There is no better way to explore Montana’s winter wonderland
than on a pair of cross-country skis. The gear is easy to find,
inexpensive to rent and takes little experience to use. With
a little planning and not much fuss, you can immerse yourself
in a world of beauty, solitude and adventure.
On cross country skis, try traversing the old trails of Lewis
and Clark, the pioneering adventurers sent by President Jefferson
200years ago to explore the West. Or you can climb up a glaciated
canyon in the Bitterroots to find old wooden dams built by the
first pioneers a century ago. Or you ski across a ridgeline,
gazing deep into the mountainous wilderness of Montana and Idaho.
Montana receives hundreds of inches of snow each winter, blanketing
the state with enough soft, fluffy powder to allow your skis
to take you places limited only by your imagination.
For those new to this sport, try one of the two developed,
public cross-country skiing areas. The ski trails at the top
of Lolo Pass are well marked, groomed with tracks, which makes
skiing easier, and designed to provide plenty of different length
trips of varying difficulty. Though you could leave from here
and ski for days, you can also ski for a few hours on trails
marked for beginners or intermediate skiers.
At the southern end of the Bitterroot Valley, literally across
the street from Lost Trail Powder Mountain, is the Chief Joseph
ski area, another public cross-country ski area maintained by
the Forest Service. Again, this area offers plenty of varying
length and difficulty trips that all criss-cross through this
wooded area full of big and small critters. And in the middle
of the area sits a log cabin with hot coco and a warm fire waiting
For those looking for more of an adventure, the hiking trails
in the Bitterroot and Sapphire ranges — the two mountain ranges
that envelop the Bitterroot Valley — offer hundreds of miles
of trails that climb deep into the wilderness. Because some
of these trails start at lower elevations that the trails at
Lolo and St. Joseph, the bottoms can be a bit icy or thin. Many
skiers wait till after a big snowfall to ski them, or plan on
carrying their skies on a backpack — the skis are very light
— up until the snow cover is adequate. Visit the Forest Service’s
we site for more information on ski trails and conditions.
Cross county skiing adventures also lend themselves well
to long weekend getaways. Several small resorts and bed and
breakfasts are located near great skiing. A decadent meal in
a warm cabin is the perfect end to a day of skiing. Accommodations
range from the romantic to family oriented, from luxurious to
discount. Some of the best skiing and après-ski accommodations
are located near Montana’s national parks, Glacier and Yellowstone.
Though a bit of a drive for the day from the Bitterroot Valley,
they are worth the trek for that special weekend away.
Cross-country skiing is a perfect activity for new and experienced
skiers alike. It takes most people just a few hours to become
comfortable on the skis, but you can spend a lifetime exploring.
Because this is a winter activity, you should be mindful of
weather conditions, your own physical limitations and the shorter
days. Be prepared with a watch, extra clothes, food and a map.
And be ready for an adventure you’ll never forget!