Cross Country Countdown

As snow starts to pile up, Nordic ski areas begin opening in Northwest Montana

By Justin Franz

As winter quickly approaches, it can seem harder and harder to get outside; it’s cold and the days are short. A big recreational draw this time of year — alpine skiing — is often more of a weekend or day-off activity, when you have the time to load up the skis and the boots and everything else you need for a day in the mountains.

Thankfully, the Flathead Valley has a robust roster of cross-country ski sites where people can bust out their skinny skis and hit the corduroy, even during the week when time and light is limited. Here’s a rundown of some of the best spots in Northwest Montana to hit the trails.

Glacier Nordic Center

1200 U.S. Highway 93, Whitefish


Conveniently located just a mile from downtown Whitefish, the Glacier Nordic Center at the Whitefish Lake Golf Course offers 12 kilometers of groomed trails for skate and classic skiing. About 4 kilometers are lit at night so people can ski from sundown until 10 p.m. The trails are maintained and groomed by the Glacier Nordic Center, which also runs the Glacier Nordic Shop where people can rent gear, get their skis waxed and purchase day or season passes (adult day passes are $12; children and teen passes are $6; folks below the age of 7 or above the age of 70 ski free).

Big Mountain Nordic Trails

3315 Big Mountain Road, Whitefish


On the slopes of Big Mountain, the Glacier Nordic Club maintains more than two-dozen kilometers of trail through the forest in collaboration with the Iron Horse Golf Club. This year, the club will be using a brand new Prinoth Snowcat groomer purchased with a grant from the Montana Office of Tourism that officials hope will have the trails ready for use every day before 9 a.m. Also new this year is a recently built trailhead off Haskill Basin Road. There is no fee to ski on the trails, however, donations to the Glacier Nordic Club help keep it maintained.

Meadow Lake Nordic Trails

100 St. Andrews Drive,
Columbia Falls


The final trail maintained by the Glacier Nordic Club is located at the Meadow Lake Resort near Columbia Falls, about a mile north of U.S. Highway 2.  The 6-kilometer trail is mostly flat with a few gently rolling hills that are perfect for skiers of all ages and ability. An adult day passes costs $12; children and teen passes are $6; folks below the age of 7 or above the age of 70 ski free. Passes can be purchased at the Meadow Lake Resort Center. The trails are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Blacktail Nordic Trails

Multiple access points along Blacktail Road, 8 miles from Lakeside


Located on the south face of Blacktail Mountain, this 25-kilometer trail system is maintained by the North Shore Nordic Club. Located 8 miles above the community of Lakeside, the trail offers skiers great views of Flathead Lake and the Mission Mountains. Snowmobiles, ATVs and other motorized vehicles are not allowed, but dogs are. To find a map, visit the North Shore Nordic Club’s website. There is no fee to use the trail, but donations are always accepted.

Bigfork Community Nordic Center

4643 Foothill Road, Bigfork


The Bigfork Community Nordic Center has 10 kilometers of trail off Foothill Road, not far from the Jewel Basin, with a wide variety of terrain perfect for skiers of all levels. The trail is on State Trust Land and therefore a valid Montana Recreational Use License is required (permits are $10 for individuals, $20 for families and $5 for people under the age of 17 or over the age of 60. They can be purchased from any authorized Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks license agent). Dogs are not allowed.

Dog Creek Nordic Center

8775 U.S. Highway 93, Olney


Located three miles north of Olney, the Dog Creek Lodge and Nordic Center features 27 kilometers of groomed trail on private and public land (specifically the Stillwater State Forest). Dogs are welcome on the trail, but owners are asked to make sure their animals are fixed, friendly and that they are picked up after). Adult day passes are $20, ages 12 to 17 pay $10 and 12 and under ski free. Lodge guests also ski free. Season passes are available for $150.

Izaak Walton Inn

290 Izaak Walton Inn Road, Essex


Located on the southern edge of Glacier National Park, the historic Izaak Walton Inn maintains 30 kilometers of trail through the Flathead National Forest. The trails are perfect for skiers of all abilities. This year, the inn built two new bridges on the trail system as well. Adult trail passes are $18 and children trail passes are $10. Season passes are $50 for an individual and $100 for a family before Dec. 6, when prices increase to $100 and $200 respectively. The trails are open from mid-December until late-March.

Round Meadows Trails

Star Meadows Road,
Tally Lake


Located on the Tally Lake Ranger District northwest of Whitefish, the Round Meadow Trail is groomed by volunteers at least once a week or after big storms. The trail has seven different loops for a total of 12 miles of easy and advanced terrain. To see a map, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5443488.pdf

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