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The Chief Joseph Ski Trail System in southwest Montana provides for easy and safe use by a variety of winter visitors.


Volunteers maintain Chief Joseph Ski Trail System in Montana

photo of ski poles and a snowy trail

The Chief Joseph Ski Trail System  

The Chief Joseph Ski Trail System is 25+ year project that provides free cross-country skiing for the public. Over the last couple of years multi-use trails have been added to the system that provide recreational opportunities for people using snow shoes, non-motorized snow bikes, skate skiers, snowmobiles, and people who wish to ski with their dogs.

The trail system is groomed weekly by Bitterroot Cross-Country Ski Club, with multiple loops in the system of varying lengths and difficulty level. There is a warming hut open from December 1 through mid April.

The Bitterroot Cross-Country Ski Club is a non-profit, non-partisan, public-interest corporation whose purpose is to benefit the public by promoting Nordic (cross-country) skiing and other outdoor recreational activities by educating the public about the health and recreational benefits of such activities, and by assisting appropriate public authorities in the management and operation of the Chief Joseph Cross-Country Ski Area.

photo of skiers through snow-covered evergreen trees

Skiers on the trail


According to the club, "Based upon comments left on the trailhead sign-in sheets, it must be assumed that skiers are overwhelmingly happy with the trails this winter. However, it appears our volunteer groomers (using snowmobiles to put the finishing touches on the trails) are even more pleased. That is what we’ve been working to achieve, happy skiers and ecstatic groomers!"

During the 2013-2014 ski season, the Club made an agreement with the Lost Trail Powder Mountain Downhill Ski Area to groom the wider ski trails at Chief Joseph Pass (on a test basis) with a PistenBully snow grooming machine. That test proved so successful that the decision was made to prepare all of the ski trails at Chief Joseph Pass for grooming with a PistenBully.

The Missoulian newspaper stated that "the new equipment was paid for by a grant the ski club won from the Montana Tourism Infrastructure Improvement Program, and grooming costs are covered by a Forest Service Recreational Trails Program grant."

photo of grassy trail through trees photo of snowmobiles on the trail

Summer and winter on the trails


Grants and Partners

In partnership with the Bitter Root Back Country Horsemen, Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists, and the Bitterroot Cross-Country Ski Club, during August and September (2014), volunteers spent more than 550 hours preparing the ski trails to accommodate Lost Trail’s PistenBully, newly purchased for the purpose of grooming cross-country ski trails.

The Job Corps is making new wooden signs for all of the Chief Joseph Ski Trails. When the signs will be ready is unknown but we’re hoping it will be this winter.

A few new metal signs will be placed along Gibbons Pass Road to help control snowmobile traffic on the multi-use trails. The wording of the signs was developed with collaboration between members of the Bitterroot RidgeRunners snowmobile club and the Bitterroot Cross- Country Ski Club. A generous grant from the RAPP Family Foundation is covering the cost of both the wooden trail signs and the Gibbons Pass Road signs.

photo of snow trail maintenance machine

The PistenBully allows for more thorough maintenance of the winter trails


The Club was awarded a new Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant, $40,000, to cover the cost for an additional outhouse in the Chief Joseph trailhead parking lot.


Events and training

A variety of events, training sessions, and educational programs are also hosted by the Bitterroot Cross- Country Ski Club:

Each January the club hosts the annual free cross-country ski lesson day. Lessons are for beginners through lower-intermediates of all ages. The traditional classic style of cross-country skiing will be taught. Would-be skiers and beginning skiers of all ages are welcome.

Youth Cross Country Ski Days are scheduled during January and February for local schools. These are ski classes for public school students.


For more information

The Bitterroot Cross-Country Ski Club:

Trail maps of the ski trail system are available at:

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