Just because you’re a city cyclist doesn’t mean you have to wait for enough snow to pile up in at home in order to cross-country ski or snowshoe.
While I’ve done both in Manhattan’s Central Park, a favorite area to visit on skis or snowshoes is southwest Montana. It’s the perfect spot for cross-training. Yellowstone National Park and its gateway town West Yellowstone offer the most gorgeous landscapes you will ever visit in winter. Fly to Bozeman, then take a van to Big Sky (for downhill skiing), Lone Mountain Ranch (cabins and snowshoe or Nordic skiing) and West Yellowstone. Once there, you might find it tough to leave.
Last February, I strapped on snowshoes as well as cross-country skis for treks inside and just outside Yellowstone National Park. Picturing hordes of people? Not in winter. You might meet more bison than humans on some trails.
Local trails, x/c gear and snowshoes
Bring your own, or rent from Freeheel and Wheel, the hub of nonmotorized sports on Yellowstone Avenue, the main drag of “West,” as the locals call it. Kelli Sanders and Melissa Alder have made their coffee bar/apparel/gear shop a friendly, inviting hangout. This is the place to rent snowshoes and cross-country boots and skis, to sign up for lessons, and to get a flavor of the growing self-propelled sports scene.
“The Riverside Trail [five minutes’ walk from the shop] is the perfect trail for beginners and veterans,” says Kelli. “It winds in the forest and meets the Madison River for a beautiful, scenic Nordic ski loop, with panoramic views as well as buffalo, elk and many water fowl. A guide is not necessary to ski this trail but I would highly recommend one for a first-timer or beginner skier.” More comfortable on snowshoes? Not a problem; just stay to the side of the x/c tracks.
On your own, investigate the Rendezvous Trail system, more than 35 kilometers of gently rolling terrain. For a more advanced outing, hire a guide to explore trails in the surrounding Gallatin National Forest.
Excursions within Yellowstone National Park
Budget-minded folks can opt for a comfortable motel in West Yellowstone. Alternatively, immerse yourselves in the wonders of the great national park by staying at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge or Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Both have pleasant accommodations, restaurants, and shops.
Near Old Faithful itself and Mammoth are trails for every level of snowshoer and Nordic skier. Sightseeing and guided excursions can be arranged at your hotel or in West Yellowstone. No cars are allowed past Mammoth, but snowmobiles or snowcoaches – enclosed vans traveling via front skis and rear treads on top of packed snow – help you get around. They are noisy but after a few strides away on skis or snowshoes, you’ll hear nothing but creaking lodgepole pines, canyon waterfalls, hissing geysers and the cries of wolves and coyotes.
The exercise keeps you warm. The sense of adventure is magical. And the bears? They hibernate in winter, remember?