Welcome To Red Lodge, Montana — The Coolest Ski Town You've Never Heard Of

Red Lodge, skiing

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Red Lodge is a small town in southern Montana where cowboys, ski bums, and ranchers live, work and play.It’s one of the last strongholds of the Western frontier, but it’s also surprisingly modern and sophisticated.

Sure, there are old saloons and hotels dating back to the late 1800s, but there’s also a sustainable microbrewery that churns out craft beers, a high-end food and wine shop, a renowned ceramic arts centre, and several fine-dining restaurants that serve local organic fare.

The town also caters to skiers and boarders heading to Red Lodge Mountain. In warmer months, outdoor enthusiasts flock here to hike, bike, and explore the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and the Beartooth Highway, which links Red Lodge to Yellowstone National Park. Many visitors stop here on their way to Yellowstone, about 160 miles away.

Whatever the reason you visit, Red Lodge is full of surprises.

Located about 62 miles from Billings, Red Lodge looks like a typical town from the old west.

There are saloons and bars typical of a small Western town, but there are also surprising shops, like a coffee roaster, artisanal food store, and a high-end kitchen supply store. Red Lodge promotes local sustainable foods and products, which you'll see in the specialty shops and restaurants around town.

4th Avenue Meats is a butcher and specialty meat shop that smokes and cures all meats in house. They work with local farmers and ranchers to secure the highest-quality meat products. A bonus: they have samples of their cured meats for tasting, from Elk Kolbas to Bretonne sausage.

Coffee Factory Roasters imports coffee beans from around the world, but roasts them all in-house. Some of their best blends are the Red Lodge blend or the Wild West Espresso blend.

Babcock & Miles is a specialty food shop that sells everything you'll need to make a fine meal, from fancy cheeses and wines to spices, olive oils, and chocolates.

Unlike most other local stores in Red Lodge, a large portion of Babcock & Miles' merchandise is imported, such as truffles from Italy.

The Montana Candy Emporium is an old-fashioned candy shop, with dozens of buckets teeming with different kinds of candy. It's the kind of shop you just don't see anymore in big cities.

For some culture, the Red Lodge Clay centre is a gallery, studio, and education centre devoted to ceramic arts. They feature — and sell — works by both local and international ceramic artists.

Red Lodge Ales is a local microbrewery that emphasises sustainability — it uses solar panels to provide warm water for the brewing process and heat for the taproom, it keeps beer cool by pumping in air from the frigid outdoors, and its trucks run on biodiesel fuel made from waste.

After touring the brewery, head to Sam's Tap Room, where you can taste the different brews. Beers change with the season, but one of the most popular brews year-round is the Bent Nail IPA.

But the main reason to come to Red Lodge in the winter is to ski at the Red Lodge Mountain Resort.

It's a local mountain with challenging terrain: the peak summit elevation is over 9,400 feet with a vertical drop of about 2,400 feet.

It's easy to get distracted by the gorgeous scenery while skiing.

Or, if you're into cross-country skiing, drive a couple of miles outside of town and you'll find the Red Lodge Nordic centre, which has 15 miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiing. You can rent gear in town.

If you're in town in mid-March, you can check out Ski-Joring, a bizarre winter festival where a horse and rider pull a skier around a snowy track in a timed race. This is a serious sport: The National Finals Ski-Joring Races will happen in Red Lodge on March 8 to 10.

At ski-joring, real-live cowboys and cowgirls pull the skiers around the track.

While a very colourful cast of spectators cheers the racers on from flatbed trucks and hay stacks on the sidelines.

The Pollard is a historic hotel that dates back to 1893. The hotel's restaurant and bar are always busy.

The Pub at the Pollard serves Prohibition-era cocktails, like Pimm's Cup, and local brews from Red Lodge Ales.

At night, Red Lodge's bars are bustling. The Snow Creek Saloon is one of the wildest bars in town, with live music and a rowdy crowd nearly every night.

Now explore the rest of the state.

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