TravelA Look At Montana and Colorado

FasterSkier FasterSkierFebruary 13, 2003

So if we are heading east from Idaho that means we are in Montana (or Wyoming,
but I am pretty sure we are in Montana). If I was going to try to talk about
all the great outdoor towns in Montana, I'd never finish the state. The list
of good towns with huge natural playgrounds out the back door is overwhelming:
Billings, Bozeman, Missoula, Butte and that's without even leaving Interstate
90. There are plenty more slightly off the main highway. One couple we met on
our trip told us that they loved Kalispell, Montana so much that they just drove
their motorhome there and parked it. "Too expensive to buy a house,"
they said. So for the purposes of this article, I need to focus on the one town
in Montana that is probably the best as far as cross country skiing is concerned:
Bozeman.


aahhh…Big Sky Country

The best skiing in Bozeman is at Bohart Ranch, site of the 2002 US Nationals.
Bohart only has 25K of trails, but they are fun and challenging and the scenery
can't be beat. When the snow is good you can also ski closer to town. Bohart
is about 20 minutes from town. Snow is rarely a problem at Bohart. In fact,
twice in recent years many skiers have left the Fall Camp in West Yellowstone
to make the 90 mile drive to Bozeman for better snow.

The scenery at Bohart is ok…

That is another plus for Bozeman – having West Yellowstone (and Yellowstone
National Park) only a short drive away. Bozeman is surrounded by National Forest,
making backcountry excursions for skiing, hiking, or running much more accessible.
In terms of sheer access to outdoor activities, Bozeman ranks with the best
of them. The Bridger Ski Foundation in Bozeman is fast becoming one of the best
junior development programs in the country, turning out skiers like Leif Zimmerman
and Kristina Trygstad-Saari.

The town is a great combination of Old West and college town. Montana State
University is in Bozeman. Plenty of good restaurants: Pickle Barrel, Spanish
Peaks Brewery, Makenzie River Pizza, Montana Ale Works, the list goes on.

There are a few drawbacks to Bozeman, which might be insignificant to some
people, but they were enough to make me keep exploring. The major drawback,
for me at least, is the lack of a World-class ski area. Bohart is great, but
25K isn't that much when you ski it everyday. And Bohart doesn't have a lodge
– a huge problem at Nationals last year. I think that in order to be XC Town
USA, you need to have a premier ski facility. I would say that this is the same
problem shared by a number of otherwise terrific western towns: McCall, Idaho,
Jackson, Wyoming, and Boulder, Colorado to name a few.

I like Bozeman a lot, and it ranks up with some of the best towns I have visted
so far, but I don't think I will be moving in. So for now we point the car south
and head back towards Utah.

Speaking of Boulder, Colorado (which I think I was for a second), I have been
trying to figure out exactly how to handle the Rocky Mountain state for the
purposes of this column. We didn't visit Colorado on our trip because we knew
that we weren't going to move there. We weren't moving to Colorado, solely because
most of the towns we liked there were too similar to Park City and Utah in general.
But that doesn't mean that XC Town USA doesn't reside in Colorado, so the state
needed to be examined.

Torbjorn skiing on Grand Mesa, near Grand Junction, Colorado

As I recalled all my trips to races in Colorado, I was reminded that there
are a lot of great places to ski: Snow Mountain in Winter Park, Crested Butte
Nordic Center, Devil's Thumb, and Frisco Nordic Center to name a few. Most are
a bit high in elevation (8-9000 feet) for my taste, but that isn't a big deal.
The towns are all in the mountains with beautiful scenery, great hiking and
biking trails, and plenty of wilderness. Small towns mostly, but with enough
tourists and vacationers to support the economy. If I had to pick one town in
Colorado, it would be Crested Butte. I haven't spent much time there, but my
small taste of it was very tempting. And I have three different friends who
have each indepently threatened to move to Crested Butte and teleski and mountain
bike away the rest of their days. All in all, a very pleasant place to live.
But something just didn't feel right to me about XC Town USA being in Colorado.


The skiing in Colorado is some of the west's best

Then as I was writing about Bozeman holding Nationals a few minutes ago, it
hit me: when was the last time Colorado held a major cross country ski event?
I went to Steamboat for Junior Nationals in 1990, and I think the University
of Colorado held NCAA's there a couple of years later. Steamboat also routinely
hosts Nordic Combined Nationals and World Cups. Jumpers and Downhill skiers
already lay claim to Steamboat; the town calls itself Ski Town USA. But the
nordic skiing isn't quite good enough for it to be XC Town USA as well. But
don't let that stop you from visiting, staying at the Rabbit Ears motel, and
crossing the street to soak in the hot springs.

But back to my point about Colorado, I can't think of any towns outside Steamboat
which have hosted major events in the past ten years. No US Nationals, no Junior
Nationals, no Masters Nationals, no big American Ski Marathon Series races.
I had to ask myself why a place with tons of snow and lots of skiers doesn't
have any big events. The main reason, I would guess, is that most people coming
up from sea-level don't want to race at 9000 feet (plus it is not FIS legal).
It might also have to do with the local ski clubs not being strong enough to
recruit big events, but that is pure speculation on my part. Whatever the reason,
I don't think a place can be XC Town USA if it doesn't hold a major event once
in a while.

Colorado will continue to be a wonderfully popular place for ski vacations,
but the great Rocky Mountain towns are a few big events away from being XC Town
USA.

So after leaving Bozeman and touring through Yellowstone National Park, Teton
National Park and the Wind River mountain range in Wyoming, it was back to Utah.
We had toured a large part of the west and found a number of candidates for
XC Town USA. But none had taken the title yet. So we had to keep looking. So
in the name of research, we boarded a plane for New England.

A few bonus pictures of our trip back to Utah:

A bison in Yellowstone


Old Faithful


The Tetons in Jackson, Wyoming


Hiking in the Wind River Range, east of Pinedale, Wy

Place The
Good
The
Bad
Ranking
(10=Valhalla,
0=Houston)
Methow Valley, Washington Unspoiled area, no
people, 200K of trails
No jobs 8.5
Sun Valley, Idaho Beautiful town, beautiful
trails, beautiful people
Expensive 8
Tahoe, California Tons of trails and
snow, the Great Ski Race, small town but has city nearby, the lake, 4 hours
to San Fran
high altitude, similar
to Park City, not many professional jobs in Truckee area
8
Bend, Oregon Great outdoors town,
skiing at Mt. Bachelor is very good, the best crust skiing in spring, nice
town with many nice "local" spots
No skiing in town,
housing can be expensive, few jobs

7.5

Bozeman, Montana Great outdoors/college
town. Strong xc communtiy.
Lack of a superior ski facility 7.5
Bellingham, Washington Has a little bit of
everything, actually make that quite a bit of everything
Ski trails are an hour
away
7.5
Salt Lake/ Park
City, Utah
Great dryland trails,
"greatest snow on earth", spectacular mountains, nearby city,
close to Moab, Jackson, Sun Valley, Colorado
high altitude, no water/forests,ski
trails aren't great, lived there for 6 years already
7

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