By Kay Bjork, for Montana Living
To ski or not to ski - That is not really the question.
Not for the dedicated Nordic ski colony of snow enthusiasts.
The real question is where - and skinny skiers have a varied palette to choose from in Montana with hundreds of miles of trail systems at resorts and on public lands.
Following is a sampler of cross-country skiing experiences available in Montana - from the luxurious Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, to the wilder back woods of Chief Joseph Pass.
In Big Sky, Lone Mountain Ranch offers day passes for 75 kilometers of groomed trails of varied terrain. Winding through timber and meadows graced by grand views of the striking Lone Mountain, the immaculately groomed trails have a track for classic skiing and a wider lane for skate skiing.
Ski rentals and lessons are available at the ski shop. Trail fees are $18 for a full day and $15 for half-day. Kids 12 and under and seniors 70 and over are free. Seniors 60 to 70 are $12 for a full day and $10 for a half-day. Season passes are also available for $150 before Dec. 1 and $225 after.
This upscale resort offers lodging in charming log cabins, gourmet dining and a vast playground that combines the great outdoors and being pampered. A vacation could include downhill skiing or snowboarding at Big Sky ski area; a day tour amid the mysterious geysers of Yellowstone Park or a romantic sleigh ride around the ranch, or the delicious pampering of a massage. Weekly rates start at around $2,000 for the first person and approximately half that price for each additional guest. Vacation packages include meals, lodging and activities at the ranch.
For information, call 800-514-4644 or visit their Web site at www.lmranch.com.
Bohart Ranch, 16 miles northeast of Bozeman, has 25 km of groomed and tracked trails, a biathlon range for year-round training, a warming cabin, snacks and a rental shop with lessons available.
The scenic trails meander through the timbered Bridger Canyon and are groomed for both classic and skate skiing.
Daily rates are $12 for adults, $6 for children 7-12, children 6 and under and seniors over 70 are free. Group lessons are $15 per person. The ski season normally runs Dec. 1 through March 31. For information call 406-586-9070.
Big Mountain Nordic Center in Whitefish offers 30 kilometers of varied terrain geared primarily for the experienced crosscountry skier. Located at Big Mountain Ski and Summer Resort, this well-maintained trail system is a great way to keep the family together if your household has varied interests and abilities. There is a half-pipe for snowboarders, a bunny hill for beginners and a ride to the top of the mountain for more advanced skiers and snowboarders. Go your separate ways in the morning, but meet for lunch at the Outpost to warm up and swap stories about junior's awesome jump and dad's colossal crash.
The trail fee for the Nordic course is $5. Ski rentals, lessons, and food are available at the Outpost. Call 800-859-3526 or log on to www.bigmtn.com
Mid-way between West Glacier and Essex, the Izaak Walton Inn offers 30 kilometers of groomed trails and access to miles of backcountry skiing. Near the lodge is a good course for beginners. Steep and rolling trails along the winding creek and through deep timber provide a good workout for the advanced skier.
The historic rail station includes lodging, a restaurant, gift shop, recreation room and bar. Be sure to budget some time to browse through an extensive display of railroad memorabilia in the charming hotel, which was originally built for railroad employees.
Ski rates are $10 for adults and $5 for children. Season passes are also available: After Dec. 7 season passes are $100 for an individual and $200 for a family. Call 406-888-5700.
Nearly 1,000 kilometers of National Forest trails designated for skiers create a sense of adventure for those looking for a wilder experience. A guide to Northern Region can be obtained at local Forest Service offices or send your request to:
USFS Northern Region
P.O. Box 7669
Missoula, MT 59807
Following are few of the options on public lands.
The Bitterroot Ski Club grooms 24.6 km of trails at Chief Joseph, 28 miles west of Wisdom, Montana. Maps are available at the trailhead and the club recently added a warming hut. Hosts staffing the log cabin stay free in exchange for duties such as keeping the walkway clear and tidying the cabin. Hot chocolate and tea are available to skiers - just remember to plop in a little cash in the donation jar.
The loop trails consist of flat, steep, and rolling terrain. Ski season generally begins Dec. 1 and continues into April.
Call the Wisdom District Ranger at 406-689-3243 for information. You can also learn about local snow conditions if you call the neighboring Lost Trail Powder Mountain snow report: 406-821-3211.
The McDonald Pass Trail System is located on Helena National Forest on U.S. Highway 12 and groomed by the Helena Last Chance Nordic Club. There are 12 kilometers of groomed interconnected trails for classic and skate skiing - 5 kilometers easiest, 5 kilometers more difficult, and 2 kilometers most difficult. The convenient location only 15 minutes from Helena allows locals to take a morning outing before their latte or a quick loop after work. The trail system sees great snow at an elevation of 6,325 and is immaculately groomed by a group of avid ski racers from the community. Snowmobiles and dogs are prohibited. Contact the base camp for information: 406-443-5360.
In the West Yellowstone area, a 42-kilometer trail system is one of the first and last to see snow with a normal season starting in early November and lasting until April or May.
The trails' elevation of 6,800 feet makes the course ideal for high-altitude training and is used by the American Olympic Team for fall training.
During November's Fall Training Camps the extensive grooming requires an $8 day-use fee. The rest of the season the trails are a "Fee Demonstration" area operated by the USFS and daily passes are $3.
For more information and current ski conditions log onto rendezvouzskitrails.com or for general information call the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce at 406-646-7701.