A pizza and French fries update

By Jamie Balke Explore Big Sky Columnist

Last year was my fourth winter in Montana, and I thought it would be the year I finally downhill skied in the West. That didn’t happen, but I did make steps toward finally vanquishing my fear of alpine skiing by taking Nordic lessons at Bohart Ranch Cross Country Ski Center.

Having enjoyed these lessons tremendously, I decided to continue avoiding Bridger Bowl Ski Area with the purchase of my own cross-country skis, boots and poles. This gear will provide me with a winter recreation alternative to snowshoeing, and will also help me acquire skills and coordination that will be transferable to the downhill slopes.

I purchased the skis on Nov. 15, and the following day, in a fit of excitement, I went on my first outing with a couple friends. It was a comfortably cool, cloudy day with recent snowfall on the Bridger Creek Golf Course, which has trails groomed by the Bridger Ski Foundation. If I needed one more reason to love Bozeman, stumbling upon community ski trails maintained by a local nonprofit certainly did the trick.

Excited for the inaugural use of my new skis, I clipped my boots in and awkwardly made a few glides. I immediately fell on what was basically flat ground. Thankful that I was in the company of kind people – and that there weren’t many others around – I picked myself up with as much dignity as possible.

As we made our way around the course, the words of my ski instructor slowly came back to me and my awkward flailing began to subside. This trail was a perfect place to start the season – relatively flat, close to town, and with beautiful views. The surrounding landscape is an interesting mix of tall trees, a pretty creek and the Bridger Mountains in the distance. We skied a loop that took us about 40 minutes, but we could have continued on the extensive network of trails.

As we made our way back to the parking lot, one of my companions suggested skiing down a relatively small hill being used for sledding. As we picked our way upward, past families happily flying down on snow saucers, I wondered if I had gotten in over my head.

I refused to be bested by an incline that people under the age of 5 seemed able to navigate in plastic sleds, and I pointed my skis downhill. I immediately moved them into a “pizza slice” wedge position, and started muttering about “gnar pow,” as I slowly traveled down the gentle slope. The next logical step is probably a trip to Bridger Bowl, though speeding downhill with my skis in the “French fry” position may be a long way off.

Balke looks forward to exploring more cross-country skiing trails this winter, and possibly working up the courage to try downhill skiing in Montana.