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West Yellowstone 2005: An Excursion to the Rendezvous Ski Trails

Wed, Oct  11, 2006 - By Toby Markowitz

I wanted to experience West Yellowstone (West) and the ski festival in 2005 so one day over post-workout coffee I mentioned this thought and Jake said he'd like to join me. Shortly, we had reservations and agreed to meet in Bozeman. I arrived early to visit some friends and spend a day at the University so we met on Saturday.

We decided to start the West Yellowstone adventure on the Saturday preceding Thanksgiving figuring we would ski Sunday, Monday and Tuesday then return home Wednesday in time for the holiday. This worked very well for us. At two workouts per day, I got over 10 hours of skiing in three days. The routine was classic in the morning when the temperatures were low, lunch in town, brief nap then skate in the afternoon.

West is 6800 feet altitude. There is enough change from Minneapolis (900 feet) to be very noticeable. The Rendezvous Trail system comprises gently rolling hills with an elevation change of about 300 feet. The notion of gentle trails with altitude makes ski outings an interval workout for us flatlanders. Don't get too excited about skiing here and returning to the midwest to find yourself blowing away your friends because you've done an altitude camp. To see the benefits of altitude requires lowering your volume and acclimating to the altitude. With great trail conditions and beautiful scenery, the last thing we wanted to do was refrain from skiing. We came home exhausted and you will too, but you'll have a smile on your face, your ski legs underneath you and bragging rights that are priceless.

Being in West from Saturday through Tuesday allowed us to enjoy the trails with just enough others that it was fun but not crowded. We saw Professional, college, high school teams, private clubs and a few duffers like ourselves. It seemed like every few minutes we'd see a group of team jackets that we had not seen before so the mantra was to yell "where are you from?" While some of the college skiers were a little aloof, the majority of responses included smiles and warm greetings. Skiers were present from the East to the West and up to Alaska. The Nor-Am races following Thanksgiving brings top racers. Ski technique and conditioning we observed on the trail was inspiring. As our days passed, the number of skiers in town grew and we heard it was a bit crowded after we left.

Major manufacturers are present with equipment demos. The expo started Tuesday evening so we attended the first night and then departed the next morning. I had a meeting in Belgrade prior to our departure so we left early. If one were organized (not I) it would have been feasible to ski early Wednesday morning, pack, checkout and depart.

In summary, we planned to get plenty of skiing and be home for the Thanksgiving holiday. For 2006, we invite you to join us. Rather than arranging group travel we will simply publicize our itinerary so others can join. With two of us in a rental car from the Bozeman airport we paid the same as the price of the shuttle and had the flexibility of doing lunch on the way down at Big Sky and dinners at some good restaurants just out of West.

The Skiing

Montana is on Rocky Mountain time, one hour earlier than Central time, Minneapolis. While we might have claimed a number of excuses for poor performance on the ski trails, jet lag was not a valid one.

The dry mountain air was breathtaking. While we describe the trails as gentle rolling hills, the altitude was a challenge. I wore my heart rate monitor and quickly realized that my sking was very much like the intervals I had been doing both dryland and on roller skis. I would ski as easy as I could but my heart rate would rise to the high end of level 3 fairly quickly so I would stop and not start until it fell to level 1. I had no choice. On the 3rd day, I observed a friend starting the wimp skate and realized I had forgotten this O2 saving mode. We started doing this and it helped, a little, maybe the biggest benefit was this gave us a chance to practice for the Birkie. I can't tell you that doing intervals leading up to this trip helped, but I believe it was good training. We did drink a lot.

We overheard one of the local ski shop owners explaining that they carried klister but they never used it. The snow is so dry that the worst condition we encountered was a slight glazing of the classic track but hard wax worked well all week for morning skiing. We used Rode Multigrade Blue the entire week with success. We were able to ski up the hills, oxygen permitting, and had good glide. Jake commented that the skiing was much like the midwest but without oak leaves. Our hotel had a heated tent with ski benches so one might bring grip and glide wax, an iron, brushes, and scrapers.

Although the sun was bright, much of our skiing was in the trees so we had little exposure and did not use sun block, but those taking long walks in sun drenched areas might consider doing so. Our skin felt dry so we used frequent applications of moisturizer. We both experienced "Winter Epistaxis". This was not a major problem although is was a nuisance and was, in part, responsible for poor sleep. Perhaps, this supports the somewhat short trip. You may wish to bring vaseline for the nares.


We traveled Northwest 1271 leaving MSP at 1130; arriving BZN (Bozeman) 1pm. I was already in Bozeman and Jake arrived Saturday. Their website does not yet allow reserving flights or checking prices for the day prior to Thanksgiving 2006. We reserved a car through National and picked it up at BZN. Leaving the BZN parking lot, I drove 1.7 miles to the Spotted Horse, which some may say serves the world's finest cup of coffee. Jake is not usually particular about coffee, however, he found his take out drink exceptional.

We were planning to have lunch at Big Sky so we headed down the canyon. It was quite late by the time we got lunch since most of Big Sky had not yet opened and it was difficult to find a lunch spot. On our way South through the canyon, we saw Bighorn Sheep by the side of the highway. Cutting our way through the rocky canyon was a nice start to our holiday. Next time we'll stop at the Spotted Horse not just for coffee, but to grab lunch, as well.

Our return flight was Northwest 1272 departing BZN at 155pm; arriving MSP 508pm. I had a meeting in Belgrade so when we were done, we checked our luggage at BZN and then returned to the Spotted Horse. Next time, we'll make sure we arrive early so we can check our luggage and ensure we get good seats. Parking at BZN is free for stays of less than 30 minutes enabling a quick checkin and visit to the Spotted Horse for lunch and coffee.

For those who wish to take an early morning flight out of BZN, I recommend staying in Belgrade (Holiday Inn Express) since the trip through the canyon may be tricky with snow, ice or animals crossing the road. We saw the carcass of an elk when we left Wednesday morning. This huge animal was impressively large, laying on the side of the road. The temperature in West was 5F. When we exited the canyon it was 32F and it was in the mid-40's at Belgrade.


See some pictures of Bozemanskiing, the  Factory Team, and Expo from the 2005 Yellowstone Ski Festival.

P.S. We're going again this year!