Missoulian’s Guide to Montana Winters


The first winter blizzard in Missoula, pummeling Hellgate High School. Photo by Devyn Deschamps

Devyn Deschamps, Reporter

Winter is nothing new for Montanans, but as the cool weather slowly creeps into fall, many forget the niche knowledge needed to stay ahead of the season. While pumping your brakes is the tried and true champion during winter, what more can you do to be prepared for this upcoming season?

Dress for the weather: 

Winter comes fast, faster than many can get their wardrobe planned. Montana has a history of particularly vicious winters, which require extensive warm clothing that comes at a price. There lies the beauty in Missoula’s many second-hand stores, such as Goodwill, Secret Seconds, the Underground Thrift Store, and Bargain Corner, all of which sell warm winter clothing for a reasonable price, allowing Montanans the ease of not breaking the bank to stay warm. 

Beyond this, Missoula and surrounding cities have annual ski swaps. Missoula recently held its Safety on Snow (SOS) and Outdoor Fair on October 29, 2022. This allows locals an opportunity to reasonably trade with other winter outdoor enthusiasts. This, among other things, is yet another option that is available to affordably partake in snow activities.

Prepare yourself and your belongings for cold weather: 

Making sure vehicles are ready for slick roads is essential for various reasons. The Federal Highway Administration reports  nearly 115,000 accident injuries per year due to winter weather, so carefulness is key. Putting on snow tires, making sure that you have a first aid kit and emergency supplies, and staying vigilant are vital to staying safe.

Beyond ensuring one’s own car’s stability, having a backup plan should always be considered. Missoula is fortunate enough to have the Mountain Lion transit system, a widespread free bus system connecting across town. In 2021, Mountain Lion Transportation was awarded the American Public Transportation Association’s Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award. Amidst the schedule posted at most stops, the Mountain Lion also has a mobile app for users to watch all routes in progress, allowing for pre-planning or spur-of-the-moment transport. This allows for a reliable ride, even in the most unforeseeable conditions.

Stay active: 

Movie marathons and baking are more than warranted activities when the temperature drops below 45 degrees; however, access to winter sports is boundless. The Montana ski and snowboard community has a large following, with Snowbowl, Discovery Ski Resort, Lookout Pass Ski Area, and various others within a two-hour drive of Missoula.

This, however, isn’t the only prominent winter sport within the bounds of Missoula County, as hockey and ice skating are both extremely popular. Glacier ice rink is home to the Missoula Maulers, the youth hockey team, as well as the Missoula Figure Skate Club, Grizzly Hockey, and Missoula Curling Club. The rink isn’t reserved only for designated teams; public skating is a frequent occurrence through the holiday season, with skate rentals available.

While these are official sports, more unorthodox activities include traditional sledding. The University Golf Course as well as Rainbow Park are some of the more popular unofficial treks. Winter hikes are of the same nature and are indefinitely the easiest to find. Pattee Canyon has multiple trails that range from forest views to a scenic overlook of the entire Missoula Valley.

Staying active during the winter months is exceptionally important due to the varied health issues that can occur. Seasonal depression, frequently caused by a lack of sunshine, is prominent among all generations. Exercising and making the most of the sun while it’s out help release endorphins and assist in fighting mental health problems. Winter for many urges mental health to take a decline, and doing immersive activities can benefit in boosting one’s well being. 

Comforting food: 

Holiday baking is a common occurrence during the chillier parts of the year. Whether that means stirring up a cup of hot chocolate or baking pumpkin pie, festive treats are unlimited in Missoula, with places like Break Café, Bernice’s Bakery, Veera Donuts, and Black Cat Bakery all housing homemade goods.

Baked goods aren’t the only comfort food that carries people through the winter. Non-perishables & canned foods are essential to many, and are provided to any Missoulian in need from the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center. The Food Bank also happily accepts donations throughout the year at their location at 1720 Wyoming St.

Don’t underestimate the weather: 

The last thing anything wants to do is be ill prepared for the weather. Checking the weather app and watching the morning news definitely give a heads up for any storms ahead, but having more than needed is an unwritten rule.

If followed, these general guidelines allow for some semi-preparedness for the months ahead. Remember that the winter will only be as bad or as good as you make it; it’s all how you picture it.