The hillsides around Missoula look pretty brown, but ski opportunities have started opening farther from town.

The Lolo Pass Visitor Center opened Dec. 2 for the winter season. Recreation passes are required to park at the center, and cost $5 a day or $35 for a season pass. They can be purchased at the visitor center or in Missoula at the Trail Head, Lolo National Forest office at Fort Missoula and Lolo Hot Springs. The center is open Thursday through Monday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Users of the Chief Joseph Pass cross-country ski area reported icy and fast conditions early last week at the designated trails 95 miles south of Missoula at the junction of Highway 93 and Highway 43 by Lost Trail Pass. When fully snowed up, Chief Joseph offers 31 miles of trails with a mix of skate- and classic grooming.

On the downside, trails in the Rattlesnake, Pattee Canyon and Lubrecht cross-country ski areas remained snow-free on the last week of November. And some backcountry areas have suffered damage from last summer’s forest fires.

The Rice Ridge fire east of Seeley Lake has temporarily closed the Cottonwood Lakes road from Kozy Korner to Dunham Creek (snowmobile route 63.01) as well as Kozy Korner to the Lolo National Forest boundary (snowmobile route 63.13). Logging trucks are working that area clearing decks of trees felled during fire line construction.

Snowmobile traffic should be reopened on those routes after Dec. 16. However, logging activity could continue in other parts of the Monture drainage between Seeley Lake and Ovando. For current conditions, call the Seeley Lake Ranger District at 406-677-2233.

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