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Cross-country getaway for nordic skiers

Skiing couple builds their nordic nirvana on the Continental Divide in Montana

Chris and Mandy Axelson are sharing their nordic dream along the Continental Divide with anyone who gets an urge to ski while traveling Interstate 90 through Montana.

The two former national-class competitive skiers built Homestake Lodge and Cross-Country Ski Center just 3 miles off the Homestake Pass exit east of Butte.

“After years of skiing some of the best nordic trails across the country, this is our dream spot,” said Chris, who raced and jumped as a nordic combined specialist on the U.S. team in 1979-80.

The center has a lodge with a nordic ski shop, food service common area and dorm rooms. The lodge is a year-round facility for everything from reunions and weddings to conferences and headquarters for events such as summer mountain biking activity along the nearby Continental Divide Trail.

Other overnight accommodations include a modern cabin and yurt – both once served as the couple’s residences since they started building the center in 2007.

But the Axelsons’ pride and joy, aside from their two young boys, centers around the 37-kilometer trail system, most of which is groomed for classic and skate skiing.

On and beyond the trails, there’s plenty of room for simply touring the rolling terrain of meadows, evergreens, aspens, beaver ponds and unique blocks and mounds of Boulder Batholith granite.

They started their goal of building a lodge in 2007 while living on the property in a wall tent.

“We worked sunup to sundown cutting trails, mowing, stumping and moving dirt,” Mandy said. “On Christmas Eve we moved into our cabin, and converted the yurt into our nordic center. We were officially open for business.”

As they continued to develop the trail system, the Axelsons built the lodge and ski shop over the next year. When their house was finally completed next to the lodge, the cabin and the yurt both became accommodations available to their customers.

They built the first 2-kilometer trail in 2007 based on their years of experience skiing around the country and internationally.

“The trails are built for fun,” Chris said on a tour of delightful ups and downs, curving through the hills and valleys at elevation 6,300 feet.

The rolling terrain is distinct from many Northwest nordic areas. “We had a vision of what we wanted based on little parts of all the places we’ve skied,” he said. “No one place had everything we wanted.

The Axelsons designed and cut out 70 percent of the trails, which link into relatively narrow logging roads carved into the area as many as 100 years ago.

The original 2K trail is lighted for night skiing with power from solar-charged batteries. Fluorescent bulbs posted every 30 meters around the loop use less power than two hair dryers, he said.

“We’re off the grid here,” said Chris, noting the resort is powered by solar and propane.

About 10Ks of trail are designated dog-friendly. “We know many skiers who consider their dogs part of the family,” he said. “Family is a big part of what this place is about: family and community.

“We had a dream for a cross-country venue that would become part of the community yet welcoming to visitors. It would be reasonably priced for a wide range of skiers and families.

Indeed, while it’s common to see Butte-area youth groups convening at the lodge commons, Homestake offers three accommodations for any budget. The offerings are beginning to attract people from across the country.

“We opened on November 10th this year, our earliest opening in the five years that we have been operating,” Chris said Thursday. “Quite a start – skiers from as far away as Wisconsin, Iowa and the East Coast have already been here this year. The skiing is great and Mandy, the boys and I are all smiling.”

The two lodge dorms can be rented by the bed or by the room and the comfortably equipped modern cabin is perfect for a family wanting more comfort, privacy and cooking options.

At $75 a night, the wood-heated yurt captures the hearts of many families and groups willing to ski in to their comfy hide-away along the groomed trail system.

“We provide a pulk sled for guests to ski-in with their gear,” he said.

Both Chris and Mandy grew up with nordic roots in Maine. After his U.S. Ski Team career, Chris was director of the New England Nordic Ski Association before opening an athletic business in Bozeman and becoming the nordic ski team coach at Montana State University.

That’s where he met Mandy, an athlete who competed with the MSU nordic team for four years.

“I pinch myself when I think that we’ve pulled this all together, the family, the trails and the cross-country center, all just 3 miles off a plowed interstate highway on the Continental Divide,” Chris said.

“We always wanted our kids to be able to ski out the back door.”