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Snowmobile grooming

The Bitterroot Ridgerunners Snowmobile Club needs a little bit more snow before it starts grooming the Skalkaho Highway, Rye Creek and Lost Horse roads.

The snow dance season is upon us.

While there’s currently enough snow for skiers to begin carving turns at Lost Trail Powder Mountain or glide along the trails at Chief Joseph Pass for now, most everyone who loves winter sports will soon be looking toward the heavens for the arrival of the next snowmaker.

Right now, it doesn’t look promising for the upcoming weekend.

National Weather Service meteorologist Alex Lukinbeal said that while a weak disturbance is expected to slide through western Montana this week, it doesn’t look to be packing much more than a lot cold air.

Next week the chances of some new powder increase dramatically.

The first storm could arrive late Monday and stick around through Tuesday. But Lukinbeal said it doesn’t appear that it will bring much more than a couple inches to maybe five in the high country.

“The more promising system will lurch our way Wednesday through Thursday,” he said.

That potential weather maker will slide down from the Gulf of Alaska and potentially create a moist, northwest flow that could bring better chances for a good bit of snow.

“It’s still quite a ways out, but it’s looking promising early to mid-week for snow,” Lukinbeal said.

That will be good news for the folks at Lost Trail, where there is currently about 30 inches at the top of the mountain.

The ski area opened last week.

“We still need a little bit more snow to get the mountain fully open, but skiing is fabulous right now,” said Scott Grasser.

Grasser is anxious for more snow to fall so his crews can put the mountain’s two new Piston Bully 400 groomers to work.

“They are the main line grooming machine for the industry,” Grasser said. “They have fabulous new technology that processes the snow better than the previous equipment we had.''

The mountain is open Thursday through Sunday. Starting Dec. 20 and running through Jan. 6, Lost Trail Powder Mountain will be open every day including, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

At Chief Joseph Pass, members of the Bitterroot Cross-County Ski Club have compacted the trails with a roller a couple of times.

“There is about a foot-and-a-half of snow right now on the upper trails,” said Mike Hoyt of the club. “It’s definitely skiable. There are no rocks on the upper trails. The lower trails need some more snow before we start grooming down there.”

While the Piston Bully groomer hasn’t yet been used on the area’s trails, it has been up the Gibbons Pass Road to the delight of skate skiers and dog mushers.

“This time of year it’s all about getting a good hard base established,” Hoyt said. “We need to get some more snow up there before we can do much. The trails right now are kind of rolling and not nearly as smooth as they will be once we get some more snow.”

But that’s not stopping people from getting their skis out and taking a few turns around the trail.

Hoyt was there Friday and Sunday. On Sunday, he said there were quite a few people out.

The warming cabin is open and well stocked with hot chocolate and apple cider.

Snowmobilers anxious to start exploring the backcountry on the more than 80 miles of trail groomed every winter by the Bitterroot Ridgerunners Snowmobile Club are going to have be patient.

“Right now there’s just not enough snow down low to run the groomer,” said the club’s former president, Dan Thompson.

As of Sunday, Thompson said there were only about four inches of snow at the gate that blocks the Skalkaho Highway through the winter. For the grooming to begin, the club prefers that there be at least twice that much.

The club has been grooming Skalkaho and Rye Creek roads for years. Three years ago, it began grooming about 14 miles of the Lost Horse Road from where it is gated in the winter up to the guard station.

Thompson said he sees quite a few people on snowmobiles with skis or snowboards attached.

“They snowmobile up to the guard station and then take off from there on their skis,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of backcountry skiers using snowmobiles on all of the trails that we groom.”

This year the club upgraded it groomer by adding a new blade that will allow it to carve through snow slides and drifts much easier.

“We’re excited to try out our new and improved gadget,” he said.

The Skalkaho and Rye Creek roads continue to be popular areas for snowmobilers.

“We’re not seeing any reductions there,” Thompson said. “It’s still the most heavily used area that we groom, but we are also seeing a significant increase on the Lost Horse Road, as well. I know that I’m ready to get out there and go snowmobiling. I know the snow will arrive soon enough. It always does.”

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Associate Editor

Reporter for The Ravalli Republic.