Monday, February 17, 2014

Winter in Yellowstone

 Firehole River, Yellowstone National Park

Covered in a frosty blanket of beautiful white snow, Yellowstone’s winter landscape offers visitors a journey through a dreamlike territory populated by steaming geysers, bubbling hot pots, enduring bison, majestic elk, and endless vistas of a massive frozen wilderness.

To celebrate the end of a 15-year controversy regarding winter travel in Yellowstone National Park, Derek Collins and I skied 75+ miles from West Yellowstone, MT to Flagg Ranch, WY.

The air and noise pollution generated by unregulated numbers of dirty two-stroke snowmobiles in the 1990s is no more. Today, the limited number of snowcoaches and guided riders on quiet clean-burning 4-stroke snowmobiles creates an environment safe and enjoyable for Nordic ski enthusiasts. The formally dangerous and polluted system of groomed roads is now a cross-country skier's dream. 

Snowcoach with Mattracks

The one caveat is the condition of the snow-road. Even with daily grooming, the deep trenches created by snowcoaches (especially vans rigged with Matttracks) make skate skiing challenging. Classic skis would be a better option if not for the distances involved in traveling between the road-heads and Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Grooming a classic ski track along with several ski yurts could mitigate this problem and create a world-class multi-day Nordic ski tour.

Trenches left by Snowcoaches

Another measure that would allow other quiet human-powered recreationists the opportunity to enjoy their National Park is lifting the irrational ban on snow-bicycles or "fat bikes." While many cycling advocates requested bicycles capable of riding on packed snow be allowed on groomed roads (the same roads bicycles are allowed on in the summer) and be included in the new Yellowstone Winter Use Plan, the NPS refused to listen.

Arguably the “Best Available Technology,” it would be interesting to know how many snow bicycles would be needed to create one “Transportation Event”?

Bison (Bison bison), Upper Madison Valley

Regardless of these shortcomings, Nordic skiing along the roads in Yellowstone National Park is a far more enjoyable and safer experience than it was twenty years ago and a highly recommended journey through a unique winter wonderland.

Despite several feet of new snow during the weekend of February 8th, Derek Collins and I completed the 75-mile ski tour along the groomed roads between West Yellowstone in Flagg Ranch in a two-day weekend. Traveling with little more than a credit card and a toothbrush, we stopped for a night at the delightful Old Faithful Snow Lodge.

All our prospects of success were based upon the superiority of skis in comparison with all other means of locomotion when large tracts of snow have to be traversed,” - Fridtjof Nansen


  1. Cool trip.

    When I watched the video, I couldn't help but wonder the wisdom of the skate skis -- it looked like a lot of work. What was the thinking in going that route?

    1. We needed to cover 75 miles in two days, a long haul on Classic skis. The roads are groomed every night and even with all the new snow our moving average was 4.7 mph. I can't sustain that speed in anything but skating gear.

  2. as a ultra-marathon skier of both the Tuscobia 150 and Arrowhead 135, skating is the only way to go in my book. Faster as mentioned, although not groomed for skiing grooming for snowmobiles is much better than classic with no track set.
    Also, waxing is less complicated if waxing is to be done, only have to worry about glide wax.