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Chairlifts are for Sissies: Cross-Country Skiing in Bozeman & Big Sky

Cross-country skiing in Hyalite Canyon
Courtesy Bridger Ski Foundation

Cross-country skiing: A workout with a view

Widely credited to the Scandinavians, skiing was originally utilitarian—that is, not something you did on your holiday, but rather, how you huffed and puffed your way to and from Aksel’s house through the cold, dark winter.

From the Old Norse skíth, the word “ski” means “stick of wood, snowshoe.” While those old sticks of wood have evolved into high-tech recreational fun, there is still no better way to transport yourself through wild, wintry wonderlands than on cross-country skis. And the Bozeman area is a world-class Nordic destination chock-full of beautiful landscapes.

There are many options for cross-country skiers, but which is right for you? My answer is “it depends.” While each suggestion accommodates classic and skate skiers, I’d say that your decision depends on your wallet, preferred drive time, scenery, and what you want to eat or drink on the way home. (Remember, it’s your own locomotion that will get you from parking lot to scenic view and back again. That takes CALORIES!)

Free – $

Free usually means breaking your own trail, however, local nonprofit Bridger Ski Foundation–funded through voluntary trail passes, donations and grants–grooms several trails in and around town for free. Trails include the Bridger Creek Golf Course, Sunset Hills (Lindley) and Highland Glen (by the Hospital), Bozeman Creek/Sourdough Canyon, and Sacagawea Middle School. Hyalite Canyon’s breathtaking mountains can be viewed from green and blue trails that are primarily groomed by the US Forest Service, with occasional support from the Bridger Ski Foundation.

While it’s free to access these stellar trails, it’s best to support BSF by making a donation or purchasing a season trail pass, which costs only $50 per person or $100 for a family. That means you can take the whole family skiing (for an entire season) for less than a single Big Sky lift pass. 

For the cost of Park Admission and an even wilder experience, you can explore groomed and un-groomed cross-country ski trails throughout Yellowstone National Park.

No matter which trail you choose, after burning 8 million calories on your skate skis, you’ll be ravenous. Try new Mexican restaurant Toro and some Bison Tamales or Duck Carnitas, or go to Copper for tasty whisky drinks and a warm, cozy atmosphere. Craving pizza and beer? Try Bridger Brewing to meet your carbo-loading goals.


Crosscut Mountain Sports Center benefits from beautiful views of the Bridger Mountains and 30 kilometers of pristinely groomed trails geared for a range of abilities. They also have ski clinics, educational courses, ski rentals, and an operating Biathlon Range. (See the trails map, which covers both private and Forest Service land, here.) Season passes at Bohart are $205 or $420 for the family, with day passes a more reasonable $15. (Kids 6 and under and adults over 70 are free.)

Visit family-friendly Map Brewing on the way home for some lamb sliders, delicious beer, comfy sofas, and snowy views.


Ok, ok, voted #1 by Cross Country Skier magazine, Lone Mountain Ranch has 85 kilometers of gorgeous terrain through Big Sky and Gallatin National Forest. They also have guided backcountry tours and instructors to help those who have never skied before. Season passes are $225 or a family of three costs $495, while day passes are $20. (Kids 12 and under and adults 70 and over are free. See the trails map and the complete list of rates, including touring and lesson packages here.)

Visit the Coffee Pot Bakery on the way. You’ll be glad you grabbed that Pulled Pork Verde Breakfast Burrito when you’re huffing up to Ralph’s Outlook. (And don’t forget to grab a Carmel Pecan Roll to reward yourself at the top!)


To rent ski gear and pick up trail maps and insider tips, visit Bangtail Bike & XC Ski, Roundhouse Sports, Chalet Sports, or PhD Skis. You can also find rentals at Bohart and Lone Mountain.


Remember: As you’re gasping from both exertion and awe, it’s all about the Journey! And with Journey Rent-A-Car, you can add a ski rack or roof cargo carrier to any Suburban rental, so there’s nothing keeping you from venturing further afield.