I’ve never considered myself very athletic. It’s not that I’m in poor shape. I discipline myself to workout on a regular basis and I’m always game to try new activities, but I’ve never quite found my inner athlete.
Being surrounded by competitive males in my family probably hasn’t helped. Whenever we engage in an active outdoor pursuit, I’m usually the one lagging behind, struggling to keep up with my clan. And when I wipe out or have one of those embarrassing moments that shows off my less-than-stellar coordination, I know I’ve just created another memorable “Mom story” that will be repeated ad nauseum.
I take my family’s good-natured ribbing in stride, realizing that I’m up against a tough audience who cuts me no slack. But every once in awhile, I wonder what it would be like to be with a warm and fuzzy group who won’t ridicule my feeble attempts or make fun of my tortoise pace.
Enter the women’s camp, a place where the female species can learn a new sport or improve upon their skills without worrying about how their male counterparts will view them.
In the past several years, these camps have been popping up all over the place, offering gals the chance to tackle everything from surfing to rock climbing, within some of the most scenic natural environments around the world. Most employ the attitude that women want to play hard during the day and relax in a comfy setting with all the amenities at night.
I have always wanted to be a better cross-country skier. Not having had any formal lessons, I never quite learned proper technique for this sport, yet I always managed to have fun while doing it and get a great total body workout in the process. But I longed to be a better and more efficient skier — one who was able to glide effortlessly down the trails and approach hills without dread.
The opportunity to improve my skills among a kinder, gentler audience presented itself in the form of Lone Mountain Ranch’s Women’s Nordic Camp. Just an hour south of Bozeman, Mont., in the shadow of Big Sky, is an enchanting enclave where escapism is at its best. Set on 160 pristine acres of Montana wilderness amid the Spanish Peak Range, Lone Mountain is the epitome of a grand western ranch complete with cozy lodgepole-pine cabins, massive stone fireplaces, elk antler chandeliers, log furnishings and Native American décor.
The place has a rich history and heritage of western hospitality. It was first homesteaded in 1915 and over the years it has served as a logging camp, a boys’ ranch and finally a guest ranch, which has been under the ownership of the Schaap family since 1977.
Lone Mountain is a ranch for all seasons with activities to satisfy the many outdoor passions of its guests. In the milder months, it’s a Mecca for hiking, horseback riding, fly fishing and whitewater rafting, but in the winter, when the area is blessed with a consistent snowfall, it’s a cross-country skier’s paradise. With over 80 professionally groomed kilometers of gently rolling meadows, exhilarating downhills and lung-clearing climbs, guests can find trails to match their ability levels and ski to their hearts’ content.
Three times a year, in December, January and March, the ranch offers a women’s camp focusing on boosting participants’ confidence on cross-country skis. Women of all ages come from around the country to take part in this experience, which emphasizes a positive, supportive learning environment.
Throughout the five-day, six-night camp, you get to ski with a staff of certified instructors who conduct all-day instructional sessions devoted to various aspects of the sport. You work on balance, control, speed, turns and negotiating hills, and are able to practice classic cross-country skiing, as well as get a taste of skate skiing.
In addition, you have the opportunity to try out new equipment and find the gear that fits you best. There are also opportunities to take a guided snowcoach tour into the interior of Yellowstone National Park (only 18 miles from the ranch) and go back-country skiing within the park. Yellowstone in the winter is magical and full of hidden wonders that summer visitors never see. Deep snow clings to every surface and geysers erupt into azure skies, with animals posing around every corner. It’s breathtaking. And snowcoaches are the best way to see these marvels.
The climate-controlled, fully enclosed vehicles are equipped with caterpillar treads that offer visitors a comfortable and convenient method of experiencing this majestic natural playground.
Back at the lodge, evenings are spent leisurely listening to live music in the Horsefly Saloon, while sipping on such tasty libations as Mama Viv’s Hot Buttered Rum, or attending various presentations (slide shows and naturalist lectures about the area, ski tuning methods) in the B-K Guest Lounge.
There’s even a sleigh ride dinner that takes guests through the snow-covered pines to a lovely, lantern-lit cabin in the woods. There you’ll get prime rib cooked the old-fashioned way on a century-old wood-burning stove and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to hear Walkin’ Jim Stoltz sing and tell stories of his extensive wilderness experience. This memorable evening truly encapsulates the romance of the West.
When you’re feeling a bit sore from all the skiing, head for the outdoor hot tub where you can soak under the stars. There’s also a massage therapist available to soothe those aching muscles (the Feel Good Feet Treats massage is true bliss!), as well as on-site yoga classes.
For sustenance, you won’t get the proverbial ranch-style meals of baked beans and BBQ. Instead, you’ll savor creatively prepared gourmet fare in a handsome log dining lodge amid the ambiance of a roaring fire.
One night there was a choice of bison flank steak or salmon with spinach in a puffed pastry, accompanied by oven roasted potatoes, parsnips and rutabagas, and topped off with huckleberry baked Alaska.
A trailside lunch another day consisted of shrimp and veggie kebobs, marinated teriyaki ginger beef, salads and homemade peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies. My appetite was enormous after skiing all day and I ate heartily, knowing that it was easy to torch the calories with all the exercise I was doing.
Mealtimes presented a great opportunity to compare ski experiences with the other women in my group. The seven of us formed one close-knit bond, as we shared everything from our triumphs and upsets on the trails to the best types of clothing to layer for insulation against the cold. Most of all, we laughed. The fact that we came from different parts of the country, with varying backgrounds, and had never met before, meant little. The common link was our shared passion for skiing and more importantly, the fact that we were all women.
While skiing, we gave each other support and encouragement to meet new challenges and surmount both mental and physical obstacles.
The Lone Mountain ski staff, a gung-ho group of young, athletic men and women were equally supportive, as well as highly enthusiastic about their jobs. They were positive, upbeat and genuine individuals with a wealth of knowledge about the sport. And they definitely knew how to use humor as an effective instructional tool!
After learning and practicing everything from the easiest way to put on skis to the most effective way to navigate hills, I felt so much more in control out on the trails and was actually able to loosen up and develop a comfortable rhythm to my glide.
All of this knowledge and experience, however, did not come pain free and though I sustained several colorful bruises in the process, I wore these badges of courage with pride.
There were times when I thought I couldn’t go up another hill because my quads were screaming and every other part of my body was crying “uncle.” And there were other moments when I stood at the top of a steep, winding hill trying to work up the guts to head down, knowing there was an excellent chance I would wipe out along the way. But when I took those not-so-graceful tumbles, no one made fun of me.
Instead, they encouraged me to get right back up and ready myself for the next challenge. And so I persevered and when I triumphed, after banishing my insecurities and fears, I had six other women to help me celebrate my accomplishments. I basked within the glow of this positive environment, which not only boosted my self-confidence, but opened the door to my inner athlete.