Don’t let the allure of the chairlift obscure the flurry 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.
Here are some possibilities to kick-and-glide right out your back door.
Glacier Nordic Center
The Glacier Nordic Club grooms 15 kilometers of trails regularly, so you can depend on a smooth ride — the only downside is that due to its lower elevation, these trails often see lower snowfall than other areas. Just under a mile west of Whitefish on U.S. Highway 93, a brown sign on the right indicates the Nordic parking lot. On the north side of the highway, the tracks cut through open sections of trees towards Whitefish Lake across flatter lands, which are generally better for beginners or skiers who want to fine-tune their technical skills. A tunnel brings skiers south of the highway, where they can branch off to a 3.6-kilometer loop that runs along Lost Loon Lake. Four kilometers of trail are also illuminated through the winter for night skiing. Daily trail fee is $8. Annual membership is $55 for an individual and $110 for a family. Dogs are not permitted on the course.
Grooming updates are available at glaciernordicclub.com, or call Glacier Cyclery and Nordic at (406) 862-6446.
Big Mountain Nordic Center
There are 23 kilometers of trails at the Big Mountain Nordic Center, which offers some more challenging terrain with steep and curvy descents. Glacier Nordic Club grooms 8.2 kilometers of these trails, and, because of the elevation, the conditions are often colder and snowier than in town. Access the well-marked trail system from the far end of the Willow Lot. Follow loops that circle around at the base of Big Mountain or head out to Iron Horse Golf Club and into the Haskill Basin. Season membership is $55 for an individual and $110 for families. The same pass works for all trails maintained by the Glacier Nordic Center. Dogs are permitted.
South facing and close to Flathead Lake, the Nordic trails on Blacktail get regular sun. They also offer views of the lake, the Swan Crest, and the Mission Mountains. Forty kilometers of trails run through clear-cut forests and old Forest Service roads. With some of the best grooming for skate skiing, there are also many races here through the season. Skiing sets off from the main parking lot, which is 14 miles down Blacktail Road from U.S. Highway 93 S. For the area’s most challenging terrain, head north on the 9.3-kilometer Powerline Loop. The North Shore Nordic Club does not charge trail fees, but donations keep operations running and trails groomed. Dogs are permitted.
Seeley Creek Ski Trails
With excellent, regular grooming and the heaviest snowfall of any town trail network in the area, the Seeley Creek Ski Trails are worth the drive down the Swan Valley. Volunteers hold the famous OSCR (Over Seeley’s Creeks and Ridges) and Seeley Lake Challenge Biathlon here every year. The OSCR, which is over three decades old, is a race around a 50-kilometer loop with sections for skating and classic skiing. The biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting, has been organized in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, snow machine club and other groups since 2008. The ski club does not charge trail fees, but donations are appreciated. Dogs are allowed, and dog mushers and skijorers are welcome.
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, and 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.
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 the parking lot at the Round Meadow sign.
For updated grooming reports, call the Forest Service at (406) 758-5204.
Dogs are welcome, but skiers should pick up after their pets.