Old Blewett Pass Highway is probably best known as the starting place for the tour up to the original, pre-1956 Blewett Pass. Because this route is popular with snowmobilers, however, it's worth noting that the Old Blewett parking area offers access to two short backcountry trails reserved for skiers and snowshoers, making it one of the lower-altitude cross-country options on US-97 at just above 3000 feet. Both trails stay largely within earshot of the road, but the stands of pine and fir feel remarkably wild in places. The mix of easy access and occasionally more technical terrain serve as a good taster for backcountry skiing in the area.
A few hundred feet up the main road, the western 2-mile Pine Meadow Loop starts off to the left. The blue diamond trail markers lead through the forest until you join a forest road. This bench slopes down until it intersects the return portion of the loop at the end of the first mile, and there is a potential for real speed in the right conditions. Continuing straight at this point for another quarter mile will bring you to Iron Creek. When there's enough snow to cover the stream, Iron Creek Road just beyond works as an alternate trailhead for the loop. The return portion of the loop is closer to the highway, but it is more interesting from a wayfinding perspective as it snakes through ponderosa and fir groves and across a wide draw before the return.
To the east of the old highway, across the creek, 3-mile Yellow Belly Loop offers a slightly more difficult option. Beginning close to US-97, the trail follows a road for a quarter mile before beginning the loop. The lower portion is fairly flat, although it turns uphill to cross a tributary of Swauk Creek. It can be easy to lose the blazes in portions, but the trail stays even with the highway for a mile until the loop hairpins back around. This 1.5-mile section involves a strenuous climb before it reaches the creek again, making for both the most difficult and the most peaceful section of the trail system. For once, the road is far in the distance. Once you're across, it's downhill to the start of the loop on an old logging road
Keep in mind that the season is shorter here than it is for much of Blewett Pass: the spotty cover you can see in the Yellow Belly shots are from early March. The Pine Meadow photos, with what looks like a fine snowpack, were only taken one week earlier. Also, watch for downed trees along Yellow Belly Loop.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.