05 January 2011

The Moulton Cross Country Ski Trails: a brief guide

It's winter in southwest Montana and will be for another 10 weeks or so. Why not get outside for some warming exercise?

Just a few miles north of Walkerville and Butte, Montana, lie The Moulton Cross Country Ski Trails. Established in the mid-1970s by competitive skiers such as Paul Sawyer and John Mike Downey, the area has become a local institution and is now groomed by the Mile High Nordic Ski Club. The trails are on National Forest land, skiing is free, and dogs are welcome. Driving directions are here. A map of the trails is here.

The road/trail from the parking lot is "shared use" for skiers and snowmachines, and occasionally torn-up by locals thinking they can drive their truck or four-wheeler on a ski trail. It's a bit steep for novice skiers and can be quite a challenge. The Butte office of the Forest Service makes some effort to regulate motorized use, but it's a challenge. If you have problems, call Jocelyn Dodge, NFS Recreational Forester, at 406-494-0246.

You can think of The Moulton trails as a sort of three-leafed clover, with the stem leading from the parking lot to the south and the petals oriented west, east, and north. The petals meet at Mainshaft Junction, about one-half mile up the stem road/trail from the parking area. 

The west petal is defined by the Green (easiest Nordic designation) Neversweat Trail loop. It provides access to the easy Claimjumper trail and the Blue (intermediate) Sluice Box trail. Claimjumper connects the Neversweat loop to the northern petal via Amalgamation Junction. Neversweat also provides access to Big Flat (aka Moonlight Flat), parallel to and just above the trail:

The east petal is defined by the Blue (intermediate) Motherlode Trail loop. It provides access to the intermediate Nugget Trail and to the ungroomed, Black Diamond (difficult/advanced) Buzzy Trail. Buzzy connects the Motherlode loop to the northern petal via the Big Nipper Trail. Buzzy and Nugget also provide access to great backcountry skiing, from the poleline up to Reservoir Flats. Note that a short stretch of Motherlode, marked with orange signs, is for shared use by snowmachines:

The north petal (my favorite!) is defined by the intermediate Orphan Girl Trail loop. Instead of turning east toward Motherlode or west toward Neversweat, simply continue north up the road and through the private cabins/meadow area (historic Moulton Dairy). Orphan Girl provides access to two difficult/advanced trails -- Yankee Boy and Big Nipper -- as well as to the intermediate Little Nipper and In Vein trails:

All the trail names derive from Butte mines or mining terms. For example the Orphan Girl and Neversweat were mines, a Buzzy was a pneumatic drill, and Nippers were tool fetchers. I like the use of local mining terms for trails, rather than naming trails as an egoistic exercise like peeing your own name in the snow. 

The trails are narrow and primarily for classic skiing (i.e. "kick & glide"), though they are "skatable" by those seeking a challenge. Those who want interstate highway width trails groomed hard for skating should seek out the Mount Haggin trails along the Deep Creek highway between Anaconda and the Big Hole River valley.

After some years of seeing little use, it seems that many more folks are skiing The Moulton this year. I hope this little guide provides some help in orienting yourself. Welcome to winter fun!

More information:
Buzzy Trail
Yankee Boy Trail


troutbirder said...

What neat looking trails. If only....

Janie said...

The trails look great! I wish we had a xcountry trail system like that here.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hi ER, Hope you and your family had a fabulous holiday season. Cannot believe that it's already 2011!!!

Those trails are really in good shape... I can understand why people want to ski there. Thanks for the great description.

Happy New Year!!!

secret agent woman said...

Pretty trails. Are they for hiking in warmer weather?

Anonymous said...

I have never been skiing. I have always wanted to try but was never given the opportunity.

Anonymous said...

What about snow shoeing? It looks like a beautiful place for it.