Most winters, my girlfriends and I book all the beds at Homestake Lodge, take over the lodge, and spend three days snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, eating, drinking, and laughing. On this January trip, we caravanned from Livingston and Bozeman, Montana, to enjoy our annual women’s weekend.
Atop Homestake Pass, 15 minutes east of Butte, Montana, Homestake Lodge provides great snowshoeing in a beautiful location. With 35- kilometers of groomed trails, 15-kilometers of dog-friendly trails, and plenty of access to the backcountry and big views, Homestake Lodge is a great jumping off point for our weekend of adventures.
The women arrived at various times on Friday. Some of us stopped to snowshoe along the Continental Divide on our way over. We loosely followed the summer trail past huge boulders and through skinny trees. As visitors to the Butte, America area, we also felt compelled to indulge in a nip of Orphan Girl, a tasty bourbon cream from the local distillery.
Upon arriving at the lodge, everyone claimed a bed in one of the two bunk rooms we’d rented for the weekend. More friends arrived and we made a hearty dinner of chili using the lodge kitchen. We played Crimes Against Humanity and the laughter followed.
Saturday morning we woke up to eat breakfast before heading off onto the trails in small groups. My group snowshoed to the top of a pass along an old Forest Service road where we were greeted with views of the snow-topped Tobacco Root Mountains. Others skied the trails through meadows and woods.
We returned to the lodge for one of owner Mandy Axelson’s famous soups. Every winter weekend, she and husband Chris serve up homemade soups, rolls, cookies, and beer and wine.
Mandy and Chris bought property just beneath the Continental Divide in the summer of 2007. They opened for snowshoeing and skiing that winter. What started as forest and meadows is now a destination resort with trails for snowshoeing, skiing, mountain biking and hiking, a ski shop, a lodge with bunk rooms, a yurt, cabins, and their home.
Building Homestake Lodge was a learning process for the Axelsons. Chris had coached Nordic skiing and owned ski shops, both in Maine and Bozeman, Montana, and Mandy skied competitively. Now they found themselves building trails, putting up buildings, and marketing their new venture.
The Axelsons have created more than a place; they’ve created a community. In the in winter, snowshoers and skiers arrive from all over the state and country to explore the trails, enjoy a home cooked meal of soup and sandwiches, and sip a beer in front of the fire or on a deck overlooking the trails. Weddings, family reunions, corporate retreats and youth groups fill the beds year-round, while hikers and mountain bikers take over the trails in the summer.
With an eye on minimizing their carbon footprint through the use of passive solar heating, thermal masses, photovoltaic panels and other eco-groovy techniques, Homestake Lodge is the perfect place for a day—or a weekend—on the snow.
We headed back outside after lunch to take full advantage of the short daylight and snowshoe up a ridge in the hilly section of trails. We climbed, descended, and climbed again before reaching the ridge. Hearts pumping and legs burning, we breathed in the cold, mountain air.
The snow was deep up there, which is one of the reasons Mandy and Chris choose this location – high elevation and consistent snow. It wasn’t snowing that day, though, and the bluebird sky against the white snow filled us all with happiness. There is something very special about being outside on snowshoes with some of your best friends.
We tromped along the ridge, lost in our own thoughts for awhile, before descending, climbing, and then descending back toward the lodge, snow squeaking under our snowshoes.
It was another evening of food and laughs, and Sunday morning we departed in small groups. We were already planning next winter’s trip, but first three of us stopped for the last snowshoe outing of the weekend.
We drove down the pass toward Butte to the Milwaukee Trail, a converted railroad grade. This former Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad track runs through Thompson Park and offered a mellow four-mile walk through two tunnels and across a trestle. We were a little worn out from the weekend and enjoyed the leisurely walk to the entrance of the 2,300-foot long Pipestone Pass tunnel (closed to the public).
530 Upper Radar Creek, Whitehall, MT 59759
The ski shop rents snowshoes for $15/day.
In 2017 they are offering Backcountry Snowshoe Lessons: All the basic knowledge to snowshoe hike. Includes soup and roll.