A rollicking snow carnival is just the thing to ditch the winter doldrums.
Legend has it that Red Lodge, Mont.—a town of 2,400 crouched at the foot of the Beartooth Mountains—got its name from the clay-coated tepees of the Crow who once hunted in the area. Established in 1884, the town thrived from coal mining until the 1920s when the economy began to decline. Bootleg liquor gave it a temporary reprieve during Prohibition.Today things are a bit tamer than when Calamity Jane and Liver-Eating Johnston roamed the streets, but Red Lodge’s historic vibe, lively downtown, gorgeous setting, and top-notch ski areas make it an ideal weekend destination.
Stop in at the Carbon County Historical Society and Museum to view simulated coal and hard rock mines. You can pick up a walking tour brochure to guide you past Victorian homes in the Hi Bug district, "Finn Town," and the former Carbon County Bank, rumored to have been robbed by the Sundance Kid. It’s now the Kevin Red Star Gallery, owned by Montana’s most celebrated American Indian artist.
Warm up with a latte and browse downtown Broadway—a five-block shopping district packed with cafés, boutiques, vintage stores, and galleries. Sylvan Peak Mountain Shop carries toasty Polartec fleece. Magpie Toys specializes in classics, such as paper dolls and wooden stick horses. More than a thousand varieties of candy, including Tootsie Roll Pops and Smarties, spill from apple bins at the Montana Candy Emporium.
From February 22 through 24, Red Lodge Mountain Resort hosts its annual Winter Carnival. The family-friendly event features parades, a jalapeño-eating contest, live music, and a scavenger hunt. Don your costume for this year’s Viking Invaders theme. The snowfilled fun includes Saturday’s Cardboard Classic—a fiercely competitive downhill race on sleds constructed with cardboard, tape, and glue—and Sunday’s King and Queen of the Mountain, a three-part challenge in which participants ski, snowboard, and telemark.
Between races, you can ski Red Lodge mountain’s 70 downhill slopes or the groomed cross-country trails at nearby Red Lodge Nordic Center. Also drop by Beartooth Nature Center, where elk, bears, a wolf, and other animals that can’t be returned to the wild because of injury or overfamiliarity with people receive admiring visitors.
Photography by Chuck Haney
This article was first published in January 2008. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.