The Flathead Valley: A Nordic Oasis

By TRISTAN SCOTT

As downhill ski areas open for the season in Northwest Montana, the allure of the chairlift can eclipse the abundant Nordic ski trails that wind through the region.

But don’t let goggle vision obscure the raft of cross-country ski options in the Flathead Valley and beyond.

There’s no debate about the positive health benefits of Nordic skiing, and the intense but low-impact, total body workout is the perfect excuse to take a day off from the slopes, burn a mess of calories – on average, Nordic skiers burn 650 calories an hour – and boost the endorphins while strengthening those downhill legs.

Whether you’re looking for a leisurely backcountry tour after work, a glide along the rolling network of illuminated loops at the Whitefish Lake Golf Club, or a leg-burning ascent from Haskill Basin to the base of Big Mountain, the options are ample for skiers of all levels and abilities.

Here is a flurry of options right in your backyard.

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A lone skier coasts the Nordic trail on Blacktail Mountain. – Lido Vizzutti/FlatheadBeacon

 

Glacier Nordic Center at Whitefish Lake Golf Club

Likely the most popular and accessible groomed Nordic ski area in the Flathead Valley, the Glacier Nordic Center maintains 13 kilometers of impeccably groomed trails for both skate skiing and classic techniques, located at the Whitefish Lake Golf Club, just one mile west of downtown Whitefish on U.S. Highway 93 West.

Luminaries line 4 kilometers of trail for night skiing – all night, every night – affording skiers the cold, quiet comforts of kicking and gliding or diagonal striding along snow-covered trails in the crisp, crystalline winter darkness.

The trails meander along the 36-hole Whitefish Lake Golf Club, with loops located on both the north and south sides of the highway.

Ron and Jan Brunk, owners of Glacier Cyclery and Nordic, are the go-to gurus for gear and information. Or stop in at their Nordic Shop, located at the club-house parking lot. It opens when the snow flies and grooming begins.

Dogs aren’t allowed, and the cost is $8 per day, $55 for an individual season pass and $110 for a family.

Grooming updates are available at glaciernordicclub.com, or call Glacier Cyclery and Nordic at (406) 862-6446.

Big Mountain Nordic Trails

More than 20 kilometers of groomed trails begin between the two Willow lots near the base lodge of Whitefish Mountain Resort on Big Mountain.

Skiers can skate ski on the carpet of corduroy or kick and glide on the classic track. Glacier Nordic Club is providing new signage and maps as the popularity of these trails continues to grow. The trails will lead skiers to loops at the base of Big Mountain, out to Iron Horse Golf Club or into Haskill Basin.

Your Glacier Nordic and Ski Club membership fee funds the grooming duties carried out by Marc Venery, who lays a track of corduroy each morning.

Visit Glacier Cyclery and Nordic for gear and information, and find grooming updates at glaciernordicclub.com

Blacktail Mountain Ski Area

In addition to its terrific lift skiing, Lakeside’s premier downhill ski area features 40 kilometers of groomed Nordic ski trails and a slate of races on the west shore of Flathead Lake.

The ski area is easy to access from U.S. Highway 93 South. Look for signs and turn west at Blacktail Grocery, then follow the Blacktail Road for 14 miles to the mountaintop. The quality of the grooming is due to volunteer work by the North Shore Nordic Club, which is entirely funded by donations.

For grooming updates, visit northshorenordic.com.

Stillwater Mountain Lodge

Situated in the foothills about eight miles northwest of Whitefish, Stillwater Nordic opened in 2006 and features more than 20 kilometers of groomed trails that wind through old growth forests, roll over ridge tops and meander along lakeshores.

The lodge offers three suites and accommodates up to 14 people. Trails are groomed for skate skiing, with a track set for classic and diagonal stride.

The warming hut at the trailhead offers free rentals and skiing for children under the age of 12, and sleds are available to tow your tots.

Family season pass is $135, single adult pass $67, daily adult pass $15, daily youth pass $10. Multi-day passes also available. Trails include a 3.5 kilometer “dog-friendly” section.

For grooming updates, visit stillwatermtnlodge.com, call owner Reid Sabin at (406) 862-7004, or swing by the lodge at 750 Beaver Lake Road.

Izaak Walton Inn

Nestled at the southern tip of Glacier National Park, the Izaak Walton Inn’s 33 kilometers of groomed trails wind through a forested valley in the Flathead National Forest, bristling with hemlock, spruce and fir. The trails wander around Dickey and Essex Creeks, with one mile of trail lit for night skiing.

The Izaak Walton sits in the “snow belt,” and often has up to a foot more snow than trails just a few miles down the road.

For a “rails-to-trails” experience, catch a ride on Amtrak from the Whitefish Depot to Essex, then enjoy a day of skiing before staying in the cozy historic railroad hotel on the edge of Glacier National Park, or in one of the trailside cabooses.

Check in with the staff at the Izaak by calling (406) 888-5700. A day pass costs $10 and some of the trails are dog friendly. The inn is located at 290 Izaak Walton Inn Road, and grooming updates are available at www.izaakwaltoninn.com.

Round Meadows

Volunteers groom 12 miles of classic and skate trails about once a week or after large storms.

The trailhead is located in the Tally Lake Ranger District of the Flathead National Forest, 12 miles west of Whitefish. It has seven trail loops and a total of 12 miles of easy and advanced terrain.

To get to Round Meadows, follow U.S. Highway 93 North out of Whitefish for approximately 10 miles. At the Round Meadow sign, turn west onto Farm to Market Road and drive one mile. Turn right onto Star Meadows Road and drive one mile. Turn right into parking lot at the Round Meadow sign.

For updated grooming reports call the Forest Service at (406) 758-5204 you’re on the phone, express your appreciation for the groomed trails.

Dogs are welcome, but skiers should pick up after their pets.

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