Skiing and Snowshoeing
Cross-country skis and snowshoes provide the finest ways to see Yellowstone in the winter. Rent them from Old Faithful Snow Lodge or Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Both places also provide lessons and guided tours for groups or individuals. The towns surrounding Yellowstone also have shops that rent skis and snowshoes.
The Old Faithful area is the center for skiing within Yellowstone, with trails circling the Upper Geyser Basin and leading to nearby sights. You’ll find similar ski trails (not always groomed) in the Tower Fall, Canyon, and Mammoth areas. Get free ski-trail maps at park visitor centers.
Old Faithful Snow Lodge is open in winter, providing an excellent base for day trips into nearby areas or for a snowcoach tour of the park.
Skiers and snowshoers sometimes assume that they can’t possibly cause problems for Yellowstone’s wildlife, but studies show that elk and bison often move away from skiers, which forces the animals to expend energy they need to survive through the bitterly cold winters. It’s best to stay on the trails and to keep from skiing into areas where elk or bison may be disturbed by your presence.
For more on skiing and winter visitation in the park, see Jeff Henry’s Yellowstone Winter Guide (www.roberts-rinehart.com), or Winter Tales and Trails: Skiing, Snowshoeing and Snowboarding in Idaho, the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park by Ron Watters (Great Rift Press, www.ronwatters.com).
Skier Shuttles and Tours
Xanterra Parks and Resorts (307/344-7311 or 866/439-7375, www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com) operates skier snowcoach shuttles ($15) from Mammoth southward to Golden Gate and Indian Creek, where you can ski downhill to Mammoth. Snowcoaches also shuttle skiers from Old Faithful to Fairy Falls Trailhead or the Continental Divide area for $15, and you can ski back on your own to Snow Lodge. The eight-mile Continental Divide run is primarily downhill.
In addition, Xanterra provides all-day Grand Canyon snowcoach-and-guided-ski tours five times a week from Old Faithful ($130 round-trip) and on Saturdays from Mammoth ($140). Afternoon ski-daddles are guided five-hour ski tours from Old Faithful to Fairy Falls or DeLacey Creek; they’re offered on Wednesday and Saturday for $45.
Guided three-hour snowshoe tours ($32 with snowshoes) are available twice weekly from Old Faithful. They’re a great way to explore the country. Besides these concessioner-run tours, park naturalists sometimes lead ski trips from Old Faithful to nearby sights; stop by the visitor center for details.
Safety on Skis
Before your trip, call Yellowstone (307/344-7381) to request the informative Winter Backcountry Trip Planner, with details on trails, equipment, weather, and avalanche safety. Online at www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/backcountrytripplanner.htm, find an 11-minute winter backcountry video. Yellowstone’s roads are traveled by snowmobiles and snowcoaches, making for potential conflicts with skiers. Be sure to keep to the right while skiing. Most trails are identified by orange metal markers on the trees. If you’re planning a backcountry trip, pick up a use permit from one of the ranger stations. A thorough understanding of winter camping and survival is imperative before you head out on any overnight trip, and avalanche safety classes are a wise investment.
Get avalanche-safety information from the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center (406/587-6981, www.mtavalanche.com) in Bozeman. The recording does not cover the entire park, but it does include the Washburn Range and areas near Cooke City and West Yellowstone. It’s updated daily in the winter. Call 307/344-2113 for the latest park weather forecast.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton, 5th Edition