As our fans might know, we here on the blog are celebrating this February’s frigidly below-average temperatures by highlighting some of the best places to head outdoors this winter. We’ve been mostly focusing on the biggest activities, which makes sense, when most people think about winter, they think about downhill skiing and snowboarding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and ice fishing and snowmobiling. But we’d be insane if we didn’t start this post off by talking about the different-est of winter sports: ice sailing. Because, you see, in addition to being a favorite haunt of ice fishers, Helena’s Canyon Ferry is the destination of choice for hurtling across the ice in ice yachts–narrow fiberglass hulls with massive sails on three runners. If your interested in checking out ice boating, we wrote a blog about it a while back.
Of course, the Helena area is also home to all sorts of places where you can practice the more conventional sorts of winter activities. And by conventional, we of course mean fantastic. Great Divide ski hill in Marysville offers 1600 acres of incredible skiing for all levels from the greenest of circles to double black diamonds. Great Divide boasts insanely low prices, good snow, and, on Fridays the runs are lit–literally, you can stay out on the slopes until 9!
For a more level experience, Helena residents (Helenonians?) flock to MacDonald Pass and Stemple Pass. With over 25 kilometers of trails for all levels, and less than 20 miles from town, MacDonald Pass ski area is one of the most accessible cross-country ski areas in the region, while Stemple Pass offers a more off-the-beaten-path experience–literally, in the sense that none of the 20+ kms of intermediate and advanced trails are groomed.
For ice fishing, of course, Canyon Ferry is a must-go destination, but passionate ice fishers won’t want to miss Hauser Lake (7 miles north of town), Helena Valley Reservoir (8 miles northeast of town), Holter Lake (45 miles north of town), or Brown’s Lake out of Ovando.
As for snowmobiling, there are 175 miles of snowmobiling trails within easy reach of Helena, and over 250 miles in the Lincoln area.
And finally, we started off this post with one of the more unusual activities, so for the sake of symmetry we’ll finish with the other. Admittedly, the Iditarod-qualifying Race to the Sky sled dog race is really only open to qualified mushers, and is finished for the year, but if you’re in the mood for celebrating winter, you can’t do much better than taking a bit of time off of your busy snow sports schedule to plan on attending next year’s festivities.