Izaak Walton’s Ski Fest Adds a New Touch

By Beacon Staff

This year’s Ski Fest at the Izaak Walton Inn will have its usual offerings: two days of free cross country skiing lessons, access to top-of-the-line Nordic gear and plenty of extracurricular fun like horse-drawn sleigh rides and live music.

But the event also has a new guest who, organizers say, will provide an unprecedented opportunity for advanced skiers to learn a few tips, as opposed to only beginners. Leslie Thompson-Hall, a former member of the United States Olympic cross country team, will hold a series of clinics at the two-day event, which is on Jan. 17 and 18.

“She’s well-known in Nordic circles,” said Mark Ambre, Izaak Walton’s ski pro.

Ski Fest began in the mid-1990s as a low-cost way for people to learn more about cross country skiing and spend a day at the famous Izaak Walton Inn. Since then it has grown into an event that attracts more than 200 visitors annually. There are more than 30 kilometers of groomed trails for cross country skiing and snowshoeing near the inn.

On Saturday night there will be a bonfire outside and live music – local songwriter Craig Wickham – in the lounge. Free sleigh rides are offered throughout the day and there will also be a snow sculpture contest. The winner of the sculpture contest wins a two-day stay in one of the Izaak Walton’s trailside cabins.

Experienced instructors will give free introductory ski lessons for beginners on both Saturday and Sunday. As they have done in the past, Rocky Mountain Outfitter and Sportsman Ski Haus are providing free demo gear for people who don’t have their own.

“It’s just amazing,” Ambre said of the two stores’ efforts.

Thompson-Hall’s clinics are geared toward intermediate and advanced skiers. Her clinics will be split into the classic and skate categories. For classic, her lessons are on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for women only, and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. for both men and women. For skate, her clinics are on Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. for men and women, and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. for women only.

The beginner courses provided by the other instructors begin at 10:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Pre-registration is encouraged, though not required, for all of the lessons, especially Thompson-Hall’s. Special room rates are available for the weekend.

The Izaak Walton Inn is located in Essex near the southwest corner of Glacier National Park. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the inn was built in 1939 to house winter snow removal crews.

It has since grown into a popular destination for Glacier National Park tourists and avid cross country ski enthusiasts alike. With a full-service dining room and a bar, it is considered one of the top cross country ski resorts in the Rocky Mountains.

Ambre said all ages are welcome.

“It’s usually a fun time,” he said.