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  • Jason Karp

Dahlberg Arena – Montana Grizzlies

Photo courtesy of Montana Athletics

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86

Dahlberg Arena 32 Campus Dr Missoula, MT 59803

Year Opened: 1953

Capacity: 7,000


Just the Right Amount of Claustrophobia

The University of Montana has a knack for designing their major sports venues to maximize the energy and excitement generated by their fans. Dahlberg Arena is located immediately adjacent to Stadium Journey's top rated FCS experience at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. No doubt the basketball home of the Montana Grizzlies served as an inspiration to the famous football venue's designers. Like the newer stadium next door, fans are stacked right on top of the action. The arena's boxy configuration reminds me of an old English football ground, or an old baseball stadium like Ebbets Field.

The exterior of the arena has been completely engulfed by multiple athletic facility additions collectively known as the Adams Center. It is located along the banks of the Clark Fork of the Columbia River on the University of Montana's tree covered campus. The arena is named after long time Griz player, coach, and administrator George 'Jiggs' Dahlberg. The Griz have been playing basketball inside Dahlberg Arena since 1953. It is the oldest primary home arena for a men's team in the Big Sky Conference.

Food & Beverage 3

Concession stands are located on either side the arena under the stands in the main concourses. There are also a couple of specialty stands including Pizza Hut where a personal pizza can be had for $6. Another stand sells ice cream sandwiches which is a necessary refreshment in the rather warm arena. The main concession stands have all the standard items including hamburgers ($5.50), Coke products ($4 for 32oz), a generous sized bag of popcorn ($4), and candy ($3) plus much more.

Atmosphere 4

Over the years, the Montana Grizzlies and Lady Griz basketball teams have enjoyed a significant home court advantage inside the cozy confines of Dahlberg Arena. Both teams are regularly perched at or near the top of the Big Sky Conference standings.

It's hard to believe that they used to pack over 9,000 fans into the space that can now hold just over 7,000 after a major renovation in 1998. All sections have chair back seats except the north end which are bleachers. The small lower bowl around the court is taken up by boosters on three sides with the students and band in the north bleachers. If you're an infrequent visitor to a Griz basketball game you'll probably be somewhere in the level above the mezzanine that holds the majority of the seats. Though it's up high, the view from the upper level offers good sight lines. With the compact size of the arena, no seat feels too far from the game.

When the Griz need a boost, or a ref makes a call that goes against the home team, the crowd noise elevates rapidly and to a deafening level. Opposing players typically have trouble communicating with their coach and teammates and often get rattled in these situations.

Just one small quibble: I don't know how it is for the players, but even with outside temperatures in the 30's, the seating areas in the upper sections got quite hot and stuffy. Certainly this is a consequence of packing many bodies into a relatively small space. Best to have a short sleeve layer on underneath your standard ball game going sweatshirt.

Neighborhood 5

Missoula is Montana's second largest city, but with the proximity of the campus to downtown, it has a quaint college town vibe. There are plenty of typical chain restaurants around, but eating at one could almost be considered heresy with so many unique and quirky establishments to choose from. Baba's Burgers and Gyro's on East Broadway, just across the river from Dahlberg Arena, is a nice lunch stop find. Downtown on Front Street the Tamarack Brew Pub is a fun and delicious choice for pre or post game grub. The Iron Horse Bar and Grill on North Higgins is also a popular choice. If you're a craft brew fan, be sure to sample some of the numerous local offerings, such as a Moose Drool or Trout Slayer from Missoula's Big Sky Brewing Company, or my personal favorite, the delicious Cold Smoke Scotch Ale made by Missoula's own Kettlehouse Brewery.

If you're in town, game time is a little ways off, and the weather is good, hike up the zig zag trail on Mt. Sentinel to the big M and take in the view. Or, if you don't have the energy to go uphill, take a stroll or a bike ride along the Clark Fork on one of the many paved trails. If Fido happens to come along, take advantage of one of the best dog parks anywhere, located between campus and the river on Jacob's Island.

Fans 4

Griz fans are passionate about their team and play a role in making things go their way in Dahlberg Arena. Every whistle against the home team is roundly derided without exception. Even the most experienced of referees must find it a difficult environment to work in. With the crowd firmly behind them the Griz team can't help but bring up their game usually giving their adoring fans yet another victory.

I would not hesitate to go to a Griz basketball game, even as a fan of the opposing team. Despite their passion during the game, the hometown faithful are mostly friendly to fans wearing the opponent's colors. Just know going in that it is unlikely that your team will find success.

The Grizzly men's basketball team is always at the top of the Big Sky Conference in attendance along with the Weber State Wildcats, and the Lady Griz are a national leader in women's basketball attendance. Crowds at Dahlberg Arena aren't what they used to be in the 70's, 80's when players such as Michael Ray Richardson, Larry Krystkowiak, and Wayne Tinkle played for Montana, but there's still plenty of passion and energy in the building.

Access 4

Dahlberg Arena is easy to locate on the east side of Missoula. Just look for the big M on the side of Mt. Sentinel. Washington-Grizzly Stadium is right at the base of that mountain and Dahlberg Arena is right next to the stadium. Most visitors to Missoula get there via I-90. Take exit 105-Van Buren Street and follow the signs to the University of Montana.

Parking is available near the arena for $5. It will be fairly congested after the game so have patience when leaving. If staying over in Missoula, consider getting a motel along East Broadway. There are plenty of choices ranging from Motel 6 to the Double Tree and everything in between. The motels are an easy and pleasant walk across the pedestrian bridge and to the arena. Just follow the crowd of maroon clad fans-as many choose to go to the game on foot or by bicycle.

If the weather isn't too cold and blustery (this is Montana in the winter after all), leave the car at the motel, walk downtown and grab a bite to eat, and then walk to the game.

Once inside the building, you'll find a maze of narrow hallways leading to the seating areas. If you're not familiar with this arena it's a good idea to get there well before tip-off to navigate to your section. The walls of the hallways are adorned with pictures and plaques from past University of Montana championship teams.

Restrooms are convenient to the seating areas, clean, and functional.

Return on Investment 4

Ticket prices range from $8 to $21, with slightly higher prices when the cross-state rival Montana State Bobcats come to town. The general admission bleacher seats are a real bargain at only $8. Concession prices are reasonable and there's plenty of variety to choose from. Parking is $5, but that charge can be avoided completely if you don't mind walking.

Extras 3

A bonus point for the Hall of Champions: This corridor leading to the upper level seating at the south end of the arena is a very well put together museum to Grizzly Athletics' history.

A bonus point for Monte and Mo, the grizzly bear mascots that wander the arena and keep the fans entertained. They are a big hit with the fans, young and old alike.

A bonus point for the Lady Griz, one of the most storied women's basketball programs in the nation led by head coach Robin Selvig. The legendary coach is approaching 40 years and 900 wins-all at the University of Montana.

Final Thoughts

Though perhaps lacking some of the comforts and flexibility of more modern venues, Dahlberg Arena has held up remarkably well in over 60 years of service. Where other arenas are multi-purpose and can host many different sports and events, Dahlberg exists first and foremost for basketball...and for the continued success of the Grizzly basketball, that's a really good thing.


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