Destination: Lone Mountain
MONTANA’S RANCHING LIFE
The following article was contributed and written by Jonathan Wiesel for exclusive use by xcskiworld.com. All rights reserved.
There’s nothing in the world of nordic skiing like a guest ranch in the Rockies. Nothing! Not the three-chef dining at Québec’s inns (chef, sous-chef, and pastry chef), the gentle flow of Midwestern trails, or the beauty of the Alps. The Rockies are arguably the most spectacular mountains in the world; ranch trails run from long and mild to short steep zingers; and cuisine wins rave reviews in Gourmet and Bon Appétit. But the final judge is repeat visitors.
While Colorado has the greatest number of winter ranches, Montana can claim the largest, most famous, and longest-lived. Thanks to the vision of owners Bob and Vivian Schaap, Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky (little more than an hour’s drive southwest of Bozeman) is the only one of the genre so committed to skiing that it began as an exclusively winter destination and only later moved into summer operations. That’s a lot like golf club architects designing tees and greens to protect the best ski trails – delightful but familiar!
What sets Lone Mountain apart from almost any other XC area are dedication and diversity, complemented by incredibly consistent quality in skiing, staff, activities, accommodations, and cuisine.
I’ve worked at several XC centers and learned how difficult it is to be creative, serene, humorful, and genuine for weeks on end. From waiters to wranglers, the Lone Mountain crew have done this naturally for over 25 years, developing friendships that span decades. Over 70 percent of their visitors return for a week or two, winter after winter. Incidentally, there are more staff than guests at the ranch, which helps explain the extraordinary level of service.
Guests like to taste the whole menu of attractions available in and around the ranch – fly fishing in rivers and spring creeks, snowshoeing on separate marked trails, massage therapy, hot tub, alpine skiing ten minutes away at Big Sky Resort, lounging in the library at the historic B Bar K building, recreational eating... But almost everyone still skis track, tours, skates, or telemarks, though some of us aging more-or-less-gracefully are inclined to concentrate on relaxation rather than spending half of every day on skis.
Lone Mountain grooms 75 kilometers, spread over thousands of acres. Trails run both up and down from the ranch – down to the gentle loops around Meadow Village; up to the top of Siberia; or connecting to Big Sky. Higher trails undulate through fir and pine; lower ones run through meadow to the gentle terrain of a golf course, where you can stop for a quick espresso.
The vertical change is over 2,000 feet. This sounds intimidating, especially since it’s the equal of major downhill areas in the Northeast and twice as big as any in the Midwest; but guests – even less experienced skiers – just take it in stride, or take a shuttle to skip much of that climb. Somehow those lofty trails beckon to everyone – I’ve met single people in their 70s, young goddesses in lycra, and honeymooning couples, most of them mesmerized by glimpses of 11,166 foot Lone Mountain Peak. Routes are generally groomed for a single track with a skate lane, maintained with loving care by a German Pisten Bully snowcat.
The ranch has a small snowmaking system but customarily enjoys a four-month season, with or without man-made snow. Contrary to meteorologists’ doomsaying, both El Nino and La Nina winters around Big Sky have seen great skiing. Natives call Lone Mountain’s snow “cold smoke”; it’s a thing of beauty to watch flurries sweep across the ranch, lightly carried by a delicate breeze.
Lone Mountain provides both guides and instructors and strongly encourages learning from a trained professional. They have an excellent rental shop and a tempting array of clothing.
Last winter, chief instructor Herb Davis hugely expanded Lone Mountain’s kids’ program. This year he’s developed a series of three and five day Women’s Camps, emphasizing downhill control on XC skis as well as covering classic and skate techniques.
The ranch runs telemark tours into the nearby Spanish Peaks, but more guests opt for the wonders of Yellowstone. Naturalist trips to the park are designed for both avid skiers and those of us who prefer a more leisurely visit. You can explore the northwest corner of the park with a ranch guide (figure on 8-10 miles a day, with flowing terrain), or snowcoach into Old Faithful for a gentler shorter ski. Unlike summer in the Park, the only crowding you’ll encounter is wildlife, which love the Geyser Basins. You may even see a bison blissfully standing above a steam vent, plumes parting around its belly. The ranch gives special tour prices to overnight guests.
The North Fork Cabin
Ranches encapsulate the romance of the West, and there’s nothing more Western than a sleigh ride dinner to the North Fork Cabin. Guest stroll from their log cabins to meet teams of belled Percherons, pulling wooden sleighs up the valley through that light Montana snow. The chefs await, prepping homemade soups, breads and desserts, readying the prime rib; while performers including Walkin’ Jim Stoltz tune their instruments beneath kerosene lamps. Cooking is done on a cast iron stove; guests can select a wine at the Horsefly Saloon before embarking on the 20-minute ride. This spectacular dinner is included in the cost of a ranch stay.
Get In Touch
You can write to Lone Mountain Ranch at P.O. Box 160069, Big Sky, MT 59716, USA or email@example.com; call them at 800-514-4644; or check their web site at www.lmranch.com. Vacation price varies with accommodations; cost includes skiing, dining, evening entertainment, an on-snow buffet lunch, sleigh ride dinner, and airport transfers. I’d counsel staying at least a week to sample the wonders of the region.
About The Author
Jonathan Wiesel grew up in New England, learned to nordic ski in Minnesota, and has lived for the last 33 years in the mountains of California, Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado. He’s a XC ski area planner, author, guide, and instructor.
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