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Snowmobiling and Skiing in Paradise

Story and photos by Larry Turner   December 1, 2010

  Montana night   I had my first cheese burger in paradise, but it was in the depth of a Montana winter where it was served, far away from Jimmy Buffet and all of that tropical stuff. Damn, did it taste good!!! So good that I had two. In some years, I do not even have one burger, so that underscores how good they tasted and also how hungry that I was. The meal was brought in and prepared via snowmobile by a friend of Jack and Belinda Rich ( who own the Rich Ranch Outfitting and Guest Ranch outside Seely Lake, Montana.  
Montana Night

Accompanied by three travel journalists and three other travelers, we were all returning from an exhilarating back country snowmobile excursion in the beautiful wilds of Montana along the southwest border of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The trip invitation came from Glacier Country Montana, titled: Snowmobile Escape Press Trip.

Let me set the stage here: I’m not a snowmobiler, I had only snowmobiled once before (a sum total of a mile, maybe) in my life and I’ve always had a disdain in the back of my mind for snowmobiles (the purist attitude that we ‘elite’ Nordic skiers sometimes assume; and God forbid, I am a fly fisherman, too, and you know how those ‘elitists’ feel about bait fisherman!!!).

Well, needless to say, this trip changed my appreciation level and broadened my ‘elitist’ horizons considerably. Snowmobiling rocks! But like anything that rocks, snowmobiling also has its boundaries and limitations.

In Montana, the snowmobile is often one’s winter car/pickup just like the float plane is in Alaska. The gas mileage is great and this ‘motorhead’ critter will take you into, or at least to the door of, places that you only have dreamed of before (such as access to back country skiing on untouched powder and such). Our near- week journey was especially nice because we had a combination of the back country ‘roughing it’ experience along with some pampering so that we could keep in touch with our softer sides.

Tia Troy
Ron Caldbeck
Night Riding
Tia Troy
Ron Caldbeck
Night Riding
  Montana Whitefish Mountains Snowmobiling   Montana Yurt Bunks  
Whitefish Mountains Snowmobiling
Yurt Bunks
  Montana Yurt Woodstove   Montana Snowshoeing Near the Yurt  
Yurt Woodstove
Snowshoeing Near the Yurt
  Montana Valhallaa Adventures Powder Skiing   Montana Skier  
Valhalla Adventures Powder Skiing
Fresh Untracked Powder


My adventure to Montana Glacier Country began with an early morning flight from Klamath Falls, Oregon. The omens for the adventure did not bode well when a skunk sprayed my suitcase when startled as I was crossing my front yard en route to my car, luggage in tow. Whew!

Checking the luggage in at the airport created great consternation to one attendant who thought that an ill manufactured bomb was lurking inside my suitcase. When the suitcase arrived at Glacier International Airport outside Whitefish, my Pepé Le Pew suitcase was wrapped and taped in plastic.

Earlier in Seattle, I had sprayed myself with Right Guard cologne, something that I had not done since a teenager, trying to mask the Skunk de Larry.

I explained everything to my fellow journalists and our host Tia Troy from Glacier Country Tourism. They laughed and said that I didn’t smell half that bad. Tia had an immediate remedy: “We’ll get you into the back country quick Larry. We have 30 some miles of snowmobile trail for you to air out on.”

Ron Caldbeck, owner of in Olney, outfits us for the journey into a secluded yurt, located in the Stillwater State Forest (part of the Whitefish Mountain Range) northwest of Whitefish. Caldbeck and his crew rent out snowmobiles and also lead tours in this area, which includes 200 miles of groomed trails, offering spectacular views of nearby Glacier National Park (which just celebrated its 100th year) and the surrounding Rocky Mountains. With 25 years of experience under his belt, the likable Caldbeck is the perfect host.

After a quick yet thorough safety talk, we jump onto our trusty medal steeds, and depart at twilight to the yurt where Fred Dietrich Valhalla Adventures Powder Skiing await us. From the get-go the ride is intense as we have gotten a late start and need to make up time. We arrive safely, having experienced only one rollover en route.

Fred and his crew greet us. It was as though we had arrived at some ancient Viking encampment, sequestered away in a remote and lonely forest. The air was as cold as the metal of the snow machines with sub freezing temps. The night sky was brilliant, the stars almost too bright to look at (city folk would get an immediate shock seeing these ‘foreign’ celestial objects). The large yurt stood out like a warming beacon.

Inside, we shed our weather gear, bellied up to the wood fire and accepted warming toddies from the hosts. Introductions were made, beds and more comfortable clothes selected and then we sat down for a hail and hearty meal prepared by Fred: twice baked potatoes, tri-tip and sirloin, salad, bread and chicken corn chowder soup.

We ate like starved hogs. Adventure stories were shared, wine and whiskey was drunk and conversations went deep into the night. It was like a scene of The Gathering from the Hobbit.

Once asleep, some wished that they were more solid sleepers as there were ‘snorers’ and ‘gas passers’ among us throughout the night (of course, individually, none of us were guilty!).

The following morning, we have ‘stick to your ribs’ coffee (just like I like it!), a heavenly omelet and delicious huckleberry pancakes (I learn that there are three varieties of huckleberries and 60 varieties of blueberries). I remember Ron saying the night before, “We don’t worry about cholesterol up here!”

Tia and I powder skied in the morning and the rest of the crew went snowshoeing. “We go to church out here every day,” quips Fred. “I have no need to go to New York City. I’m a ski bum,” states this rugged Montanan.

My guide is Nate, a powerful, fluid skier. We make fresh tracks each run, the powder like stardust sprinkled within one’s soul. Nate gives me some quick powder ski pointers: 1—imagine keeping a $50 bill tight to your shin on the tongue of the boot 2—go pretty much straight down hill 3—keep hands right in front of you 4—keep poles in front of you and pound pole in the snow to turn, almost like a joy stick in a plane 5—don’t sit back on skis 6—keep weight forward. I mention to Nate the image of a $1000 bill. He quips quickly,” I’m a ski bum. $20 will do.

The one night yurt stay is not nearly enough, but it is enough to make me want to come back for several nights in a row. We snowmobile out and then head to Kalispell’s Hilton Garden Inn for an evening of pampering. The contrast couldn’t me more blatant. My thoughts were in the yurt with the guys but I must admit, the long soak in the bathtub was most welcome…and finally I had a chance to de-scent my gear. Our evening meal at the Inn’s Blue Canyon Restaurant was superb.

  Glacier National Park   Glacier Park Entry   Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park  
Glacier National Park
Glacier Park Entry
Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park


We take a side trip the following morning—the only non snowmobile day of the journey—into Glacier National Park, one of my favorite places to go on the planet. This was in February, earlier this year, and we pretty much had it to ourselves.

We drove to Lake McDonald through West Glacier, stopping at Apgar Village where we walked, explored and photographed. Glacier is open year round but the Going to the Sun Highway closes in autumn. At the Glacier Outdoor Center (, there are ski and snowshoe rentals.

  Montana Coffee for old mornings   Bigfork Art Gallery  
Montana Coffee for old mornings
Bigfork Art Gallery
  Vinny’s   Vinny’s Sushi   Bigfork Montana local  
Vinny’s Sushi
Bigfork Local


Our lunch stop en route to the Rich Ranch—where we would mount our steel steeds the following day—was at Vinny’s Grill and Sushi Bar…a raw and rare find in a little strip mall. Vinny, with a smile and character as big as the Big Sky state itself, sent us to sushi heaven. Mind you, I’m not talking about Hawaii, Japan, Seattle or San Francisco. Baby, I’m talkin’ about superb sushi in Bigfork, Montana!—the state of Charlie Russell and such.

All of his sashimi grade fish comes from Hawaii except the salmon. “I roll my sushi traditionally, with seaweed on the outside,” he explains. “And if you get fish from somewhere that smells like fish, you had better run away from it.”

Animated and verbose, he prepares a cadre of sushi fixings for us and we devour them as though we had been on a deserted island left with but one coconut over a week’s time. Snowmobiling gives you an appetite! Take note while inside Vinny’s of the #3 signed Babe Ruth original print.

We walked part of the sushi off in the charming art district of downtown Bigfork. In the Indian Gallery, 127 tribes are represented with work. I made a note to mosey back sometime and to explore the art scene more thoroughly.

  Jack and Belinda Rich   Montana, Cheeseburgers in paradise   Montana, Mission Mountains in the backbround  
Jack and Belinda Rich
Cheeseburgers in paradise
Mission Mountains in the backbround
  Outfitting for snowmobiling in Montana   Rich Ranch snowmobiling, Montana  
Outfitting for snowmobiling
Rich Ranch snowmobiling
  Swan Mountain Trail, Montana   Rich Ranch view, Montana  
Swan Mountain Trail
Rich Ranch view
  Tight forest trail, Montana   Snowmobiling Montana  
Tight forest trail
Job well done
  Snowmobiling Montana   Mission Range and Seely Lake, Montana   Snowmobile powder day, Montana  
Playing in the Swan Range
Mission Range and Seely Lake
Fresh snowmobile powder day


At twilight we pulled into the Rich Ranch after passing along Seely Lake with all of its abstract ice patterns. Jack and Belinda greeted us with big Montana handshakes and hugs. You feel immediately welcome at their picturesque Guest Ranch. Jack is one of those bigger than life Western characters. Barrel chested and stout, he is not unlike the mountains and noble critters of Montana…and he has a wisdom about him that is immediate.

The Rich Ranch is a full-package deal, offering year-round adventure possibilities, via foot, horse, sleigh, snowmobile, ski, snowshoe and auto. They are a full-time outfitting and guest ranch…their legacy going back six generations to1864 via wagon train. At $300 a day, everything is taken care of. Though I prefer horseback, my mount would be a snowmobile.

In their spacious lodge main room, everyone sits around for a cafeteria-style evening meal. This isn’t gourmet dining, just good old fashioned homespun cookin’…and damn good at that.

I bunked in the last cabin facing the large meadow and a big, old, full rising Montana moon. The quiet of the night was sublime. I think that I even heard a wolf calling, but maybe it was in my mind.

The following morning before our snowmobile departure, I asked Jack about some of his feelings. “I was born and raised in a ranch and outfitting family. I like being in country whereas I know that I can hear the wolf call. But I’m also a hunter and I want game to be available for me and others who hunt. The key is balance, managing things whereas we can have both.”

Among Jack’s biggest heroes is Teddy Roosevelt. His biggest heroes are his parents C.B. and Helen. “Dad’s favorite quote to me was ‘It is not what happens to you in this world, it’s how you deal with it that defines your character’”, states Jack.

The nearby Bob Marshall Wilderness is home to grizzly bear, moose, mountain lion, bobcat, wolves, snowshoe hares, elk, whitetail deer, mule deer, lynx (largest population in the lower 48), martin, mink, wolverine, ermine, mountain goat, birds, otters, beaver, butterflies, cutthroat, bull trout and whitefish.

We snowmobile under blue, beautiful skies all day in the Swan Mountains, led by Jack. He takes us through deep, fluffy new snow, along narrow trails and wide trails. We even boondock—a term for off piste snowmobiling—for a bit. We stop at one high overlook and gaze at the Mission Range and into the Bob Marshalls.

Ben Cahoon, one of Jack’s guides who has accompanied us, demonstrates snowmobile technique for climbing and turning…strutting his stuff like a wild snowmobile stallion. We’re all impressed. It is a day of great enjoyment.

  Double Arrow Lodge   Kaserri cheese flambeed  
Double Arrow Lodge
Kaserri cheese flambeed tableside


In the late afternoon, we depart for the Double Arrow Resort (, the property where Jack grew up.The Double Arrow was once owned by his parents. Occupying 200 acres with an 18-hole golf course, the resort is a mere two miles out of Seely Lake. It has a rich and colorful history—founded by royalty from Denmark—and was recently named a National Historical Site. This was one of the favorite vacations spots for Hollywood folks of the Golden Era, such as June Allyson and Dick Powell. Glen Ford was married here.

We had wine around a blazing hearth in the feel-good, intimate lodge (constructed from the larch tree), followed by a sumptuous dinner (I had Duo of Duck) by their talented Chef Matt who came to our table and prepared Saganaki, a Kasseri cheese pan fried and flambéed. Superb!

Our greatest and longest snowmobile adventure awaited us the following day. It was prefaced by a massage treatment from one of Seely Lake’s massage therapists. Well recommended, by the way, as the snowmobile can jostle a person around and a massage helps get the kinks out. How can you say no to a massage anyway?

  Janice views Trixie's wall of fame   Trixie’s Montana  
Janice views Trixi's wall of fame
Trixi's Antler Saloon, Montana
  Night out at Trixie's   Trixie’s  
Night out at Trixi's
  Curt Friede   Playing in Montana's snowfields  
Curt Friede
Playing in Montana's snowfields
  Curt’s Polaris  





Bob Marshall Wilderness

Curt’s Polaris
Bob Marshall Wilderness


After being outfitted at Kurt’s Polaris (, we took off in the bright light for a memorable day…heading 68 miles to the old Montana honkey tonk Trixi’s Saloon, located in Ovando. This was an epic journey as snowmobile novices.

We returned late at night but it made for the greatest adventure of the entire trip. It gave me true insight to the capabilities of snowmobile travel…whether it is recreational, as transportation to and from work or as an emergency transport. Kurt’s Polaris owner Curt Friede, a North American snowmobile champion, was our guide.

The trip began on frozen Seely Lake, then continued across hill and dale and into the mountains. We arrived at Trixi's Antler Saloon for a memorable dinner (with a Tootsie Roll placed on the table for dessert), Montana beers and conversations with the locals. One local, Ted Needles, went to his house and brought back his freshly dried venison jerky to share. Rumors seem to abound about Trixi. Curt knew her personally. “I worked for her for three years. My first job. She was a good-hearted woman. She was known for her roping skills and she built a reputation on that. I heard rumors that she also was a Madam. All that I can say is that she always had lots of boyfriends to help her.” This rural bar, forever locked in time, is a must stopover, whether you are on a snowmobile or not.

Our night ride back was filled with adventure. Fellow journalist Janice Nieder and I were allowed to ride ahead into the deep, dark night along the wide snow covered road. It was thrilling…the speed, the exhilaration, the sounds spewing from the steel beast. We would periodically stop and wait for the other riders, enjoying the equally deep quiet of the night. Owls hooted. No wolves or mountain lion calls, but we would not have been surprised had we heard them.

Arriving back at the Double Arrow, I slept like a new fawn that night.

We drove to the Missoula International Airport the following day where two of our journalists departed. I took a rental car to Whitefish for another segment of my journey. When Tia gave me a parting hug, I asked of her, “Do I still smell of skunk?” “Nope,” she replies.“Snowmobile.”


Important Information:, (Montana Snowmobile Association).

NOTE: Photos in this and other Larry Turner stories may be purchased as prints or licensing by emailing

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