Improving Your Cross Country Skiing Experience

Dave Pecunies Photography

The town of Big Sky, and Big Sky country in general, is a mecca for Nordic skiing. Between Lone Mountain Ranch and the miles of groomed ski trails around the greater Gallatin County region, nordic skiing, and specifically skate skiing, is one of the best activities for getting into the woods and away from the crowds, fast. But unlike downhill skis, skate skis require more frequent waxing and at-home care. This may sounds overwhelming, but don’t worry; waxing is one of the sublime pleasures of being a nordic skier. Here’s a quick primer on the basics of waxing skate skis:

Lone Mountain Ranch

Lone Mountain Ranch

What you’ll need:

  • Ski vice or clamps, homemade or store bought
  • Glide wax
  • Scraper
  • Waxing iron
  • Cork block

Tuning supplies available at local shops like Grizzly Outfitters, East Slope Outdoors and Lone Mountain Sports. They also offer tuning services if you don’t want to do it yourself.

The Process:

Before being stowed away every spring, skate skis should receive a coat of “storage wax”, which needs to be removed every fall. After affixing your skis to your chose work surface, set your wax iron to medium heat and begin slowly heating the base of your ski. As the iron and the ski get hotter, the existing wax with turn ghostly white and stand out. Scrap off all the old wax to give yourself a new start.

After the ski is stripped and ready for wax, it’s time to give your skis their first coat of glide wax for the winter. Begin the waxing process by holding your wax block at a steep downward angle to the face of the iron, allowing hot wax to drip onto the ski.

Cover the ski with little blotches of wax from tip to tail. After the ski is fairly covered, begin spreading the wax around the ski’s base by running your iron in circular motions across the ski’s base. You will see the wax melt and spread. Continue this waxing motion until the ghostly white wax covers the ski base entirely. Because nordic skis have relatively soft bases, be careful to not melt the ski’s base.

Now it’s time to scrape. Hold your wax scraper at 45-degree angle to the ski as you pull the scraper towards yourself. You’ll see satisfying curls of excess wax pull from the ski. Once the excess is pulled from the ski, the bases should appear shiny and smooth. If you want to put some additional elbow grease into the work, buff the skis bases with a cork block to work the wax into the base.

Now get your skiing clothes on and get out the door!


Photos © Dave Pecunies Photography


Nordic Skiing in Southwest Montana

Nordic Skiing in Big SkyThe long Montana winters would be far more difficult to endure if it weren’t for the myriad of outdoor opportunities we have in the Greater Yellowstone area: downhill skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, Yellowstone National Park visits, and, of course, Nordic skiing. Whether you are a skate skier looking for well groomed trails or a classic skier looking to explore the backcountry, you can find it all within a short drive from your Big Sky home base.

Here are some spectacular Nordic ski options in and near the Big Sky area:

Lone Mountain Ranch: Big Sky
Right in the heart of Big Sky, Montana, we are lucky to have Lone Mountain Ranch, a private guest ranch and cross country ski area that has been rated as the number one Nordic Center in North America. With over 85 kilometers of groomed ski trails, there are miles of scenic loops that are perfect for skate skiing and classic skiing for all ability levels. The ranch uses top-of-the-line grooming equipment and trails are maintained regularly. They offer rental equipment and PSIA certified ski instruction. Lone Mountain Ranch is a guest ranch with all-inclusive lodging/dining/ski packages, but daily and season ski passes are available to the public. Contact Information: (800) 514-4655,

Rendezvous Ski Trails: West Yellowstone
The 35 kilometers of ski trails at Rendezvous, winding through lodge pole pines and open meadows, are on U.S. Forest Service land and maintained under their own program with area sponsors and partners. Trail prices vary depending on the time of year, from November through March. With consistent snow conditions in West Yellowstone, Rendezvous has hosted many Nordic events and is a popular spot for biathlon training. For more information, see

Bohart Ranch: 16 miles northeast of Bozeman
Bohart Ranch Cross Country Ski Center is located up Bridger Canyon, just outside of Bozeman. They offer 25 kilometers of ski terrain winding through beautiful Forest Service land, with skiing for all abilities. Using the latest equipment, the trails are groomed for classic and skate skiing. Bohart also features snowshoe trails and hosts many national level Nordic ski events. They also offer ski rentals and instruction and are open November through April. Contact Information: (406) 586-9070,

Yellowstone National Park:
Yellowstone has a variety of Nordic ski options that take you through the Park’s splendid scenery and abundant wildlife. To get deep into the park, a snowcoach ride is available, but some roads are plowed in the winter to access ski trails on the outer edge of the park. Mammoth and West Yellowstone are both good base camps for ski trips, and rental shops can guide you to trails that are appropriate for any level of experience. For more information, call Xanterra at (866) GEYSERLAND, or go to

Backcountry Nordic Skiing:
To break your own trail through the beautiful and quiet Montana landscape, try cross county skiing on one of the many Forest Service trails in the area. There are a variety of trailheads up the Gallatin Canyon off Highway 191, including Spanish Creek, Porcupine, Swan Creek and Moose Creek Road. If you do decide to ski the backcountry, it is a good idea to ski with a partner and to bring an avalanche beacon and shovel. For more information about Big Sky area trails, talk to the experts at one of the many area ski and outdoors shops.