Bear Paw Ski Bowl is Montana’s smallest ski hill, but that doesn’t stop visitors from having big fun. Located 29 miles south of Havre, the hill sports 25 named runs, with adult lift tickets going for $25 and equipment rentals for $35. Bear Paw makes it affordable for the whole family to spend a weekend on the slopes, with discounts for children, elders, and members of the Chippewa Cree tribe.

“If not for the Chippewa Cree, there wouldn’t be a ski area,” says Dave Martens, who has been coming here since 1974. “This ski hill is a gift from them to the community.”

Bear Paw is one of only two ski areas in the United States that is open to the public and located on tribal lands. The Chippewa Cree have invited visitors to this hill for the last sixty years, a privilege which Martens does not take for granted. Although his title is “mountain manager,” he serves in a volunteer capacity. Maintenance of Bear Paw is largely a labor of love for northcentral Montanans.

“Without the volunteers, the ski hill would not exist. Volunteers learn and enjoy a lifelong recreational
activity, you will meet new people and realize the importance of being an active community member,” says Claire Stoner, President of the Snow Dance Ski Association, the non-profit which operates Bear Paw.

Snow Dance includes a certified volunteer ski patrol, ski instructors, and an equipment rental shop. Volunteer members clear runs, clean snow fences, and even flip burgers at the concessions stand.

“Everybody has something to contribute,” says Stoner, “whether it’s physical labor or selling lift tickets.”

She adds that it’s refreshing to see the next generation stepping up to help keep Bear Paw operating.

“There aren’t many like us,” says Martens. “With the price of insurance, it’s expensive to operate a small ski area and keep it affordable.”

It takes great effort, but Martens and Stoner both say it’s worth it.

Such a remarkable gift deserves remarkable care.