Fairgrounds track: Cross country ski trail groomed for public use in Hamilton

The new cross country ski area at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds in Hamilton.

DAVID ERICKSON, Missoulian

A dose of cold weather and some snow have created the perfect conditions for skiing at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds.

It’s the fourth time in seven years that conditions have come together to allow Tony Neaves the opportunity to groom a cross-country ski loop at the Hamilton fairgrounds.

The 1.8-mile loop offers opportunities for both skate and classic skiers.

It didn’t take long for people to spot Neaves’ work last weekend.

“There have been a ton of people out there already,” Neaves said last week. “I hadn’t even told anybody.”

The only thing Neaves asks is that people respect his volunteer effort and stay off the track with dogs and fat-tired bikes. People looking for a nice place to take a walk should also look elsewhere.

“It’s a fragile surface,” he said. “I have an agreement with the fairgrounds that allows me to groom the track whenever there is enough snow. I’ll keep grooming it until it turns back to grass.”

Neaves is using equipment owned by the Bitterroot Cross Country Ski Club that was once used to groom the trails in the Lake Como area. The club pays for the gasoline for the grooming.

Even though no grooming is occurring on the Lake Como ski trails, Neaves said people have been using the area and the tracks are set.

Grooming the Lake Como trails ended in 2014 after a five-year effort ran out of steam.

“We put it on the map,” Neaves said. “The parking was full on Sunday. It was like a normal busy weekend up there. The tracks on all of the trails are excellent.”

Neaves is also doing the grooming for the Skalkaho and Skalkaho-Rye snowmobile routes, as well as the grooming for the cross-country trails at Chief Joseph.

The two snowmobile routes are being used by a wide range of recreationists, including skiers, snowshoers and fat-tired bike riders.

“I even see moms out there pulling sleds,” he said.

The trails at Chief Joseph are being groomed this year by a snowcat from the Lost Trail Powder Mountain ski area.

“We have Sun Valley-quality trails up there now,” Neaves said. “It’s Chief Joseph like people have never seen before.”

With all the nearby opportunities to get outside and cross-country ski, Neaves is excited that conditions have made it possible for people to stay close to home to train for their winter excursions.

“The last time we groomed the trail at the fairgrounds, we had over 100 people show up in four days,” Neaves said. “One year, I got in 90 kilometers of training that helped me get up on the podium at a race. I just kept going around and around at the fairgrounds.”

Cold weather is expected to remain in the area for the near future.

“I’ll just keep cleaning it up until the snow goes away,” Neaves said.

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

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