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Best of Montana in Spring: Festivals and Events

Discover the top five events to attend in Big Sky Country during spring.

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A bareback rider participates in a bronc-riding event at the Bucking Horse Sale in Miles City, Montana.

Bucking Horse Sale, Miles City

On the third full weekend in May, thousands of visitors flock to Miles City to watch young bucking broncos kick, snort, and strut their stuff. The best 150 to 250 bucking horses are sold, with the most ornery going to rodeos for bucking events. In addition to traditional horse-trading, there are the crowd favorite bronc- and bull-riding competitions, pari-mutuel and wild horse racing, mutton bustin’ events, and state sheep shearing championships, as well as food, a concert, trade show, and street dancing. "The Bucking Horse Sale is not a typical rodeo and not a typical race meet,” says Don Richard, station manager of KATL radio in Miles City and a Bucking Horse Sale board director. “It’s a big social event, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings, when the bars open out into the streets. There’s lots of music, drink, food, dance, and conversation.” On Saturday morning, the street party ends and the parade of marching bands, floats, antique cars, and horses and wagons begins. The afternoon brings the bucking horse sale itself, and Sunday features a rollicking rodeo event pitting the nation’s top cowboys against 'eliminators'—some of the best proven bucking horses."

Pond Skimming, Big Sky Resort

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A sure sign that spring has sprung are the annual pond-skimming celebrations held at various ski areas. The “sport” showcases fearless free spirits—most in wacky costumes—attempting to ski or snowboard down a snow-covered slope and then skim across the surface of an icy cold pond. At Big Sky Resort, the annual pond skim draws 5,000 people, about 100 of whom join in the skimming. The rest are on hand to cheer wildly and, sometimes, get doused by the skimmers as they splash across the water. “We always have Pond Skim the day before we close for the season, so typically we’ll have spring-sunny weather shining down on a gorgeous glacier-blue pond,” says Big Sky event emcee Brandon Bang. “It’s a complete day of pure fun. Once the last skimmer goes, there are awards, and then live music moves inside to the local bar, Whiskey Jack’s.”

Prairie Sisters Parties; Missoula, Kalispell, Billings, and Great Falls

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Friends Laura Branson and Molly Mortensen loved shopping at vintage goods markets but couldn’t find any close to home. In a moment of inspiration—and admitted ignorance—the pair decided to host their own sales. Five years later, the Missoula Moms (along with their husbands, children, and friends) are the organizers of Montana’s largest vintage goods markets. Held in Kalispell and Missoula in spring and in Billings and Great Falls in fall, the Prairie Sisters Parties combine antique shows, junk markets, comfort food outlets, bluegrass concerts, and more. "Each of our shows has its own personality because of the venues, people, products, vendors, and area of state,” says Branson. The Sisters homegrown markets are a hit, drawing thousands of visitors and dozens of vendors to each event. “Laura and Molly pull out all the stops to make sure their shoppers and vendors have a fabulous day,” says vendor Janie Scheben. “Grab your best pals and your largest hauling vehicle and get on over to the party.”

Strawberry Festival, Billings

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Billings’s annual Strawberry Festival is a sweet street festival held downtown under SkyPoint, the tentlike structure that spans the intersection of 2nd Avenue and Broadway. The free event typically is held the second Saturday in June and always kicks off with a 7:30 a.m. strawberry pancake breakfast. About 150 vendors set up under SkyPoint's canvas sails to sell arts, crafts, and, arguably, the most diverse menu options available in a single Billings location. “I go and eat different vendors’ foods for hours,” says loyal festival attendee Ryan Cremer. “It is the only time of the year that you can have a gyro, pretzel dog, tri-tip sandwich, tamale, crepe, strawberry lemonade, egg roll, and bratwurst all in one sitting.” As you’re snacking your way around the festival, take in the live music and dance performances, and be sure to save room—and $2.00—for a piece of the festival’s signature 65-foot-long strawberry shortcake, sliced to serve about 1,500.

Western Art Week, Great Falls

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For one week each March, Great Falls is the epicenter of the Western art world. “The energy in the city is incredible during Western Art Week,” says local photographer Tim Austin. “Artists are excited to show off the work they have created and visitors rush between venues trying to see everything possible in a short time.” The packed schedule typically includes several shows, sales, and exhibitions, such as the Western Living and Design Show at Montana Expo Park, the Western Masters Art Show and Sale at the Heritage Inn, and the Russell Fine Art Exhibition and Sale to benefit the C.M. Russell Museum. Time management is essential, so plan ahead by researching venues, dates, and artists before you arrive. Austin also recommends visiting exhibits at smaller, local galleries like Gallery 16 and catching the Quick Draw competitions and auctions, in which artists are allotted 60 minutes to transform a blank canvas into an original piece of Western Art.

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