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Lake Como trail grooming stopped by shutdown

Tony Neaves of the Bitterroot Cross Country Ski Club grooms a portion of the Lake Como ski trails recently. For the first time in four years, 14.5 miles of trails are being groomed for skiing, snowshoeing and dog sledding. On Monday, the club was informed that it would have to stop grooming during the partial government shutdown. 

The trail groomers are back at Lake Como.

After a four-year hiatus, the 14.5 miles of scenic trails on the south side of Lake Como are now being groomed for skiers, snowshoe enthusiasts, fat-tire bikers and dog sleds.

Members of the Bitterroot Cross Country Ski Club made their first pass over the trail system on New Year’s Day. They’ll return about once a week if the snow keeps falling.

The club’s vice president, Jesse Crocker, said people were excited to see the grooming start back up.

“I counted 25 skiers out there on that first day,” Crocker said. “People are already starting to show up. I think it’s going to become really popular again.”

The area used to attract hundreds of skiers and other winter enthusiasts after the Como Trails Club began grooming trails in 2009. Funding and manpower challenges put an end to the initial effort five years later.

The idea of restarting the grooming began with talks last spring between the ski club and Bitterroot National Forest officials.

Crocker said people have expressed interest in seeing the grooming effort restarted since it ended.

“It’s just a lot easier place for people to get to during the week rather than driving all the way to the top of Lost Trail,” Crocker said. “It’s a place that people can go out for a quick ski after work and not have to make that long drive.”

The fact that dogs are allowed on the trail system is another incentive for many winter recreationists.

Crocker had his own motivation. He moved to the area, at least in part, because of the nearby groomed skiing trails.

“My first winter here that grooming ended,” he said. “There were no more trails to ski on. I’ve been looking forward to seeing it start back up.”

Bitterroot Forest officials helped the effort along by agreeing to place a barrier on Road 550 so people driving four-wheeled vehicles couldn’t access the area being groomed for both skate and traditional cross-skiing.

Those same national forest officials rushed to get the necessary paperwork completed before the government shutdown began.

“We really appreciate their efforts,” Crocker said.

Snowmobiling is allowed in the area. Crocker said the ski club has a good working relationship with the local Bitterroot Ridgerunners snowmobile group. He doesn’t expect any conflicts between the different trail users.

“They aren’t going to tear up the area where people ski,” he said. “We’re not anticipating having any problems at all.”

People anxious to give the area a try will find that some of the trails aren’t completely flat quite yet. The groomers discovered some pretty large tire ruts that needed to be smoothed over on their initial run. The trail will continue to improve as more snow arrives.

Most of the trails aren’t firm enough for skate skiing or fat-tire biking.

“The first 2.5 miles of the 550 road is skateable, but probably only for experienced skate skiers,” Crocker said.

There was about a foot of snow on the lower end of the trail system and upwards of three nearer to the top.

There are three parking areas; the Lake Como boat ramp, the junction of the 550 and 500a (Lower Road), and one located about a third of a mile up the Lower Road. Beginner and intermediate skiers will probably like beginning their adventure on the Lower Road parking area. The other access points to the trail are in steep and sometimes icy sections of the road.

The Como Trails are free to use for any mode of travel other than wheeled motorized vehicles. Dog owners are asked to pick up dog droppings to avoid messes when the trails are groomed.

On an average winter, Crocker said the club hopes the trail system will be open from late December through the beginning of March.

“We’re not going to take any heroic measures to keep the trail open,” he said. “We won’t be hauling snow to fill over bare spots in the road. If there’s not enough to groom, we will focus our efforts at Chief Joseph.”

Skiing at the top of Chief Joseph Pass is really good right now for those willing to make the longer drive, Crocker said. Lost Trail/Powder Mountain has taken over grooming with its Snow Cats, including some new equipment.

“There have been lots of skiers up there and the trails are in great condition,” he said.

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Associate Editor

Reporter for The Ravalli Republic.