Red Lodge Mountain, Red Lodge, Montana
Besides Hyland Hills Ski Area, Red Lodge Mountain is the place I have skied the most. Red Lodge was an hour and a half drive from my hometown of Hardin, Montana but like most farm kids in the 60s, skiing wasn’t a family activity, and spending money frivolously was not condoned. So during my youth, skiing in general was a rare activity, and if I got to go at all, it was to Red Lodge.
The first time I went skiing was at Red Lodge. My brother Tom took me, and I remember the lift ticket was $5.00. I was in the fifth grade, and the I was the oldest kid in my ski lesson. I was hooked on the first outing. But like any activity, a person doesn’t get good at it without practice. And for years I could only go once a year. When I finally got my driver’s license at 16, I began to go more often, but money was always a problem.
Like most ski areas, parking can be a problem, and I tend to be a skier who likes to be early and in line when the lifts open. But on this day we had delays. We left Hardin at 7:30, stopped and dropped off my daughter-in-law in Billings, and made it to Red Lodge by 10. At the mountain there are a couple levels of parking, and the upper level was full. The second level means walking up a flight and a half of stairs which wasn’t too bad. I had expected the lot to be fuller. This was Christmas holiday break, but the lines looked short.
The Lazy M run from Grizzly Peak is the area’s signature run. For years I was afraid to go to the peak, an area served by one two-man chair, all black diamond or double blacks. But like many mountains, skiing the peak wasn’t as hard as getting on the chair to the top for the first time.
Lazy M is the signature for a reason. It is one long, wide, run, with a few steeper places, but all squarely intermediate.
The big challenge on the M is the Face of M (a short black diamond stretch) or the infamous green circle Chicken Trail, that gets a person down to the same place as the Face, but of course, easier.
We took the M as our warm up run. It’s nice and long and not too hard. It’s groomed so you don’t get those leg killing moguls. I had been sick from mid-October through mid-December, a nagging cough and general malaise for weeks. I hadn’t played tennis nor worked out for most of those weeks. I was in no shape to push it, but of course I was skiing with my two sons and my nephew.
The north side of Red Lodge is newer, opened maybe 20 years ago and this is where the two high speed quad chairs are. Many years this side of the mountain isn’t open until later in the season. We were there December 30 and the snow was great. We skied the Palisades chair and took blue diamonds Paradise and Columbine. Paradise was a groomed run, Columbine, often groomed was ungroomed and had a few moguls. A bit more challenging, but fun anyway.
Cole Creek chair serves the upper north side. This is where the boys and I parted ways. I was getting tired and my legs were burning. Our first run was on the blue square Latigo. I had decided I would call it a day, so the second run down from Cole Creek I was going to veer to the right back to the main chalet. Of course, I missed a turn and ended up going down Hellroaring, a black diamond. I didn’t realize it was a black diamond and as I was going down I marveled at how hard this blue run was. By this time the boys had lapped me and I happened to run into them as I was finishing the Hellroaring run. We all rode the chair up together (it’s a high speed quad) and while they continued on (the gift of youth and fit legs) I cut back to the main chalet, this time not turning too soon!
To get back to the chalet I took Hellroaring Traverse (black) to Sidesaddle (blue) to Tipi Trail, Turnpike, Otto-Bahn to Show off Alley (all green). I made it down, but boy did my legs burn!
I had made 10 runs, 10,279 vertical feet, over 3.5 hours.
We didn’t get on the mountain until after 10 am so mid-day we stopped at the Midway Chalet. We had anticipated catching a quick bite to eat, hit the bathrooms, and get back out to ski.
Well, something was wrong with their computers, and we were delayed over an hour. They handed out free French fries to the patrons waiting in the long lines, but the food was worth the wait. We had wine and beer, burgers fries, chips. The burgers were $10 each which we though a bit exorbitant for a little Montana resort until they came and we got a huge pile of French fries included. The hot dog was a large one with home made chips for $6.
At the end of the day, while the boys kept skiing, I ended up waiting in the main chalet upper level with an individual box of wine. Other years we ended up at the bar at the base, and we have also stopped at the Red Lodge Brewery outside of town. When the kids were little we would always stop at the candy store on main street.
I have had a love affair with Red Lodge since I was a kid. Growing up in the semi-arid eastern side of Montana, Red Lodge was a mountain town with a quaint main street of old mining town buildings. The first time my husband Scot and I visited in the summer, we shopped for a vacation home in Red Lodge. This was back in the 1980s, and prices were quite reasonable. There were many vacant storefronts in town, and thriving mountain tourists towns hadn’t quite become vogue. But Scot was new to Montana and we were just beginning to make our way in the world together. It was too early to set down roots. Anywhere.