The Nordic Center Elves are out preparing the X Country Ski Run

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, January 9, 2020
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Left to right: Nordic coaches Ginger Shenifeld and Eric Dye with Lee Hauge prepare to volunteer at Nordic trail. 

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Courtesy photos
Skiers are flocking to cross country skiing at the Nordic Center and these BRTA volunteers, Mike Thompson and Bob Johnson, are hard at work to make sure there’s a great trail to enjoy.

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This season we’ve had little snow down around Red Lodge after an abundant start and plenty in the mountains. 

In the meantime, there are countless elves who have been hard at work at getting the local cross country skiing locale, the Nordic Center, up and running west of Red Lodge. That means according to manager Bob Johnson, “getting shovels and shoveling snow, trying to save the trail.”

It’s not the first time it’s happened. “It’s part of the grooming schedule,” said Johnson, noting that it is true there is less snow on the trail that has to be augmented. “But it is the first time we’ve gotten the community involved.”

They’ve had scant years before. “In the early 2000’s, some Januaries we had Chinook (warm wind) that took all our snow!” But, he said, “This is the first we’ve had in quite a while.”

Cross country skier Don Redfoot calls all the efforts of the volunteers “heroic!”

The trail is the domain of the nonprofit, Beartooth Recreational Trails Association (BRTA), whose volunteers in keep the Nordic Center and West Fork Road skiing areas workable in spite of the lack of snow. 

On Tuesday, Jan. 7, these plucky volunteers gathered together at the Nordic Center to shovel snow onto the bare areas so that the course can remain skiable “for locals, for visitors, and for the kids who get lessons on the weekends. It is an impressive effort by a dedicated group of volunteers,” said Redfoot, also one of the volunteers. The BRTA has been all-volunteer and just since 2020, Johnson will receive some nominal pay for his duties. He has been a member since 2002. 

“I was partly in at the beginning,” he said. “BRTA was formed in 2002.” Before that, it was in the control of Sylvan Peak which operated the ski route for profit. “Then they gave it up and handed it to BRTA as a nonprofit.” Not only did they give it to BRTA said Johnson, “They donated equipment and all that!” For the present and future he feels they are secure. “Now, we have a really good grant writer you has gotten grants for equipment and the day to day running of the Nordic Center.” He says, “We’re doing really well!”

Every year, more and more skiers are attracted to cross-country at Red Lodge. The Nordic Center now operates a second venue through cooperation with the Forest Service at West Fork south of Red Lodge. The places are listed on websites by Tourism Montana board as “places to cross country ski in Montana” according to Johnson. 

The West Fork site has been active about six years. “We get a permit every year,” said Johnson. 

He said they are “really good to work with.” Skiers in this more wooly area in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest are occasionally surprised by animals. “We have had report of a moose and they had to ‘high-tail’ it out of there,” he said. “It’s very popular too! You can ski with your dog. Red Lodge loves dogs!”

His advice to those contemplating starting cross country skiing? “Get involved!

It’s a wonderful way to be outdoors and have some fun! Take a lesson! Instructors are available! It’s a lot cheaper thing to do (than downhill)! 

There is a small fee for using the Nordic trail, either with a seasonal pass or daily. Equipment is available as well as lessons. The Center offers 9.3 miles of trail at the Nordic Center, 3 miles from Red Lodge at the base of the Beartooths and part of Aspen Ridge Ranch at Fox and Smith Road (by the Red Lodge Cemetery off Hwy 78). There are child and senior citizen discounts. There is also lots of room at the USFS West Fork Trail to have a great day. The West Fork Trail is free. See or call 446-1402.