One of the best dividends of cross-country skiing - besides scenery, solitude and artery-cleansing exertion - is that you can enjoy a hearty meal afterward without guilt. You earned it.
And one of the best places to combine scenic skiing with gourmet dining is Lone Mountain Ranch in southwest Montana.
Lone Mountain Ranch, a reasonably straight eight-hour drive from Spokane, is the crown jewel of what is becoming a nationally recognized cross-country principality.
Within close proximity there’s West Yellowstone’s 30-kilometer Rendezvous Trail system, where the U.S. Olympic Nordic Ski Team trains. To the north, near Bozeman, are the meticulously groomed trails of Bohart Ranch, site of the 1996 NCAA cross-country national championships. And farther east is Red Lodge ski resort, where next year’s plans call for groomed trails and overnight cross-country huts along the mountain’s 9,400-foot-elevation ridge.
Lone Mountain Ranch sits at the base of Big Sky, one of the Rockies’ premier downhill ski resorts. Bob and Vivian Schaap bought the 160-acre property, once a working cattle ranch, from Big Sky Corp. in 1977.
Since then, the couple has refurbished existing one-and two-room log structures and built authentically detailed cabins. Equipment rental, lessons, clothing, accessories and gifts are available in the rustic ski shop, and there’s an outdoor hot tub. But the ranch’s centerpiece is the handsome new lodge, where guests dine beneath three-tiered elk-horn chandeliers and a 28-foot-high ceiling. (Cooking is not permitted in cabins.)
The lodge also has an inviting Western-style saloon, though partying is low on most guests’ priority list. They prefer to ski, snowshoe, fly-fish (yes, even in winter), read, relax and enjoy the ranch’s distinguished country cuisine.
Breakfasts and lunches are served buffet style and may include scrambled-egg burritos, quiches, chicken stew or stir fry. Most guests dine in ski apparel and appear eager to get back on the trail.
But evening meals are meant to be consumed at a leisurely pace. Guests choose among entrees ranging from Montana bison, beef and lamb to Pacific salmon, trout, pasta and vegetarian dishes. Breads, pastries and desserts are baked on the premises.
Occasionally a gourmet lunch is served on the ski trail, atop tables fashioned from snow. And one night a week, guests climb aboard horse-drawn sleighs and ride to North Fork Cabin for a prime-rib feast followed by stories and songs.
Other evenings offer nature lectures, slide shows and entertainment.
“Things are programmed,” says Bob Schaap, “but there’s still a lot of flexibility.”
Don’t expect to watch the Super Bowl in your cabin, though. There’s only one television at Lone Mountain Ranch, in the lounge. Or you could walk or drive down to the lively bar at nearby Buck’s T-4 Lodge, an establishment celebrated far and wide for its tasty wild-game dishes.
To help work up an appetite at Lone Mountain Ranch, there are 65 kilometers (43 miles) of trail - from easy meadow terrain to challenging climbs - groomed for both traditional and skate skiing. Guests can break a sweat early by working their way up the various loop systems or hop aboard a shuttle for a quick, painless 1,400-foot elevation gain.
Snow conditions at 6,700-foot Lone Mountain Ranch are dependable from December through mid-April, when the resort’s winter season ends. “In the two decades we’ve been here,” boasts Schaap, “we haven’t had a day we couldn’t ski.”
Lone Mountain Ranch’s 23 cabins accommodate up to 85 guests. Winter holiday visits are reserved in weeklong blocks, though shorter stays are allowed early and late in the season.
Weekly winter rates, usually from Saturday to Saturday, include all meals, trail passes and many special activities. They start at $1,300 for the first person in the small one-bedroom cabins; $1,875 in the larger cabins, and $1,846 a person at Ridgetop lodge. Each additional adult guest pays $730 in any of the accommodations.
The Douglas fir house, with three bedrooms and two baths, can be rented for $2,600 for the first person plus $730 for each additional person.
All cabins have either stone fireplaces or wood-burning stoves.
The weekly rate for children ages 2 to 12 in all accommodations is $580. A 15 percent service charge and 4 percent state taxes are extra.
Free airport transfers and transportation to Big Sky downhill ski area are provided. Ski lessons, rentals and guided excursions cost extra. There is a surcharge of 15 percent from Dec. 21 to Jan. 3; a 15 percent discount from Dec. 7 to 20 and March 21 to April 3, and a 5 percent discount from Jan. 4 to 24. Arrangements for stays shorter or longer than one week can be made, and packages are available for those who want to combine alpine and cross-country skiing.
Summer and fall
From June 1 through mid-October, room rates range from $1,600 to $2,400 for the first person, plus $970 for additional adult guests; $335 for children 2 and 3 years old, and $675 for children 4 and 5. Summer packages include a trip to Yellowstone National Park and horseback riding. Fly-fishing is extra, and whitewater rafting, canoeing, rock-climbing and tennis can be arranged.
Lone Mountain Ranch can be reached at (800) 514-4644, fax (406) 995-4670. The mailing address is P.O. Box 69, Big Sky, MT 59716. The ranch is about 55 miles from Bozeman and Gallatin Airport, served by Delta and Northwest Airlines.
The resort’s Internet address is http://www.gomontana.com/lmrhome.html E-mail messages can be sent to email@example.com
Bohart Ranch, located adjacent to Bridger Bowl alpine resort 16 miles northeast of Bozeman on state highway 86, offers 25 kilometers (15 miles) of expertly designed and maintained trails.
Owned and operated by Jean MacInnes and her son, Chris Myers, Bohart Ranch features a biathlon shooting range for year-round training and competition. (In summer, there’s also horseback riding, mountain biking, and a challenging 18-hole Frisbee-golf course for what MacInnes calls “the grunge crowd.”)
Bohart’s trail system is well-suited for beginners and intermediates, yet challenging enough to test experts over timed routes. Besides last year’s NCAA Nordic championships, Bohart routinely is host for local and national cross-country events. On Feb. 22 and 23, some 60 biathletes will compete in a nationally sanctioned event.
Bohart is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Full-day use of the trails costs $9 ($6 for children); half-day rates are $6 and $4. Skiers under 7 or over 70 pay no trail fee. Ski rentals cost $6 to $12, depending on the package.
For more information, call (406) 586-9070 or write to Bohart Ranch, 16621 Bridger Canyon Road, Bozeman, MT 59715.
The nearest accommodations are one mile away at Silver Forest Inn Bed and Breakfast. Rates range from $75 to $115 and include a gourmet breakfast for two. The inn can be contacted at (406) 586-1882, or by mail at 15325 Bridger Canyon Road, Bozeman, MT 59715.
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