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Cross-country ski clues: Glide the groomers, or trek the wilds of Yellowstone

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This past September, in the wake of a glacier’s continued melting, Norwegian archaeologists uncovered a wooden ski estimated at 1,300 years old.

The 6-foot long, 6.6-inch wide ski even held a preserved leather and birch binding and was grooved on the bottom to aid steering. In 2014, a similar ski was found in the same area, prompting the long search for its companion.

Historic

This photo taken around 1910 captures Yellowstone National Park's Canyon ski patrol, back when skiing was often a means of winter transport rather than recreation.

The skis are proof that cross-country travel on wooden boards has long been a winter mode of transport. Today, the activity is better known as a sport for exercise rather than a necessary means of travel. Luckily, in southwestern Montana there are a variety of maintained trails and resorts offering cross-country skiers options for experiencing and exploring winter.

As a bonus, this region of the state is adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. Skiing into or around the park provides an experience unlike most other places since geysers are erupting, hot pools steam and bison, elk, coyotes, wolves and foxes may 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 into national forests. In some towns, parks and golf courses also offer close-to-home options.

Red Lodge Nordic Center

Mary Ellen Mangus skis at the Red Lodge Nordic Center in 2015.

Red Lodge

Founded in 1984, the Red Lodge Nordic Center provides 15 kilometers of groomed trails three miles northwest of Red Lodge, on the Aspen Ridge Ranch, just off Smith Road.

The Beartooth Recreational Trails Association, a nonprofit group, oversees operation of the ski area.

The cost is $5 for adults. Children ski for free. A season pass is $60, $100 for a family. A warming hut provides a place to change into and out of gear. Tune in to the BRTA’s website at beartoothtrails.org/nordiccenter for special events. No dogs allowed.

Davis cabin

The Davis cabin at the B Bar Ranch in Tom Miner Basin offers a rustic option for skiers looking for an overnight stay. 

B Bar Ranch

Spread out across the scenic Tom Miner Basin just north of Yellowstone National Park is the B Bar Ranch. Starting Dec. 26 the guest ranch’s 20 kilometers of groomed trails are open for skiing from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The ranch’s staff asks that visitors call ahead to let them know you are coming. The phone number is 406-848-7729.

The cost to ski is $12 a day. Hardy skiers can rent the ranch’s rustic backcountry cabins, which start at $60. No dogs allowed. The ranch’s ski report can be found online at bbar.com/Information/ski-report.

Students make a circle

Students from Morning Star Elementary School in Bozeman make a circle with parent chaperones and instructors in 2014. The former Bohart ski area in Bridger Canyon is now a nonprofit known as Crosscut Mountain Sports Center.

Crosscut

Opening today, Dec. 23, Crosscut Mountain Sports Center offers access to 45 kilometers of trails spread across more than 500 acres in the Bridger Mountains. Located 17 miles northeast of Bozeman, the center offers a rental shop and ski instruction, as well as access to snowshoers and snow bikes.

The ticket window is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Mondays and Thursday the hours extend to 8 p.m. for night skiing. Dogs are welcome at Crosscut from 3–8 p.m. on Mondays, and 3–6 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The cost is for a day pass is $25 for adults, $15 for youth ages 10 to 18 and free for children under 10 and adults over 80. A senior (age 70-79), college student and military pass can be purchased for $20. For repeat visitors, a five-time punch pass costs $115. Season passes are also available.

For more information, log on to crosscutmt.org.

Hyalite views

A cross country skier glides across the Lower Wildhorse Trail east of Hyalite Reservoir in 2019. The reservoir is about 16 miles south of Bozeman at an elevation close to 6,700 feet.

Hyalite

If you visit Bozeman for the weekend, hit Crosscut one day and for variety check out the Hyalite Recreation Area the next, or vice-versa.

Located about a half hour from downtown, the road up Hyalite Canyon is plowed open in the winter under an agreement between the Custer Gallatin National Forest and the nonprofit group Friends of Hyalite. The forest and Bridger Ski Foundation cooperate on the grooming and trail maintenance. BSF has to raise about $100,000 to keep its trails program running, so users are encouraged to purchase a voluntary trails pass.

More than over 30 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails, plus lots of ungroomed terrain, is available in the scenic alpen canyon surrounded by the majestic Hyalite peaks.

For more information, log on to hyalite.org/cross-country-skiing.

Off-trail

Skiers trek into the backcountry ski areas at Lone Mountain Ranch in this 2014 file photo.

Lone Mountain

Driving from Bozeman to Yellowstone National Park along the Gallatin River takes winter recreationists past the breathtaking beauty of Big Sky, dominated by iconic Lone Mountain. Nestled in the valley below is the historic Lone Mountain Ranch. In addition to offering high-end lodging, the ranch grooms 85 kilometers of trail that wind through the area.

Ski passes are $38 for adults, $25 for seniors and free for children 12 and younger. If you’re staying in the area for vacation, a five day pass is $160. Rentals are also available at the ranch. To learn more, log on to lonemountainranch.com/adventures/#winter.

Rendezvous Ski Trails

Rendezvous Ski Trails in West Yellowstone offers 35 kilometers of routes.

Rendezvous

Continuing down Highway 89 past Big Sky to the community of West Yellowstone provides skiers access to the Rendezvous Ski Trails and its 35 kilometers of “gently rolling, beautifully groomed trails.”

Daily, family and season passes are available at the Hebgen Lake Ranger Station, West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce, and Freeheel and Wheel bike and ski shop. Somewhat like Hyalite, the ski trails are a partnership between the community and the Hebgen Lake Ranger District.

Day passes are $15, three-day passes are $30 and an individual season pass is $100. Freeheel and Wheel rents ski gear and offers lessons. Children 12 and youger ski free. Details and a link to maps of the trail system can be found online at skirunbikemt.com/ski.

Ski break

Skiers stop for a snack break on the Sheepeater Trail in Yellowstone National Park, a great place to seek out solitude as well as wildlife.

Yellowstone

From West Yellowstone it’s a short hop into Yellowstone National Park via the West Entrance. The Riverside Ski Trail 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 refined ski conditions.

The park dedicates an entire page of its website to skiing and snowshoeing in the different areas, some of which, like Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, require a commercial shuttle to reach. You can find the site online at nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/skiing-and-snowshoeing.htm.

Via the North Entrance at Mammoth Hot Springs, however, auto traffic takes visitors through the Northern Range of the park year-round – the same highway that continues on to Silver Gate and Cooke City. From this road skiers can trek around Mammoth, continue on to Tower Fall, Lost Lake and Blacktail Plateau.

Ski rentals are available at the Mammoth Hotel’s Bear Den Ski Shop. Operated by Yellowstone National Park Lodges, the shop can also arrange shuttles into the park for skiers at the North Entrance. Concessioners also operate snowcoach shuttles in Cody and Jackson, Wyoming, as well as West Yellowstone.

Online

Cross Country Ski Montana

The mobile app does not require cell service to provide information.

If you prefer to strike out on your own, or want to carry information in your cellphone, check out the cross-country Ski Montana app created by 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 breaks out trail possibilities by those that are groomed, ungroomed and ones where fees are required. Trail maps can be downloaded. It also provides a list of local ski shops where you can rent equipment.

More information can be found online at emountainworks.com/XCSkiMT.aspx.

Yellowstone skiing

Skiers break trail in Gardners Hole in Yellowstone National Park, which offers a variety of trails to visitors.

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