WHITEFISH – It’s minus 4 degrees, and only four cars are parked at the Round Meadows cross-country ski trailhead. Including mine.

But since most of Ski Whitefish mountain is off limits for downhillers, based on wind chills hovering close to 50 below, we decide to seek alternative outdoor fun. Okay, I decide we need to find some fun and drag my Whitefish friends along.

They’re good sports as we pile on the layers, substituting cross-country gear for the much warmer downhill garb, right down to our goggles. The trails haven’t been groomed — perhaps it’s residual from the federal government shutdown — but the soft snow muffles our steps as we glide among the aspens and pines. We don’t talk much through the neck gaiters that cover most of our faces.

We follow a loop trail, listed as “easy.” I remind Ginny of this as she clambers halfway up a hill, stalls out and falls. Jeff swoops in to help as only a husband dares, as Ginny flails in the powder. We dub the move “air skiing” as the bottom of her boards wave at the sky while she tries to roll over. I swear I’m not laughing.

Jeff decides the Hope trail is a good route. As the path narrows and previous skiers’ tracks fade, I think No Hope seems more appropriate. When Ginny biffs again, we rename it Hopeless. The Gilligan’s Island “Three Hour Tour” soundtrack plays in my mind. Did I mention it’s still four below zero?

We leave Hope behind, surprised when we emerge at an intersection with the Chechako trail. This isn’t where we mean to be. I later learn it’s a variation of the word cheechako, which is an Alaskan term for tenderfoot. It seems appropriate.

By now Jeff is full-on hoarfrost man on his eyebrows and the spit of hair sticking out of his hat. While the temps remain low, we’ve warmed up enough to enjoy the snow and scenery. Jeff even unzips his coats to vent. We have the trail mostly to ourselves.

Two hours and five miles later, we’re back at my rig. The icy cold beers, which are closer to beer slushies, taste fabulous, but lead to a dilemma involving the nearby pit toilet. Jeff doesn’t understand. Ginny does.

The Round Meadow Cross-country ski area on the Flathead National Forest is 12 miles west of Whitefish off of Star Meadow Road. It includes 12 miles of trail ranging from easy to advanced moderate, and usually is groomed on a weekly basis. For more information, contact the Forest Supervisor’s Office at 406/758-5208.