The first big snowstorm of the season just rolled through Montana over the weekend and now many of us are thinking about ski and snowboard season. It's crazy to realize that we've now been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic since before ski season ended in March, when local hills promptly shut down operations.

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Most of us are familiar with Red Lodge Mountain, Bridger Bowl, and Big Sky, but did you know there are actually 15 places to hit the slopes in Montana? A map at shows the farthest ski area from Billings is almost to the Canadian border, north of Libby at Turner Mountain. That's a long drive. Here are anticipated opening dates for 7 Montana slopes that are nearest to Billings.

1. Red Lodge Mountain. Billings' backyard playground is opening on November 27. You can leave your front door and be hopping on a chairlift in about an hour.

2. Bridger Bowl. Take an easy, two-hour cruise over to Bozeman for the weekend and enjoy the legendary "cold smoke" of Bridger Bowl. Opening day is tentatively December 4.

3. Big Sky Resort. Drive 3 hours and 15 minutes from Billings and you'll be in Big Sky. Once a relatively quiet resort, in the last few decades Big Sky (and associated properties) has become a destination resort with world-class amenities and a playground for the rich and famous. Who knows, you might share a lift with a Kardashian. The opening day is November 26.

4. Showdown. Located right in the middle of Montana in the gorgeous Lewis and Clark National Forest is Showdown. If Big Sky isn't your style, head north to Showdown. It's closer to Billings (2 hrs 49 min) and more affordable with a laid-back vibe. Opening date is slated for December 11.

5. Great Divide. A few miles northwest of Helena is where you'll find Great Divide. It'll take you about 4 hours to get there, but this ski hill offers one of the earliest opening dates, November 9.

6. Discovery Ski Area. Outside of Anaconda is Discovery, considered by many to be a "locals" ski hill with great terrain. Discovery is also about 4 hours away and is scheduled to open on December 7.

7. Maverick Mountain. South of Butte, near the small town of Polaris is a well-kept secret called Maverick Mountain. It's about 4.5 hours away from Billings, opening date TBD. After a long day of skiing, unwind, dine and stay at nearby Elkhorn Hot Springs.

If skiing isn't your thing, many of these ski areas also make great weekend winter getaways. Sitting in the lodge next to a roaring fireplace, sipping a hot toddy is pretty tough to beat, even if you don't participate in downhill sports.

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