West Yellowstone has been a center for cross country skiers seeking earl season snow for decades. But for the last two years, the Yellowstone Ski Festival's world-wide reputation for having reliable snow before anyone else in the lower 48 states has been put to the test. And, once again, local organizers have been up to the task!
Last year, 18 inches of coveted snow blanketed the Rendezvous Trail System in the 11th hour, allowing Super Tour Races and clinics to go off without a hitch. This year, the snow Gods were not so kind. Warm temperatures and rain kept the nearly 40km of trails unsuitable for races and clinics, and left organizers and participants alike wondering where they were going to ski, if at all.
In a remarkable display of resourcefulness and determination, ski festival directors coordinated with the U.S. Forest Service, USSA, local grooming experts, ski teams, factory reps, clinic participants, and a tireless group of local volunteers to move festivities to an area called the South Plateau. Six miles south and 800 vertical feet higher than West Yellowstone, the South Plateau offered an alternate location with a combination of Forest Service roads, snowmobile trails, and 10-12 inches of snow. Truckload after truckload of equipment was hauled up the plateau to plow and sand roads, create parking areas, groom and sign trails, establish race courses, and prepare 25K of competition quality cross country ski trails.
In the end, 1,700 skiers participated in five days of clinics and two SuperTour Races in a year when other western SuperTour venues such as Bozeman, MT and Utah's Soldier Hollow, host to the 2002 Olympic Games, were forced to cancel their events due to similar conditions.
USSA Nordic Director, John Farra was thrilled with the result. "Once again, West Yellowstone and its organizers came to the rescue and offered us not only a place to ski during the Thanksgiving holiday, put managed to put on SuperTour events for North Americas best cross country skiers," said Farra. "The skiers and racers were thrilled to get the chance to start their ski season once again in beautiful West Yellowstone."
The tradition of cross country skiers starting the season in West Yellowstone dates back to 1979, by some estimates. And this is not the first time that the races were run up in the Plateau. And while every year brings a different set of conditions, it is clear that skiers should never count West Yellowstone out, even when the skiing weather looks bleak.
So, once again, West Yellowstone can claim to have had reliable snow and ski racing by Thanksgiving! Skiers are already looking forward to next year!