Bitterroot Cross Country Ski Club – offers an enhanced experience

Ski slope at Lake Como. Photo by Tony Neaves.

by Nathan Boddy

The Lake Como area is well known for its recreational opportunities in the summer and shoulder seasons, but this strip of public land doesn’t stop when the snow flies. It’s precisely when the snow is at its best that Bitterroot Cross Country Ski Club (BCCSC) volunteers go to work creating the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts to get more out of Montana’s spectacular outdoors.

“It’s a great way to get out in the valley in the winter,” explains Jesse Crocker, vice-president of the Club. “A lot of people have summer activities, but cross-country skiing is a great way to exercise, at all levels, in the winter.” He also adds that cross-country skiing is a “significantly less expensive sport” than its sibling, downhill skiing, and does not require tethering to a ski lift. Crocker says he often sees people who approach the sport aggressively like running, but others who see it more as “a casual walk with friends” or “being at sunset walking with their dogs”.

RS aesthetic

The BCCSC was formed 31 years ago specifically to promote cross-country skiing at Chief Joseph Pass, atop the Continental Divide on Highway 43, a few miles east of Lost Trail Ski Area. Gordon Reese, whose name now adorns Chef Joseph’s heated cabin, worked for years to get permission for the project and ultimately form the ski club. The group’s ongoing efforts with Chief Joseph, along with their partnership with Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and Lost Trail Ski Area (which does grooming for the club in late winter), has meant management at long 30 mile trail. and approximately 20,000 “days of use” for this recreation site alone.

Following in the footsteps of the BCCSC, the Como Trails Club was formed in 2009 by Tony Neaves, Randy Leavell and Annie Creighton to establish another venue for the sport south of Lake Como. While its operation ended after six years, the foundations had been established, which facilitated the takeover of the site by the BCCSC in 2018. The Como Trails being an extension for the BCCSC, the organization of some 400 volunteers added another 15 miles of trails to its offerings. Neaves says the area has become very popular due to “being a short drive from town and bringing your dog with you”.

Despite the high quality equipment provided by the club, this is accomplished entirely through volunteer hours, club membership, and matching grants from the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Recreational Trail Program. Essentially anyone interested in trying it out can hop on and try. Jess Crocker says that for a cross-country ski experience in many places in the United States, “it’s not unusual to pay $25 a day.” For the Bitterroot Cross Country Ski Club, however, a free experience is “something the founders really believed in. It’s (stay) free for people to ski.

The BCCSC is interested in providing new experiences for beginner skiers, but also providing places where people can engage in other winter sports activities such as dog sledding, snowshoeing, fat biking and a even trails open to snowmobiles. In the past they also had a school program for children to come and see Chef Joseph and learn to ski but they put that on hold due to Covid.

For an organization that devotes over 1,000 hours of volunteer effort to facilitating an exceptional outdoor experience in the dead of winter, Jesse Crocker’s way of summing it up is pretty simple.

“It’s a quiet sport practiced in nature.”

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