A new trailhead is providing improved access this winter to the Big Mountain Nordic Trails, and now a state grant will help purchase a snow cat groomer to improve those cross-country ski trails.
Glacier Nordic Club recently received a $51,000 grant toward the purchase of a snow cat groomer. The funds are being awarded through the Tourism Grant Program at the Department of Commerce, Office of Tourism and Business Development, and were recently announced by Gov. Steve Bullock as part of package of grants to develop and enhance tourism and recreation around the state.
Cameron Blake, executive director of the Glacier Nordic Club, said the groomer is not being used on the trail yet, but should improve the ski trail experiences as the current grooming equipment has a difficult time handling lots of snow that comes with the trail at a higher elevation. She noted that on a recent day the snowmobile currently used for grooming actually got stuck along the trail and had to be dug out, and often the grooming attachment has to be detached from the snowmobile so the snow can first be packed by the machine and then groomed.
“When there’s so much snow the grooming equipment gets weighed down,” she said. “It can take a few days to groom if there’s a high volume of snow. It makes it difficult to groom on side hills where the snow falls and areas where trees drop snow. The new Piston Bully groomer should be able to push the snow and it can fill in areas like the tree wells — it’s more efficient and more reliable.”
The new groomer is expected to cost $75,000, but Blake said fundraising still needs to take place to provide storage for the new equipment.
The Big Mountain Trailhead connects groomed trails on Big Mountain, the Iron Horse Golf Club and into Haskill Basin on lands owned by Whitefish Mountain Resort, F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber, and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. The new trailhead provides permanent access to the trails system and was developed in a partnership between Glacier Nordic and Whitefish Legacy Partners on land donated by the resort.
The trailhead accesses 23 kilometers of trails groomed by Glacier Nordic and Iron Horse Golf Club.
The new trailhead opened this winter. Previously the system of trails were accessed from a parking lot at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Blake said the new trailhead has already increased usage on the trail system.
“The counter recorded about 2,000 visits in the first month it was open,” she said. “You used just see a couple of skiers up there and now there’s multiple skiers. It’s already surpassed anybody’s expectations for use.”
For Dec. 26 through Jan. 25 there were 2,055 visits. Most, about 80 percent, were skiers, followed by snowshoers and walkers and fatbike riders. There was also a mountain lion recorded.
Glacier Nordic Club is a nonprofit corporation with the mission of instilling a love of cross-country skiing. It was originally established in 1980 to groom the winter Nordic trails at the Whitefish Lake Golf Course.
As a reminder dogs are required to be on leash on Whitefish Mountain Resort properties. This includes the new Big Mountain Trailhead parking lot and Lookout Trail, Cedar, Cedar Loop, Overlook, Pine Marten, Roller Coaster, Upper Moose hoof, Upper Badger and Pika trails. Other trail etiquette reminders include cleaning up after dogs; and ”stay in you lane” — snowshoers and non-skiers should stay to the side opposite the classic ski track; and if non-skiers are sinking in more than 1 inch they are asked to stay off the groomed track.
The Big Mountain Trailhead is located 3.2 miles up Big Mountain Road, above Ptarmigan Village and Lookout Ridge. For more information visit glaciernordicclub.com.