I recently had the opportunity to visit one of our favorite properties within the United States, The Ranch at Rock Creek. The Ranch is located in western Montana, an hour and a half outside of Missoula and is the world’s first Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Guest Ranch.
Nestled in the pristine wilderness of Montana, The Ranch is an all-inclusive property with a wide range of activities that are available year round. During my trip, I had the opportunity to participate in numerous winter activities which allowed me to discover the beauty of Montana and explore many of The Ranch’s 6,600 acres.
Never having skied before, but an avid runner, I was optimistic that cross-country skiing would be a perfect match for my skill set and ideally become a new hobby of mine. I was joined by Kim Taylor, sales manager at The Ranch, and our guide, Eric, who took us first to the Rod and Gun Club to make sure we were properly outfitted. The Rod and Gun Club at The Ranch is fully stocked with any gear you would need to participate in outdoor activities regardless of the time of year, so much so that I believe if you arrived at The Ranch with just the clothing on your back that they would be able to outfit you! From winter boots, snow pants, gloves, skis, cowboy boots, to fishing rods, helmets, and more – if you are looking for gear for your adventure they definitely have it.
After receiving a pair of snow pants and opting for warmer gloves, Eric outfitted us with cross-country skis and assisted us all with snapping our boots into place. He gave our group some pointers before we began our trek – the most important of which was the importance of exactly how you position yourself. It is critical to make sure that as you propel yourself, your poles are opposite of the foot you are striding with to make sure you stay balanced and do not fall.
As our group began the decent, I did fall twice trying to get the hang of this, but once I began the path I quickly was able to get the hang of how to propel myself properly. Eric led us to a path which runs along Rock Creek and features amazing views. Although it was an average weather day in Montana of around 25 degrees, much like running, cross-country skiing really is a full body work out and you begin to notice that rather quickly. One great thing about The Ranch is that before your arrive you can select your activities and experience level (beginner, intermediate, expert) so that the guides can pair you with the best suited excursion. As we settled into our tour, Eric explained that he chose this path since it was primarily flat since we were all beginners. Overnight we had a considerable snowfall, which really made skiing along the river even more scenic as the path, trees, and ground were all covered in fresh sparkling snow.
Since we were the first group on the path, we were able to form our own tracks, making the experience all the more challenging as we went on. As a beginner, I found it much easier to follow the tracks of those in front of me. This allowed me to easily get over the small hills we came across and to enjoy the experience more because it gave me more control of the direction I was going in.
Halfway through our journey we took a break at a beautiful overlook at Rock Creek. At this point in the creek, there was a large turnable wheel and Eric explained that in the early 1900s the ranchers would turn the wheel and this would allow them to flood the river water into the field in order to distribute the water into the fields for the crops and cattle.
After a well-deserved break at the overlook, we headed back toward the Rod and Gun Club. The return was flatter than the track that we had taken out, which allowed me to easily propel myself. On our journey back, I talked to Eric about the wildlife one might encounter as an avid cross-country skier. Eric shared with me that he most commonly saw bald eagles, elk, and big horned sheep and white-tailed deer while on the different trails. During our trek back to the Ranch, we saw a herd of white-tailed deer that seemed unaffected by our approach as we neared closer – this is something that is extremely unusual for me as whitetails in Pennsylvania are very shy. As we quickly approached they slowly scattered and gave us one last glance across the wide field before disappearing. I made my final descent down a small hill to the Rod and Gun Club and completed my first two mile cross-country ski trek and I’m certain it will not be my last.