Cross-Country Skiing in Montana
Winter outdoors enthusiasts interested in a more social experience that allows them to get out in nature and enjoy the sights may appreciate cross-country skiing. Sometimes referred to as Nordic skiing, this style of skiing provides exercise while being surrounded by a Montana winter wonderland.
With an abundance of open meadows and rolling hills, Montana is an ideal place to go cross-country skiing. As someone who has taught cross-country skiing to my outdoor ed students, I’m excited to share my top tips on what to pack, where to go, and what to know about ski selection when cross-country skiing in Montana.
What Type of Cross-Country Skis to Use in Montana
When deciding on cross-country skis to use in Montana, whether renting or bringing your own, know that the type you want differs depending on where you’re going to go cross-country skiing. If sticking to classic groomed trails with tracks, standard skinny skis will work just fine.
Confused? If you’re new to cross-country skiing, you’ll notice that most trails have tracks on the perimeter of the trail (that’s for the classic technique and is what most beginners start on) and a groomed middle section looks more flat and smooth (that’s where you skate ski).
Also, if you’re planning to go along trails that aren’t professionally groomed each day, or before doing any backcountry cross country skiing in Montana, you’ll also want to bring or rent thicker cross-country skis, even if not skating. These thicker versions can better traverse through deep snow and are better for side-stepping up steep snow-covered inclines.
What to Pack for Cross-Country Skiing in Montana
Now for what else to pack for your Nordic skiing adventure in Montana. Keep in mind cross-country skiing is a cardio activity and you’ll want to dress in layers. Here are our top 10 recommendations of what to bring with you:
- Wool Neck Gaiter or Balaclava (wind in Montana can by bitingly cold)
- Ski Gloves (preferably Split Finger Gloves like these ones to provide both dexterity and warmth)
- Wool Baselayers (think long underwear…but fancier and not as itchy)
- Wool Ski Socks
- Multi-Layered Ski Jacket with Powder Skirt (Helps keep the snow out if you fall)
- Ski Pants or Tights (Choose water repellant and wind resistant fabric that allow for easy movement)
- Cozy Stocking Cap
- Polarized Sport Sunglasses (Choose wrap style to better protect eyes from sun and wind)
- Easy-to-Pack Sunscreen (it might be cold, but the sunshine can still burn high atop the mountain!)
- Avalanche Safety Gear: If you are doing any backcountry or remote trail skiing, it’s imperative to be Avalanche Aware and bring the proper safety gear.
Best Places for Cross-Country Skiing in Montana
Here are my top picks for where to go cross-country skiing in Montana. Some of these locations provide groomed trails, while others are a great option for backcountry skiing.
Silver Crest Cross Country and Snowshoe Area
Location: Great Falls
Cost: Free; donations encouraged
Silver Crest is a recreation area that features over 200 miles of trails for cross-country skiing as well as snowshoeing and snowmobiling. Spend some time taking in the sights while meandering along the groomed trails.
Located near the Kings Hill Recreation Area, Silver Crest Ski Trail is a great choice for those visiting Great Falls and other areas of Central Montana.
Lone Mountain Ranch Cross-Country Ski Trails
Location: Big Sky
Cost: $30 – $35
Lone Mountain Ranch offers cabins for overnight stays that include meals, a trail pass, and a variety of evening programs. Cross-country skiers will enjoy quality groomed ski trails and skating lanes.
For those looking to do both cross-country and downhill skiing on your Montana vacation will appreciate Lone Mountain Ranch’s close proximity to Big Sky Resort.
Mount Haggin Nordic Ski Area
Located on state land groomed by local volunteers (typically on Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays) Mount Haggin offers over 15 miles of cross-country trails. Overlooking Anaconda, Montana, Mount Haggin is run in cooperation with the jurisdiction of the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
Winding through historic logging camps surrounded by majestic mountain vistas, nordic skiers of all levels will appreciate this ski area. Both classic and skate skiing trails are available. A couple of trails offer both, which is ideal for families or friends skiing together who are doing different styles.
More skilled skiers will enjoy the steep downhill ski sections on the intermediate and advanced hills, while those who like a challenge can head to the non-groomed Spire Loop.
Crosscut Mountain Sport Center
Location: Bridger Mountains near Bozeman
Located just a short drive from the hustle and bustle of Bozeman, Montana, Crosscut Mountain Sport Center features secluded wilderness for nature-minded cross-country skiers. The center grounds cover over 500 acres and offers opportunities for skiers of all ages and expertise levels.
If you’re new to cross-country skiing or looking to improve your technique and skills, the ski center at Crosscut Mountain offers lessons for all levels as well as one-on-one instruction clinics. There is also an onsite rental center if you need to rent some skis during your Montana vacation.
Red Lodge Nordic Center
Location: Red Lodge
You’ll find more than just downhill skiing in Red Lodge, Montana. There is also excellent cross-country skiing to be found at the Red Lodge Nordic Center, located just two miles from Red Lodge Mountain.
The Red Lodge Nordic Center is an affordable, family-friendly place to ski that has miles upon miles of groomed trails, with both tracks for classic skiing and wider trails for skate skiing. If you want freshly groomed trails, plan for the weekend or early in the week since grooming is typically done on Saturday, Sunday, and Mondays.
Homestake Lodge Cross-Country Ski Center
Located near Butte in the town of Whitehall, Homestake Lodge offers cross-country skiing along flat open meadows.
Homestake offers a full-service ski shop, an evening ski loop, and even a few dog-friendly trails. A variety of climbs, hills, and flat, open meadows make this a great option for families with varying cross-country preferences.
Visitors can stay at the rustic lodge or adjacent cabins and enjoy the family-friendly Montana atmosphere.
Echo Lake Trails
Cost: Free, donations appreciated
Near Discovery Basin Ski Area (a popular alpine ski place in Montana), you’ll find the Echo Lake Trails. These trails are located by Echo Lake in Anaconda and offer a fun and laidback cross-country skiing experience.
The trails are managed by the Echo Lake Trails Association, which is a non-profit that is able to operate mostly thanks to volunteers and grants from the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks division.
There is a parking lot by the main trailhead (which is located by the Anaconda lift in Discovery Basin Ski Area). Another parking lot is located by the Midway trailhead, helping to divide up the area skiers are in a bit more. The Midway tail also has a warming hut.
The cost is free to cross-country ski Echo Lake Trails, though donations are greatly appreciated and you’ll see donation boxes along the trails where you can leave some money to help keep the trails running until your next vacation to Montana!
Cost: Glacier Nordic Club: $6-$12; Big Nordic Mountain Trails requires a state land recreational use license.
Whitefish is known for its amazing alpine ski resort, but this charming mountain town just 30 minutes from Glacier National Park is also a great Nordic skiing spot. That is mostly thanks to the the Glacier Nordic Club.
The Glacier Nordic Club operates two cross-country skiing location in Whitefish. The first is the Glacier Nordic Center at Whitefish Lake Golf Course and the second is Big Nordic Mountain Trails. The latter is best for experienced skiers while the Glacier Nordic Center has trails for every level.
One more cool thing about cross-country skiing in Whitefish are the “snow ghosts” you’ll often get the chance to see. The weather conditions in Whitefish are just right for this phenomenon that occurs when snow perfectly covers pine trees.
Glacier National Park
Location:Glacier National Park Winter Entrance in West Glacier
Cost: Park pass; 7-day passes are $15-$25 in winter
If you opt to skip the summer crowds and visit Glacier National Park in winter, you will not be disappointed. Cross-country skiing along one of the many trails throughout the park offers spectacular views of Glacier’s mountains, lakes, and streams.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced skier, you can find a trail that will let you enjoy the quiet wilderness as you glide through a winter wonderland. Check out the park’s skiing and snowshoeing brochure, and be sure to check in with a ranger for the latest weather and snow conditions before you head out.
Yellowstone National Park
Location:Yellowstone National Park’s Winter Entrance in Gardiner, Montana
Cost: Park pass; 7-day passes are $20-$35
Winter is a magical time to visit Yellowstone National Park, and cross-country skiing is one of the best ways to enjoy it. With numerous trails for a range of skill levels, skiing allows you to take in some of Yellowstone’s most stunning scenery without the crowds. Check in with a ranger at one of the park’s visitor centers to get suggestions and updates on the latest conditions, and then hit the trail!