Setting off on a serene day of cross-country skiing is like embarking into a winter wonderland — a realm where pristine snow-covered landscapes beckon and the crisp mountain air both refreshes and restores. In this blog, we'll delve into the joys of cross-country skiing and outline the abundant areas to enjoy around the Anaconda, MT area.
First, What is Cross-Country Skiing?
Cross-country skiing is a form of skiing that takes place on either flat or undulating terrain, typically through pristine, snow-covered landscapes. Unlike downhill skiing, which involves skiing down slopes or mountains, cross-country skiing focuses on horizontal travel across either flat or gently rolling terrain. It is a popular winter sport and recreational activity world-wide in regions with snowy climates, much like Southwest Montana.
Just as the terrain differs between downhill and cross-country skiing, so do the type of equipment used and the skiing techniques.
Cross-country skis are generally longer, narrower, and lighter than downhill skis. They have bindings that allow the heel to lift off the ski, enabling a gliding motion. Ski poles are used to help with balance and to push the skier forward.
As for techniques, there are two primary methods used in cross-country skiing: classic and skate. The Classic technique involves a forward and backward striding motion, similar to walking or running, with skis moving in parallel tracks set in the snow. The Skate technique, or Skate-ski, involves a side-to-side skating motion, where skiers push off with their skis at an angle, similar to ice skating.
Cross-country skiing can take place on groomed trails, through forests, or even in backcountry areas. There are also Nordic skiing resorts with maintained trails for both classic and skate skiing.
Why do people Cross-Country Ski?
People go cross-country skiing for a variety of reasons. From fitness and exercise, to enjoying the outdoors in beautiful winter landscapes, there are a plethora of reasons so many people participate in cross-country skiing every year. A few of those reasons follow:
Fitness, Exercise and Wellbeing: Cross-country skiing is an excellent full-body workout, engaging muscles in the legs, arms, and core, and providing cardiovascular benefits that can help improve overall fitness. It's also a low-impact activity that can be enjoyed by people of all fitness levels.
Though accessible to people of all abilities, even first-timers, cross-country skiing does require a certain level of skill, especially when it comes to mastering different techniques. Some people enjoy the challenge of improving their skiing abilities and mastering new skills.
In addition to physical fitness, cross-country skiing in the fresh, crisp air of winter can have mental health benefits. Outdoor activities, especially in natural settings, have been shown to improve overall well-being. Cross-country skiing, with its rhythmic gliding and peaceful environment, provides a meditative quality that can reduce stress and promote a sense of serenity.
Pleasurable Outdoor Experience: In regions with snowy winters, like Anaconda, cross-country skiing provides a popular recreational activity. It allows individuals to enjoy the beauty of winter landscapes where skiers can explore snow-covered forests, meadows, and trails, providing a unique and serene outdoor experience.
Cross-country skiing can also be a social activity. People often ski with friends, family, or groups, making it a way to spend time together outdoors. Some ski resorts and clubs organize group events and races, fostering a sense of community.
If skiing in groups and meeting new people sounds appealing, here are a few organizations around Anaconda to check out:
Mile High Nordic is a non-profit club dedicated to promoting cross-country skiing in Southwest Montana;
Echo Lake Trails Association encourage and supports fun, community, and healthy living all year round and maintain a divine network of trails near Discovery Basin Ski Area and Echo Lake;
The Missoula Nordic Ski Club is a membership-driven organization that helps promote nordic skiing throughout Western Montana;
The Last Chance Nordic Ski Club in Helena, grooms Nordic trails on MacDonald Pass and supports programs for Masters, Juniors, and Youth skiers; and
The Bitterroot Cross Country Ski Club is a non-profit corporation who promotes cross-country skiing and other outdoor recreational activities by educating the public about the health and recreational benefits of such activities.
Where Can I Go Cross-Country Skiing around Anaconda, MT?
Anaconda and its surrounding areas offer numerous places for exceptional cross-country skiing. Here are a few places near Anaconda where you may find cross-country skiing opportunities:
Echo Lake Trails: Located near Discovery Basin Ski Area, approximately 30 miles from Pintler’s Portal Hostel, the Echo Lake Trails sits at about 6,400 feet and is historically blessed with abundant snowfall. The ski trails are accessible via two trail heads: The “Midway” trail head is located about a 1/4-mile before Discovery Basin Ski Area and is considered the preferred parking area for the Echo
Lake Trails. This parking area gives users access to both the Cable Trails and the Echo Lake Trails with ample parking available. The second trail head is accessed by the parking lot near the Anaconda Lift at Discovery Ski Area.
The Echo Lake Trails and the Cable Ski Trails offer terrain for beginners to expert skiers. The Echo Lake Trails Association, a non-profit group that promotes the area and tackles its upkeep, grooms about 14 km of trails for both classic and skate skiing. Additionally, about 15 km of marked, un-groomed trails are available for exploration.
View Trails Map here.
NOTE: The Echo Lake Trail Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of winter and summer opportunities involving all ages. Trails are groomed regularly based on snow conditions, please see updated Nordic trail report. The trails are groomed thanks to some grants and donations — link here.
Mt. Haggin Nordic Ski Area: Located on the Mill Creek Highway about 15 miles from Pintler’s Portal Hostel, the Mount Haggin Nordic Ski Trails offers 25 km of groomed trails. Roughly 10 km are
groomed for both classic and skate skiing while the remaining trails are tracked solely for classic skiing.
The trail system is groomed weekly by volunteers from the Mile High Nordic Ski Club. The group generates operating funds from membership dues, an annual Ski Ball, donations from the public, and matching funding grants. Donation boxes are available at the trail head.
NOTE: Dogs are not allowed on the groomed trails.
View Trails Map here.
Old Works Ski Trails: New for the 2023-24 season, the Old Works Golf Course in Anaconda will be offering groomed ski trails for cross country skiers to enjoy. More information will be provided as this brand new opportunity materializes!
Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness: The Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, part of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, offers a pristine winter landscape. While trails within the wilderness area are not groomed, the wilderness area provides robust opportunities for backcountry cross-country skiing. Be sure to check with the local ranger district for information on winter access and conditions. More information about backcountry skiing is available on our Pintler Post Blog Experience Winter Adventure: Backcountry Skiing in Anaconda, MT.
Before heading out, it's advisable to contact local ski shops, outdoor recreation offices, or the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest office for up-to-date information on trail conditions, grooming status, and any specific recommendations for cross-country skiing in the area. Snow conditions can vary, so it's important to be well-informed before planning your cross-country skiing adventure.
Inside Pintler’s Portal Hostel, the Spike Camp room displays maps of most of these ski trails, including topography and trail difficulty. You're welcome to visit the Hostel and plan your next outdoor trek for you and your family in comfort. And after a day on the trails, relax in our spacious lounge, cook a hardy meal, warm by the fire, and recharge for your day of skiing!