Every year, skiers from around the US descend on West Yellowstone for the start to the winter season. Sure, this winter the West Yellowstone Ski Festival will be different. But this isn’t about how this year will be different. This is about skiing in Yellowstone National Park.I have spent at least 10 Thanksgivings in West Yellowstone. Many of those years, we would spend close to a month there. Some of my favorite skis were into Yellowstone National Park--sometimes on rollerskis, sometimes on skis. Yellowstone’s West entrance is closed to motor vehicles from early November until December 15, so we would rollerski or ski without having to worry about cars or traffic on the road. The furthest I ever made it was to Firehole Canyon Road, just beyond Madison Junction. It’s about a 30 mile round trip ski from West Yellowstone. We would stop by the Terrace Hot Spring and often see bison along the way. If anyone ever asked, I would confidently say, “Yes, I’ve been to Yellowstone.”
After retiring from ski racing, I worked for a company developing hiking trips to Yellowstone. That’s when I truly discovered the world’s first National Park and realized that the ski to Madison Junction is only a warm-up to the park itself. There are so many corners of the park to explore in all seasons. But of course, winter is my favorite.
The roads in the park are covered in snow. Only snowcoaches and small groups of snowmobiles can pass. The geysers are much more dramatic as their steam evaporates into the cold air. The side channels connecting geothermal features melt paths through the snow, so you can visualize the underground geothermal networks on the ground. Bison congregate close to the features to stay warm. And this is all just around Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin. The National Park Service also maintains cross country ski and snowshoe trails, so you can explore many areas of the park far from the boardwalks. The ski trails are seemingly endless with virtually no visitors. Somehow, perhaps the most impressive ski trails in the US are completely off the radar of most avid skiers.
Ski trail networks travel through other areas of the park as well. One of my favorite trails loops around Mammoth Hot Springs, close to the North Entrance of the park. The rolling trail cruises past the terraced hot springs and offers views to the Yellowstone River below.
If you’re into wildlife, take a drive through the Lamar Valley. The valley comes alive at sunrise and sunset, where packs of wolves, herds of bison, elk feeding in the woods and even bighorn sheep all roam. Warm up at the end of the day with a dip in the Boiling River, where hotsprings feed into the river, creating just the right temperature for a winter swim -- the perfect end to a Yellowstone ski trip.
This Thanksgiving, whether you’re skiing around the Rendezvous Trails in West Yellowstone or cruising around trails closer to home, give some thought to skiing in Yellowstone National Park, which opens annually on December 15.
As travel to Europe is currently closed to North Americans, this winter might be a perfect year for a ski trip to Yellowstone.Lumi Experiences offers a self-guided trip to Montana & Yellowstone. We would love to host you on a trip and share our favorite ski trails and experiences in the region.
See you on the trail,
Olympian & Founder