Cross-country clues: slide down snow groomers or trek through the wilderness of Yellowstone and Montana
BILLINGS – Last September, following the continuous melting of a glacier, Norwegian archaeologists discovered a wooden ski believed to be 1,300 years old.
The 6-foot-long, 6.6-inch-wide ski even contained preserved leather and birch binding and was grooved on the bottom for easy steering.
In 2014, a similar ski was found in the same area, prompting the long search for its companion.
Skis are proof that cross-country travel on wooden planks has long been a mode of winter transportation. Today, the activity is known more as an exercise sport rather than a necessary means of movement. Fortunately, in southwestern Montana, there are a variety of groomed trails and resorts providing cross-country skiers with options to experience and explore in the winter.
As a bonus, this area of the state is adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. Skiing in or around the park offers a different experience from most other places as geysers erupt, hot pools and bison, elk, coyotes, wolves and foxes can be spotted.
To encourage outdoor winter exploration, here is a list of resorts and places to ski in the region.
There are also trails too numerous to mention that travel through National Forests. In some cities, parks and golf courses also offer nearby options.
Founded in 1984, Red Lodge Nordic Center offers 9½ miles of groomed trails 3 miles northwest of Red Lodge on the Aspen Ridge Ranch just off Smith Road.
The Beartooth Recreational Trails Association, a non-profit group, oversees the operation of the ski area.
The cost is $5 for adults. Children ski for free. A season pass costs $60, $100 for a family. A heated cabin provides a place to change and undress. Log on to the BRTA website at beartoothtrails.org/nordiccenter for special events. No dogs allowed.
B Bar Ranch sprawls across scenic Tom Miner Basin, just north of Yellowstone National Park. Beginning Dec. 26, the Guest Ranch’s 12½ miles of groomed trails are open for skiing from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Ranch staff ask visitors to call ahead to let them know you are coming. The phone number is (406) 848-7729.
The cost to ski is $12 per day. Hardened skiers can rent the ranch’s rustic backcountry cabins, starting at $60. No dogs allowed. The ranch’s ski report can be viewed online at bbar.com/Information/ski-report.
The Crosscut Mountain Sports Center offers access to 28 miles of trails spread over more than 500 acres in the Bridger Mountains. Located 27 km northeast of Bozeman, the center offers a rental shop and ski lessons, as well as access to snowshoes and snowmobiles.
The ticket office is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Mondays and Thursdays the hours extend until 8 p.m. for night skiing. Dogs are welcome at Crosscut from 3-8 p.m. Monday and 3-6 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday.
The cost of a day pass is $25 for adults, $15 for youth 10-18, and free for children under 10 and adults over 80. A senior (70-79), student, and military pass can be purchased for $20. For regular visitors, a five-time pass costs $115. Season passes are also available.
For more information, log on to crosscutmt.org.
If you’re visiting Bozeman for the weekend, hit Crosscut one day and for variety check out Hyalite Recreation Area the next, or vice versa.
Located about half an hour from downtown, the road up Hyalite Canyon is cleared in the winter as part of an agreement between Custer Gallatin National Forest and the nonprofit group Friends of Hyalite.
They also cooperate in the grooming and maintenance of the trails.
Over 19 miles of groomed cross-country trails, plus plenty of ungroomed terrain, are available in the scenic alpine canyon surrounded by majestic Hyalite peaks.
For more information, log on to hyalite.org/cross-country-skiing.
Driving from Bozeman to Yellowstone National Park along the Gallatin River takes winter recreation seekers past the breathtaking beauty of Big Sky, overlooked by the iconic Lone Mountain. Nestled in the valley below is the historic Lone Mountain Ranch. In addition to offering upscale accommodations, the ranch maintains 53 miles of trails that wind through the area.
Ski passes are $38 for adults, $25 for seniors, and free for children 12 and under. If you’re staying in the area for a vacation, a five-day pass costs $160. Rentals are also available at the ranch. To find out more, log on to lonemountainranch.com/adventures/#winter.
Continuing on Highway 89 past Big Sky to the community of West Yellowstone, skiers have access to Rendezvous Ski Trails and its 22 miles of “gently rolling, beautifully groomed trails.”
Daily, family, and seasonal passes are available at Hebgen Lake Ranger Station, the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce, and the Freeheel and Wheel bike and ski shop.
Much like Hyalite, the ski runs are a partnership between the community and the Hebgen Lake Ranger District.
One-day passes are $15, three-day passes are $30, and an individual season pass is $100. Freeheel and Wheel rents ski equipment and offers lessons. Children 12 and under ski for free.
Details and a link to trail network maps are available online at skirunbikemt.com/ski.
From West Yellowstone, it’s a short hop into Yellowstone National Park via the West Entrance.
The Riverside Ski Slope just outside of town provides a route to the Madison River. Skiers can also stop along the way between Big Sky and West Yellowstone to find trails at Specimen Creek, Fawn Pass and Bighorn Pass. These are not groomed routes, so be prepared for less polished skiing conditions.
The park devotes an entire page of its website to skiing and snowshoeing in the various areas, some of which, like Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, require a commercial shuttle to access. You can find the site online at nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/skiing-and-snowshoeing.htm.
Via Mammoth Hot Springs’ North Entrance, however, vehicular traffic takes visitors through the park’s North Range year-round—the same highway that continues to Silver Gate and Cooke City. From this route, skiers can hike around Mammoth, continue to Tower Fall, Lost Lake and Blacktail Plateau.
Ski rental is available at the Bear Den ski shop at the Mammoth Hotel. Operated by Yellowstone National Park Lodges, the store can also arrange shuttles to the park for skiers at the North Entrance. Dealerships also operate snowcoach shuttles in Cody and Jackson, Wyoming, as well as West Yellowstone.
If you prefer to go it alone or want to keep information on your cell phone, check out the Ski Montana cross-country app from Mountainworks Software.
The app, created in Bozeman, works without a cellular connection, making it useful even when you can’t get a signal. The app divides the trail possibilities into those that are groomed, ungroomed, and those where a fee is charged.
Trail maps can be downloaded. It also provides a list of local ski shops where you can hire gear.
More information can be found online at emountainworks.com/XCSkiMT.aspx.