Escapes

Q:

Where's a good place for cross-country skiing in Yellowstone?

I'm trying to plan a winter backcountry/nordic ski trip in Yellowstone or somewhere else in the Rockies and not sure where to go. I'd like to stay either in cabins along a set route or ideally in some sort of base lodge and do day trips from there. I've got some experience nordic skiing and alpine skiing but not much backcountry skiing, so it can't be too technical. Any ideas? John Washington, D.C.

Slide into the Light: Nordic skiing in Yellowstone     Photo: Photodisc

Yellowstone

Slide into the Light: Nordic skiing in Yellowstone

A:You bet. You're certainly on the right track with Yellowstone on your nordic destination shortlist. If you've never been to Yellowstone in the winter, some would say you really haven't been to Yellowstone at all. That's unfair to all those RV'ers, but the point is this: While something like two million visitors come to the park during the summer months—by far the busiest time—wandering into Yellowstone in the winter allows you to experience what happens in nature when people aren't looking, at least if you can get away from the snowmobiles (and that's getting easier to do since the number of machines is limited and they can only go on roads in a few areas of the park). You have plenty of options. Check out Outside Traveler's Winter 2006 issue, which includes stories on exactly what you're looking for. No time? Here are two suggestions, with a bonus option tacked on for good measure.

West Yellowstone is one of the better areas to enter the park for skiing, since you can access trails right from town. Unfortunately, West Yellowstone is also a two-stroke, brain-splitting hub for snowmobilers, and each year the city government tries to come up with ways to stop people from racing their machines from stoplight to stoplight down the town's main drag. But if you're looking for a do-it-yourself adventure, I'd recommend holing up in town at, say, the newer Gray Wolf Inn (800.561.0815; www.graywolf-inn.com), where rooms go for as little as $49 in the winter. And no matter where you stay, be sure to stop by Freeheel & Wheel on Yellowstone Avenue (406.646.7744; www.freeheelandwheel.com). Grab a coffee and hit up owners Kelli and Melissa for info on where you should go. (They also rent skis.) Most likely they'll recommend the Rendezvous Trail system (www.rendezvousskitrails.com) in town that stretches for about 22 miles and offers a number of options depending on your ability. Day passes cost $8 in November or $5 December through March. When you get tired of that, you can head out into the park for some backcountry exploration.

If you have a decent budget and don't mind shelling out a couple of thousand Washingtons for a weeklong trip, nothing beats a stay at the Lone Mountain Ranch (800.514.4644; www.lmranch.com), north of the park in the Gallatin Canyon near Big Sky. You'll be about 45 miles or so from the entrance to the park in A River Runs Through It turf. But forget about the fish: Lone Mountain is something of a nordic vortex for heart-rate-monitor junkies as well as those who just enjoy schussing around a brilliant Montana morning on a set of skinny skis. Here you'll find 23 cabins and a main lodge that feels like the 1920s ranch it once was. Carbo-load on pancakes and set out on a 50-mile network of trails that wind near the Porcupine and Spanish Peak wilderness areas, through open meadows and stands of ponderosa. To get the backcountry skiing fix you're looking for, Lone Mountain offers tours up places like Telemark Meadows, where you'll climb through some open alpine meadows to ski bowls dropping into Bacon Rind Creek. You'll be peaking through stands of fir and into views into Yellowstone—at least between the face shots of that famous Montana cold smoke. Bring tele gear or a touring setup. Weeklong packages start at $1,657 per person, based on double occupancy.

And lastly, if you're looking for something in between, Yellowstone Expeditions (800.728.9333; www.yellowstoneexpeditions.com) could be your answer. The company offers backcountry trips in the park, where you'll spend each night in a cozy yurt. After a day of touring around the park, taking in secret hot springs and looking for wildlife, you'll come back to warm meals, a sauna, and basic digs in the middle of the wilderness. Sign up for a four-day, three-night package starting at $800 per person ($750 in January), based on sharing a yurt.

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