.

Check the local avalanche report before heading out. For information in the Missoula area call 406-329-3752 or check www.missoulaavalanche.org for the latest reports. Backcountry skiing is great fun when your prepared.

Where to go Backcountry Skiing around Missoula

Where to start your ski adventure is the hardest part. Listed below are some day trip backcountry adventures to get you started.

Bitterroot Mountains

The Bitterroot Mountains are just south of Missoula and very easy to access, just head south on Hwy 93 and pick your turn off. The rugged peaks in this mountain range provide a varied terrain with glades, nice open slopes, and chutes. Roughly speaking, if you can see it, you can ski it.

  • St. Mary's Peak: At 9,000 ft, St. Mary's Peak is one of the most accessible ridges in both the summer and winter. A fairly easy hike will open up to picturesque panoramas. Here you will find nice open slope skiing off the surrounding ridges and great glade skiing on the eastern trail. The road does close so access is only available in late fall or early spring. Take 93 south to Indian Loop Road, take a right and follow the trailhead signs.
  • Trapper Peak: The tallest peak in the Bitterroot range, Trapper Peak rises above all others at 10, 157 ft. Great for overnight trips or spring skiing. After an arduous skin up, the postcard panoramic views will unfold in front of you. From the peak you have two options; follow the open slopes along the ridgeline before descending into the sub-alpine glades or for more advanced skiers, tackle the technical lines that drop into the Trapper Peak drainage. Approach from Baker Lake, on the northeast slope for a glading extravaganza. From Missoula, take Hwy 93 south past Darby and take West Fork Road (FR473) to Trapper Peak Road (FR5630).
  • Blodgett/Kootenai/Sweeney Canyons: The lower elevation trailheads found in these canyons often make access available throughout the winter. These canyons are all very similar so follow the creek west and pick almost any of the drainages that extend to the north or south and you are bound to find some excellent skiing. For access, head south on Hwy 93 and head west at the forest service signs that will point you to the respective canyon. All three canyons are found in the northern Bitterroots and offer great half day or full day adventures.

Rattlesnake Mountains

  • Marshall Ridge: An awesome spot when access to all other ridges are closed. Great for those moderate winters, Marshall offers great open skiing along the ridge before dipping down into wide glades, previously clearcut land. Or for a steeper route, shoot across to Wisherd Ridge and Sheep Mountain for some epic open bowls. Maybe not the most scenic, but this ridge is very accessible either by crossing through the old Marshall Mountain Ski area and skinning up to the 7,000 ft ridge or via Mittower Road.
  • Stuart Peak: Stuart Peak will get your heart pumping as you skin your way to the top. The amazing vistas will momentarily reward you before you descend into alpine glades and steep chutes. Accessible all winter via the main Rattlesnake trailhead. From Missoula take Van Buren east and drive 4.5 miles up Rattlesnake Dr to the main trailhead.

Montana/Idaho Border

  • Lost Trail Pass: For those who are interested in alpine touring but may not be into all the hiking, this is your place. You will have to hike a bit, but access couldn't be easier. Pick your terrain, almost flat to incredibly steep, thick glades or barely the glades, this is a great place to gain a little backcountry confidence. And thanks to the Forest Service some trails are even groomed. Lost Trail Pass is just 30 miles south of Darby. From Missoula, take Hwy 93 south past Darby and look for the turn off to Lost Trail Pass. Lost Trail Powder Mountain offers a $5 one-way lift pass so that you can access the hundreds of acres of forest service land, found just off the backside of chairs 2 and 4.
  • Lolo Peak: Lolo Peak may be the best known backcountry adventure area near Missoula. The open slopes let you practice your turns all the way down the mountain. From the parking lot, hike Carlton Ridge and then descend down the open slopes and bowls into the Carlton Lake basin. Call this your base and make a few laps before calling it a day. Access to Lolo Peak couldn't be easier. Head south from Missoula on Hwy 93 and take Hwy 12 west and turn south on Mormon Peak Road. Pull into the parking lot and pick a route. Unfortunately, you will have to watch out for snowmobilers.

Montana Snowbowl

This ski resort does not offer one-way ski passes, but day pass and season pass holders have access to the backcountry area of Jenni Lake Basin and the Point Six area through a gate up in the ski area. If you are in the area for a couple of days, grab a pass and split your time between Snowbowl and the backcountry. You won't be sorry.

Guided Tours

Feeling the pressure of keeping your group safe in the backcountry? Put that worry aside and hire a guide. They will make sure that all the safety precautions are taking thus ensuring your group a safe and fun day on the mountain. Most packages include all the necessary gear, a guide, lunch, and transportation. Take the time to shop around and find a guide and a tour that fit your group.