Surviving Winter in Missoula

No, we don’t all own snowmobiles. And we don’t live in ice shacks. But the hard, cold (get it?) fact is Missoula sits squarely on a far northern latitude and winter here is the real deal. In truth, we love it.

Curious about how to prepare for winter in Montana? We've compiled a few tips to keep in mind.

How much does it snow in Missoula?

There’s nothing normal about a Missoula winter but you can expect, on average, around 40 inches of snow for the season. Luckily, it doesn’t come all at once. Usually. The first snowfall usually arrives in October, then melts before winter really sets in. Spring thaw comes around April, but then it occasionally snows in June. Some years, there’s a lot of snow in town throughout winter, other years it stays in the mountains and town can be relatively snow-free for most of the winter. It often depends on if we’re in a La Nina or El Nino cycle. Love to geek out on the weather? Check out the Montana Climate Office, located right here on campus.

A mini snowman sits on a bench outside the University Center.

How cold does it get in Missoula?

Average winter temperatures in Missoula range from lows in the teens to highs in the 30s and 40s. It gets colder, of course, but not for impossibly long stretches. Still, you’ll complain at some point about the cold. Everyone does. But one of the best parts of living in Missoula is experiencing each of the four seasons distinctly. Can you really appreciate an 85-degree afternoon on the river (average temp in July) if you haven’t felt the sting of -2 in February? We don’t think so.

 A life-sized bear made of snow stands on the Oval at UM.

Layers, layers, layers

Clichés work well in winter. And this one should be your mantra. Start with a base layer, your second skin, that wicks away sweat (translation: not cotton), add to that a second layer that keeps you warm while still breathing (think fleece or wool), and an outer layer that protects you from the elements. Like snow. If it’s really cold, consider adding a layer of down in there somewhere.

Cross-country skiers make their way across the UM Golf Course.

Wear your hat

Cliché No. 2. Forget about your hair for the next four months. Wear a hat. That covers your ears. And is maroon. Speaking of maroon, if you need Griz Gear, check out the UM Bookstore on the first floor of the University Center for all your school spirit attire.

A person stands outside on a snowy day wearing a parka with a fuzzy hood.

Pack your stilettos till spring

It’s an age-old question: Are Uggs winter boots? Sadly, the answer is no. They aren’t waterproof. But never fear, sensible footwear can still be fashionable. Find yourself a pair of waterproof boots with stout tread and consider sizing up to allow for thick socks. Slip on some ice cleats when the going gets slippery. Ran out of room while packing for college and left your boots behind? No worries, we’ve got lots of retailers to outfit you, including REI, Cabela’s, Scheels and local favorite Bob Wards. Heck, we’ve even got a Boot Barn.

A person walks down Memorial Row as snow hangs heavy in the pine needles of a tree.

Walk like a penguin

Don’t laugh. When was the last time you saw a penguin using crutches? When approaching a patch of sketchy walkway, keep your feet pointed out, your knees slightly bent, your arms out for balance and your humor intact. Remember: Looking like a goober is better than looking like a mummy.

The sun shines through a layer of fog and illuminates the Oval on campus.

Get outside and have some fun

Staying cooped up in your room does you, and your roommate, no good. Grizzlies thrive on winter sports.  And there’s lots to do here. Consider:

Winter transportation

If you bike, buy studded tires. If you drive, buy winter tires. Get a good window scraper. Keep your window wipers raised when parked – it reduced ice build up and makes removing snow easier.

Or save your sanity and ride the bus! UM’s Office of Transportation operates the UDASH bus service and all routes are free and open the public. UDASH takes students to and from the Lewis and Clark Village apartments, family housing, Missoula College and the Fifth and Sixth Street corridor that runs through the center of town.

Mountain Line, Missoula's municipal transit agency, is also free and open to the public. Routes 1, 8 and 12 travel past or through campus.

Students board the UDASH bus at UM.

Karma thrives in cold

Never laugh at a classmate taking a spill on the ice. It will happen to you in a very short order. We know because we’ve laughed. And, we’ve fallen.

Two students make snow angels in a thin layer of snow on the Oval.

Don’t be that person

Even when temperatures dip to degrees that liquify natural gas you’ll always see someone running across campus in shorts and flip flops. We don’t recommend it, even if you’re late to class.

A student wearing shorts and flipflops trudges through the snow while crossing campus.