Winter Preview

A Cross Country Skier’s Guide to the Flathead Valley

As snow piles up around northwest Montana, Nordic groomers are hard at work creating a winter wonderland for skiers of all stripes

By Micah Drew
Freshly groomed track in Whitefish. Photo courtesy of Glacier Nordic Club

The thankless job of a Nordic ski groomer starts well before dawn, when volunteers take to ATVs, snow machines and snowcats to carve corduroy and lay down classic ski tracks. Amber Drysdale, the head groomer for the Glacier Nordic Club, says a 4 a.m. start usually lets the groomers finish off the trails before the first skiers set up.  

Driving roughly 12 miles an hour, groomers make three passes across each section of trail, tilling the snow and renovating the surface to create a textured plane to skate and glide along. 

The Flathead Valley has a host of locations where people can pop on their skinny skis, even during the week when time is limited. Here’s a guide to the top spots to hit the trails and remember: Always thank your groomers!

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 $20; children, teen and senior passes are $10; folks below the age of 7 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. New this year is the addition of the Big Mountain Nordic Trails to Nordic Pulse, an online database that offers real time grooming reports. This year, the club will again be using its Bombardier 275 snowcat groomer, aka “Kirby,” purchased with a grant from the Montana Department of Commerce, which will help transform the trails into a river of corduroy every day before 9 a.m. Access to the trails is also available at the 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 $20; children and teen passes are $10; folks below the age of 7 ski free. Passes can be purchased at the Meadow Lake Resort Center. The trails are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Cross country skiers in Whitefish. Photo courtesy of Glacier Nordic Club

Blacktail Nordic Trails

Multiple access points along Blacktail Road, 8 miles from Lakeside


Located on the south face of Blacktail Mountain, about 8 miles above the community of Lakeside, this 25-kilometer trail system is maintained by the North Shore Nordic Club. The well-maintained trails offer 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 $22, ages 12 to 17 pay $12 and 12 and under ski free. Lodge guests also ski free. Season passes are available for $120.

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. 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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