The Great Escape

Lone Mountain Ranch Nordic Center has 80 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails, and Hans Schernthaner has skied them all. In one outing.

“I thought it would be a real challenge to ski them all in one day,” Schernthaner recalls. He scoured the trail map and chose a route that would require the least backtracking, then waited for a call from Lone Mountain Ranch Director of Skiing, Herb Davis alerting Schernthaner to the perfect conditions.

That call came last January. With no recent snow, the groomers at the Ranch were able to pack firm trails. Both the skating corduroy and striding tracks were in perfect condition for fast, efficient skiing. Schernthaner and a friend started skate skiing at nine in the morning and, not including an hour lunch break, skied for eight hours. “It was a really nice feeling, it was really fun and I want to do it again,” Schernthaner says.

As Schernthaner pours over the trail map once more, looking for this year’s route, he has a lot of possibilities to choose from. The Ranch owns about 150 acres in the core of the trail system, and the rest of the trails wind through the private property of eighty different landowners.

Coordinating with so many landowners, and turnover in ownership as the original landowners sell their property and new people move in, can be challenging on occasion. But, most of the owners are great to work with according to Davis and realize the value the ski trails bring to their property.

“Many of the trails fall within the jurisdiction of the Big Sky Owners Association (BSOA),” says Mary Jane McGarrity, Executive Director of BSOA. “We agreed to give a certain amount of money to maintain and groom the trail system,” she adds. In exchange BSOA members receive a discounted annual pass. Many of the BSOA members have homes right on the trail system.

Jacqui Persons skis the trails regularly, as is one of those people who loves the trail system so much that she’s building her house on the golf course where the lower trails are laid. From the end of her street she can hop on the trails and head into the woods.

Whether she’s looking for a “gruesome grind” up Douglas-fir covered hills, or the exhilaration of screaming through a meadow on her way back down, Persons can usually find the type of terrain she is looking for. And with some helpful instruction from the experts at the Ranch, she helps coach local students at Ophir School how to cross-country ski, so they, too, can utilize the trails.

After twenty years of skiing at the Ranch, Persons keeps coming back because “there is a lot of good variety in the trail system,” It’s the partnership between the Ranch and BSOA that allow Ranch skiers access to such a variety of terrain including a trail that leads to the base of an alpine ski lift at Big Sky Resort.

Since BSOA manages community trails, whenever there is a new trail, McGarrity consults with Davis on grooming possibilities. “It’s a long term relationship and we’re eager to continue it,” says McGarrity.

Lone Mountain Ranch makes its own snow around the lodge. Davis calls this snow “more durable” as it is longer lasting than natural snow. The synthetic snow ensures coverage for the 300 season pass holders and 3,000 Ranch guests who use the trails each season. In all, Lone Mountain Ranch gets 14,000 skier visits a season, but even on a busy day, “It never seems crowded,” says Davis.

Schernthaner agrees, “I’ve never seen it crowded. Everyone spreads out since it’s so nice and big.”

With so much terrain, skiers can easily enjoy solo time, especially if they are willing to make the effort to get to the upper trails. With names like Siberia, Mongolia and Summit, it’s no surprise that these trails are far away and up high. At 8,242 feet, Summit tops out the trail system and provides excellent views before dropping down over 2,000 feet to the lower meadow loops. This Nordic center has more vertical feet than some alpine ski areas.

Lone Mountain Ranch isn’t just for Nordic skiers, though. Three self-guiding snowshoe trails totaling fifteen kilometers are maintained in addition to the ski trails. The snowshoe trails are packed by foot—no machines involved—so after each snowfall, Ranch staff don snowshoes and hike the trails packing the snow for easy walking.

In addition to skiers and snowshoers, four-legged critters visit the trails regularly; lynx, wolverines, ermines, pine martens, and deer have all been spotted by skiers and groomers. “Moose are almost a hazard, there are so many of them,” laughs Davis.

While most animals are busy hunting and grazing, the resident elk herd helps itself to the hay stash kept for Ranch horses. Yellow Mountain, which fills most of the view to the north of the trail system, is home to Big Horn sheep, and a Great Grey owl silently swoops through the trees around the Ranch lodge.

“Some people ask me what I like about it (skiing at the Ranch) and I tell them it’s the serene Nordic world,” Schernthaner says, “It’s just so mellow and relaxing; I can recharge my batteries.”

For skiers who want to do more than relax and cruise the trails, the ski school hosts lessons in skating, striding, and telemarking, as well as backcountry tours around the Ranch and in Yellowstone National Park. Certified PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) ski instructors teach all the lessons, including women’s ski clinics, for those wishing to hone their skills or gain new ones. Schernthaner believe the skills he’s learned while skate skiing has improved his downhill skiing as well. “It helps immensely for downhill skiing because it is such a balancing act.”

Schernthaner sums up the feelings of many Lone Mountain Ranch skiers when he says, “They have an excellent trail system, they’re really professional about the set-up, the trails are in beautiful shape—it’s so great there!”

Big Sky Magazine
December 24, 2005

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