Bound for the Belts

The open road ahead had me filled with a mixture of nostalgia and excitement.  Having grown up in Montana, it had been years since I had driven Highway 89 from Belt to White Sulphur Springs.  As the new Executive Director for Central Montana Tourism, I had recently moved back to this amazing state after living on the east coast for the last 15 years.  While it felt like just yesterday since I had made my way along this stunning drive, I was also seeing it from a completely different perspective than so many years before. 

The east coast certainly has its own form of beauty, but nothing is quite like the expansive view of Central Montana that slowly turns into mountainous terrain.  As I found myself feeling slightly hypnotized during the drive, I had to do a proverbial self-pinch given that at times my work allows me to explore the Central Montana region and in turn share my adventures via my blog.

From Belt, MT Highway 89 twists and turns further and further into the Big Belt Mountain Range, it reaches a pinnacle at the base of Showdown Ski Area.  I was lucky to spend my high school years in Lewistown, MT and with Showdown being just a under 2-hour drive, this amazing mountain held countless memories that have always been some of my favorite to reflect upon. Looming tall above the road, this family-owned ski area immediately creates the desire to strap on some ski boots and step into your bindings.  Lucky for me, that was exactly what I had lined up for the next day. 

Driving past Showdown with a giddy feeling I hadn’t felt in quite a while, I continued towards White Sulphur Springs where I was looking forward to checking into the Edith Hotel, aptly named after Mount Edith, which reigns as the highest peak in the Big Belt Mountains.  What I hadn’t expected was the stunning sunset that stayed nestled in the mountain tops that rose above both sides of this enchanting drive.  There is a reason Charles M. Russell was so passionate about the sunsets he painted.  There aren’t many places like Central Montana that can produce such an absolute force of beauty.

The closer you get to White Sulphur, the more you find the mountains opening up into a wide valley, teasing you back into the Big Sky views that Central Montana is so famous for.  After checking into my hotel, I took a few minutes to take in the cozy and art filled lobby of the Edith Hotel.  Once I had my things settled, I hopped back into my truck to head back into downtown White Sulphur Springs where I was to meet the film crew that I’d be spending the weekend with as we worked to capture some wintertime film footage that would in turn be used to promote the Central Montana region.  Geez, tough job to have!

I met up with my filming cohorts at the Jawbone, White Sulphur Springs’ newest cocktail lounge and eatery, and boy was I in for a treat.  After changing my mind multiple times while looking over their unique menu, I settle on their fresh take of a philly cheesesteak, which consisted of an open-faced flat bread with filet mignon tips, au jus, Swiss cheese, grilled onions and mushrooms.  Coupled with a nice glass of wine, it was an entre’ that made you close your eyes and savor each bite.  After we were full of amazing food and fun conversation with the owners, it was time to pack it in and rest up for a day I had been waiting for like a kid on waiting for Christmas morning.

The next day started with a one-of-a-kind complimentary breakfast in the conversation-invoking lobby the Edith Hotel has managed to create.  Cooked each morning at Wild Oats Baking, guests are welcomed to numerous choices that are sure to start your day with a smile.  After we were all full of warm food and hot coffee, we were off to Showdown Ski Area.

It was amazing to see how little had changed in the 18 years since I’d seen the ski area’s lodge.  Capturing Central Montana’s authentic and rustic feel, it instantly gives you a sense of friendship and camaraderie.  The restaurant and grill is sure to have something on their delicious menu that will keep you fueled and pumped to wear yourself out on the ski hill.   My first chair ride up for the day was a borderline euphoric moment, and as I stood up to glide off on my skis when it was over, I knew instantly the snow was perfect to get my ski boots back under me so to speak.

I took it easy on the first few runs, finding my balance and rhythm with the skis I had rented.  After that, I headed over to the blue runs and felt like it was just yesterday I was carving it up with friends and family.  I spent time on some of my favorite runs and finished the day on a couple of mid-range black diamonds.  Although I was happy to see I hadn’t forgotten how to hold an edge, I decided to save the more challenging runs like Dynamite and Gun Barrel for another day.

Having given my legs a workout that they hadn’t had in a good while, I decided that the Hole In The Wall Saloon was a perfect way to wind down the afternoon with its wide array of beer choices on tap to sit back and enjoy.  By the end of the day, you come to realize that if there was ever a place where everyone meets your eye contact with a smile and a hello, it is Showdown.  Oh, and don’t forget to take a giant brownie for the drive home – that was always my tradition at least.

Arriving back in White Sulphur, we decided to stop in at Bar 47 for dinner.  While it was hard to choose from their super tasty menu, I decided that I had to try the “best fish tacos on earth”, and boy were they.  If you ever find yourself in the area, I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed if you stop in to enjoy their hometown atmosphere and excellent service.

To bring the day to a close, we were excited to hear that the local hang out called the Lane had a live band playing that night. Although our legs were tired and faces slightly windburned, it was a blast to enjoy a drink, shoot some pool and play darts while listening to great music and making new friends.  If you’re looking to combine some outdoor time with some nightlife time, The Lane is the place to go.
After another night of rest and delicious

 morning breakfast at The Edith, we stopped in at Wild Oats Baking to get a refill of coffee and thank the owner for the excellent breakfasts we’d had the last two mornings.  Fueled and ready to go once more, we were off to meet up with some professional snowmobilers from the Great Falls Snowmobile Club. 

Sitting right next door to Showdown Ski Area with over 29 miles of marked trail as well as 145 miles of groomed and marked trails, Kings Hill Recreation Area has snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and dogsledding access points for the outdoor enthusiasts.  After some quick introductions and gear discussions, Sarah, our camera operator, was zipping out into the expansive recreation area to capture some video footage of this adrenaline invoking sport.  I’m excited to see the outcome, especially of some of the drone shots that highlight the layout of the area.

I, myself, was headed back to White Sulphur Springs for our last video shoot at The Spa Hot Springs Motel.  Famous for its natural hot springs that had been used for hundreds of years to help with a number of ailments, The Spa Hot Springs Motel features 3 pools that naturally contain a high concentration of Sulphur along with Magnesium and Lithium.  Proudly drained and cleaned every single night, then refilled with the finest natural hot mineral in the world, these are the cleanest hot springs you will ever come across.

Given that the facility was open to the public, I decided to save my chance to soak for another trip so that I could help coordinate our filming events.  I can say one thing with confidence though.  Everyone that was soaking sure did look happy and relaxed.  I can’t wait for my next adventure to the White Sulphur Springs area.  I’m sure it won’t be too far away, and I know I’ll be enjoying some great food, meeting new people, having fun conversations, and making sure I plan some time to enjoy a soak for myself.  I hope you get to do the same, and here’s to remote adventures in Central Montana.


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