Thursday, March 5, 2015

Montana! Yellowstone!

If you've never gone to Yellowstone National Park in the winter, do it. ASAP. Before the winters in Yellowstone become non-winters.

After flight cancellations and delays — not all bad because I got a table massage and a friend sent me a list of the best dining beer in the Denver airport — I walked through into the Bozeman airport 25 hours after my scheduled arrival. The plan for the week: ski Big Sky, Bridger Bowl, and, uhm, Yellowstone, you know, that mecca of backcountry skiing. 

Ever since a friend's parents told me 8 years ago about their winter trip to Yellowstone, a ski tour around the thermal features has been on my radar just for the sheer novelty of it. And although Yellowstone was not the first national park that I'd been to (hello, Badlands!), it was the first that I had appreciated. I was 8 or 9 or 10, basically an age where volcanos were rad, and geysers were even more rad. But until this friend's parents told me about their trip, it didn't even occur to me that one could go to Yellowstone in the winter. Now a whole new world was opened to me.

Last week I hit Big Sky, Bridger Bowl (and skied-ish off the ridge! Emphasis on the "-ish"), and even the Bozeman music scene.
There is a ridge behind me. Really.
The highlight, though, was experiencing Yellowstone in the winter.
Um. Winter.
First, as with many parts of North America known for its winters, it's a bad snow year in Yellowstone.

The ice skating rink at the Mammoth Hot Springs hotel was closed for the season when we arrived. Technically, the season was ending a few days after our departure, but still. And then we searched for snow in the immediate area and hoped to do some ski touring. It was mostly combat touring with minimal elevation gain thanks to the low snow coverage. Given that all I really wanted to do was just ski around the hot springs, this wasn't a big deal to me, but before I flew out to Yellowstone, I checked out a few topos and realized that there was actually some terrain, which, if covered in snow, could be skied.
We ducked into the loop at the upper Mammoth Hot Springs in hopes that we could then head up. Meh. Nothing special, unless you count practicing putting on skins, maneuvering over brush and downed trees, taking off skins, and not tripping over downed trees on the way back. Which is good practice.

The next day brought us out towards the northeast section of the park, where we should have headed the day before. Winter and wildlife greeted us.

Sheep! Ram! Or whatever.
Off to see what's behind the trees, towards Druid Peak and Mt. Hornaday.

I would love to ski Yellowstone in a solid snow year. The Cooke City area, which is outside the park's northeast entrance, is reputed to have great terrain. And even within the park, it looks amazing in that corner. As for myself, I need to get into better skinning shape, improve my technique, and get more experience with route finding.  I'll be back...