Winter Ranch Life in Montana

December 10, 2019


At this time each year, life on a Montana ranch tends to slow down a bit. We trade our work boots for snow boots and enjoy spending time with family and friends during the holiday season. It’s no secret that Montana ranch life is a lot of work. While there is still a lot to do during the winter, there isn’t anywhere we would rather spend the holidays than in a toasty house, surrounded by snow and the star-filled sky on a Montana night with our family and friends gathered around a big meal.


Here at 18 Land Co., some of us are full-time ranchers. Others aren’t. But here is a little bit about what we find to be special this time of year. If you’re thinking of spending the winter in Montana, we invite you to join us in celebrating everything that makes this place special.  


A Slower Pace

Anyone who spends most of their days on a working Montana cattle ranch will tell you that it is less hectic in the winter compared to the summer months.

 Although there are still cows to feed, ice to chop, stock water sources to check and daily chores to be done, winter days tend to move at a more relaxed pace. It is a good time to do some of those inside chores too, like getting caught up on bookkeeping and planning for the upcoming year. And, before you know it, calving season will start in the beginning months of the new year, and the busy season will start all over again. So, it’s best to enjoy these days now. 


Hunting keeps a lot of us busy here in Montana leading up to the holidays.

From September through November, deer and elk season draws us out into the woods most weekends and even some weekdays. Archery season runs September through October, followed by general season through the beginning of December. That means it’s a push leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday to get your deer or elk, or both.

Even though deer and elk seasons wrap up at the beginning of December, there’s still time during the holidays to get out for upland bird and waterfowl hunting. General seasons for pheasant, Mountain and Sharp-tailed Grouse and turkey end at the beginning of January.

18 Land Co. Managing Broker Keith Handlos says the best part of the big game season is just before the holidays. It’s also around that time that the waterfowl hunting is getting good as the Northern birds start coming in. There’s nowhere else Keith would rather be during the holidays than in Beaverhead County, hunting with his son.

In Montana, hunting isn’t just a way to harvest healthy, delicious meat, it’s also a chance to connect with those we love and pass along traditions from one generation to the next.


Speaking of food, the holidays here, like most other places, are a time to make our favorite foods, dig out the family recipes and share these treats with friends and neighbors.

For 18 Land Co. Transactional Advisor Jayme Tash, the holidays are about food. Growing up on a dairy farm in Iowa, her family usually ate prime rib on Christmas afternoon. The big meal was always typically in the afternoon so the family could finish up chores in the morning, open presents and gather around the table.

But Christmas dinner is just one of Jayme’s family traditions. Lefse, a traditional Norwegian flatbread, was always on the menu around the holidays. They’d take flour and mashed potatoes, sweeten them, roll them thin, cook them on a griddle and serve with butter and sugar. She also remembers always making Christmas cookies and candies with her mom, a tradition she now shares with her two young daughters. Christmas cookies and candies always made great gifts, and still do.

Food plays a role in our winter activities, whether during the holidays or not. Food gets people around a table. It fills our bellies after long days spent sledding and playing in the snow. Chili and hotdogs are a great complement to a sledding day with the kids. Hot chocolate and schnapps are a warm treat for the adults while the kids sip their hot cocoa.

Playing Outside

Montana gets a lot of snow in the winter, and it’s great for getting outside to enjoy winter sports.

Skiing is one of our favorite winter pastimes. In Dillon, we’re lucky enough to have Maverick Mountain Ski Area less than an hour away. Located in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, it offers uncrowded trails and great terrain for skiers of any level.

If you do go to Maverick Mountain, be sure to stop by one of the nearby hot springs. Elkhorn Hot Springs is in the neighborhood and Jackson Hot Springs is just a short drive away.

Maverick Mountain is the ski resort closest to Dillon, but there are several others just a short drive away: Discovery Ski Area, Great Divide Ski Area, Lost Trail Ski Area, Big Sky Ski Resort and Bridger Bowl.

If skiing isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy nearby: ice fishing, ice skating, sledding and pretty much anything that involves bundling up and playing in the snow.


Town Festivities 

The holidays are a great time to catch up with people you haven’t seen in a while, and the hallmark of the holiday season in many Montana towns, is the Christmas Stroll. 

The annual Christmas Stroll in Dillon, where the 18 Land Co. headquarters is located, is a great chance to head to town for some holiday cheer. Take in the traditional tree lighting ceremony and parade, listen to Christmas carols by local carolers, get some face time with Santa and visit local businesses that are open late offering goodies and gift ideas while you’re there.

In small town Montana, the community comes together to celebrate the holidays, visit and share in the joy of the season. But it is also a time to help others. Keith is a board member of a non-profit organization, Engine 18, that raises money for athletic scholarships at University of Montana Western. It was named Engine 18 in honor of UMW football player M.J. Simkins whose life was tragically cut short. M.J. wore number 18 on the field, showing his love of Dillon and Beaverhead County. You’ll find Engine 18 and its companion vehicle, Smoker 1, at events throughout the year, serving up hamburgers, pork and seafood. You can see Engine 18 in the Christmas Stroll parade (pictured above) and at football games. It’s presence, Keith points out, makes Dillon’s tailgates superior to any others.

Similarly, the Festival of Trees is held every year as a fundraiser for local non-profits.  This year’s Festival of Trees was held at the end of November and benefitted the Dillon Friends of Music and Montana Territorial Alliance. Past events have benefitted organizations like the Dillon Amateur Hockey Association, Women’s Resource/Community Support Center and Dillon Elks Lodge.

There is usually no shortage of Christmas parties, holiday recitals, high school basketball games and other events to keep you busy and get you out of the house in Southwest Montana.


Getting the Tree

If you own a ranch, you also may have a great place to cut down a Christmas tree. 18 Land Co. Owner and Realtor Nate Finch and his family have a tradition of heading out onto their property to cut down a tree to decorate.

For Keith and his family, chopping down the Christmas tree is a tradition they share with a group of close friends. Each year they make a day of going up to a friend’s property, building a big fire to keep warm and firing up the chainsaws.

If you don’t know someone with property to cut down a tree, you can get a permit to cut one down in a national forest. Just be sure to follow the rules and be safe out there collecting your tree.

Family and Friends

You’ve probably noticed by now that there is a reoccurring theme to everything that makes the holidays special on a Montana ranch. It’s family and friends. It’s sharing a meal with the ones you love. It’s going to town to catch up with neighbors you’ve missed. It’s gathering together with friends to celebrate an old tradition or start a new one.

However you celebrate, we here at 18 Land Company wish you and yours a very happy holiday season. Be sure to say “hi” if you see us at the Christmas Stroll.

Check out what makes this place so special year-round: 18 Reasons We Love Montana


Find out More
Learn More