Winter Guide: Cold Weather Culture

By Beacon Staff

Skiing might not be your cup of tea, or maybe you just need a break from the slopes, but either way you shouldn’t confine yourself to the indoors while you’re in the Flathead this winter. If you look around, there’s plenty to satisfy the outdoor, if not slightly alternative, taste without heading to the chair lifts: Ice fishing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and dog sledding come to mind.

While snowshoeing and cross-country skiing have their own appeal, dog sledding offers a far less strenuous way to glide across the glistening snow. Teams of dogs do the work, pulling passengers along in a sled. You get to sit back and enjoy the ride. And you can do it by yourself or with your family at Dog Sled Adventures Montana, located outside of Whitefish.

Owner Jeff Ulsamer said two parents with up to three kids comfortably fit in each sled. Or a group of friends can hop in. Each ride, which begins behind Ulsamer’s house near Olney in the beautiful Stillwater State Forest, is 12 miles and lasts about an hour and a half. The cost is $80 for adults and $40 for kids, a reasonable price for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Ulsamer said he has taken passengers as old as 98 and as young as infants. Last winter he gave rides to more than 700 people. He offers tours seven days per week at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. through March, including a couple of afternoon shifts at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When the ride’s over, passengers spend time petting the dogs and enjoying hot chocolate with cookies. Ulsamer has done the tours for 29 years.

“A lot of people go, ‘What’s the view like?” Ulsamer said. “I say you’re in the view. It’s truly memories that will last forever for them.”

Snowmobilers begin their day’s journey through the Flathead National Forest at the Canyon Creek Trail Head. J & L Rentals outfitted the group with clothing and sleds.

Dog Sled Adventures Montana can be reached at 881-2275 and found online at www.dogsledadventuresmontana.com.

Ice fishing is a quirky little winter activity that has the added benefit of putting food on the table. People can use a basic rod and reel if they own the gear, but a shorter rod geared toward ice fishing is preferable, said Chancy Jeschke, fishing manager at Snappy Sport Senter in Kalispell. Jeschke said a rod and reel setup costs between $20 and $30. Once you have the gear, then all you need is a bucket and an ice auger.

If you’re not going out with somebody who already has an auger, a basic hand auger costs about $50, Jeschke said. Augers can be purchased at Snappy Sport Senter and other sporting good stores. Perch and kokanee salmon are most common in ice fishing here, but other types of fish such as rainbow trout and northern pike are also popular.

Jeschke said Smith Lake is a great spot for ice fishing, while Echo Lake, Lake Mary Ronan, Upper and Lower Stillwater lakes, and Foys Lake, among many others, are popular destinations as well. Jeschke said ice fishing is a “fun winter sport,” and points out that it’s cheaper than most winter activities.

“There’s not a whole lot to it once you get some basic equipment,” he said. “Plus you can get fish to eat.”

Ricky, left, and Nora lead a team of dogs pulls Katie Davis on a sled through the Stillwater State Forest.

Snappy Sport Senter can be reached at 257-7525. You can also find gear at Sportsman & Ski Haus (755-6484). There are also ice fishing derbies open to anybody throughout the winter. Check out www.perchassault.com for more information.

Snowshoeing is a way to get outside and get exercise. Snowshoers and cross-country skiers often share the same groomed trails, which weave through all corners of the valley. Glacier National Park also offers a series of trails. A popular spot is Round Meadows, located 13 miles north of Whitefish off Star Meadows Road. Also, Stillwater Nordic (862-7004), Whitefish Mountain Resort Nordic Center (862-2900) and Meadow lake Resort in Columbia Falls (892-8700) all offer snowshoeing trails.

A variety of stores offer snowshoe rentals, including the aforementioned Sportsman & Ski Haus, Great Northern Cycles (862-5321), Stumptown Snowboards (862-0955) and Glacier Raft Co. Outdoor Center (888-5454), among others. For more information, the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce is a good resource and can be reached at 862-3501.
For people who need a little more speed than snowshoes or dog sleds provide, there is plenty of snowmobile terrain in the valley. J & L Rental (892-7666) in Columbia Falls and Winter Wonderland Sports (257-2627) offer snowmobile rentals. The Flathead Snowmobile Association is a great source for information about where to go and anything else you need to know before heading out. The association can be reached at [email protected] and found online at www.flatheadsnowmobiler.com.

A relaxing way to spend a winter afternoon, especially for families or couples, is a horse-drawn sleigh ride. The best-known sleigh ride service is the Bar W Guest Ranch, located just outside of Whitefish. Bar W can be reached at 863-9099. Other sleigh ride services include Gaynor’s Resorts (862-3802), Cripple Creek Horse Ranch (889-3674) and Rainbow Carriage Service (755-9801).