Winter snow action in the Rockies

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of July 18-25, 1996
Rock art in the Valley of Fire
Inexpensive outdoor trip packages
Boating the Boundary Waters
Winter snow action in the Rockies
River paddling in northern B.C.

Winter snow action in the Rockies
Question: My father, brother, and I are looking for a week or so of winter vacation doing snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. We were thinking that the national parks in the Rockies would be the best place to do this. We have done a lot of alpine skiing and summer park camping, but don't have much winter activity experience. What park and/or guide service do you think would be best for us?

Chadds Ford, PA
[email protected]

If you can take the cold,
winter's great in the Tetons

Adventure Adviser: I can think of lots of great Rocky Mountain locales worthy of winter excursions--as long as you bring your no-holds-barred expedition shell, ultra-warm long underwear, and a tolerance for bitter cold temps.

A good bet for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, plus access to one of the country's most hard-core alpine ski resorts (in case you get a craving for lift-ticket-required skiing) is Jackson, Wyoming, a mere hop from Grand Teton National Park and, just up the road, Yellowstone.

Base yourself at the Lincoln Log-inspired Rusty Parrot Lodge, a 31-room inn with down comforters, peeled-log furniture, and--can you say plush?--fireplaces and two-person hot tubs. You'll be just far enough away from Jackson's busy town square to be spared tourist overload, but close enough that a post-dinner, walk-off-your-cheesecake stroll is still doable.

Even if you never click into those downhill bindings once while you're there, it's tough to imagine running out of things to do. For starters, there are miles of cross-country ski trails crisscrossing the flats of the Snake River Valley. Jackson Hole Nordic Center (307-733-2292) has 15 miles of groomed trails in Teton Village. Teton Pines Cross-Country (307-733-1005) is also a good bet. Strap on a pair of snowshoes and explore the nearby wintering grounds of bison, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, and North America's largest wild elk herd.

Across the Montana border in West Yellowstone is the Rendezvous Ski Trail System. The 21-mile trail starts in the town of West Yellowstone at roughly 6,600 feet and climbs to 7,200 feet along the edge of a debris-strewn caldera. Prepare yourself for blowing snow on the six-mile Windy Hill Loop, but for the most part, the course doesn't have too many dizzying steeps or scary descents. For more details, call the Chamber of Commerce at 406-646-7701.

If you're suffering from vertical and powder withdrawal, sign on with High Mountain Heli-Skiing (307-733-3274) for a day's worth of hair-raising backcountry schussing for $400. Hone a new skill like ice climbing or ski mountaineering--you can spend a week in the Tetons without repeating a route--by entrusting yourself to Exum Mountain Guides (307-733-2297) or Jackson Hole Mountain Guides (303-733-4979). Both programs cost $180 per day.

Exum Mountain Guides also offers privately guided backcountry ski tours to a hut in the Targhee National Forest, as well as one of the nation's oldest avalanche safety courses. Winter rates at the Rusty Parrot range from $135 to $205 per night, including breakfast. Call 800-458-2004 for more details.

Finally, for area snowmobiling possibilities, call the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce (307-733- 3316) or Yellowstone's main visitor center (307-733-7381) for a list of outfitters. With the hundreds of miles of packed and groomed snowmobile trails winding through Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, it's no wonder that snowmobiling is one of the area's fastest-growing and most controversial winter activities.

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