West in the Winter

West Yellowstone dog sledding
West Yellowstone winter
West Yellowstone winter

West in the Winter

Swenson, Wendy
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So much to do, so little time. 

On December 15, the west entrance to Yellowstone Park opens to a unique experience and adventure. Each day, commercially guided snowcoach and snowmobile tours travel over groomed snow-covered roads to popular destinations inside the wintry heart of the Park. Interpretive guides conduct all tours and are local experts who can provide a wealth of information about Yellowstone that you would never read in a guidebook.

No other season rivals the wonder of Yellowstone in winter. Erupting geysers and hissing vents propel amazing clouds of steam into clear blue skies. This winter looks to be exceptional in West Yellowstone, with an annual snowfall average of 143 inches. The streets of West Yellowstone remain snow-packed all season, providing a trailhead literally at your front door. Ski or snowmobile from your hotel or motel to an extensive trail system, including a 400-mile groomed snowmobile trail system that winds through the southern reaches of Montana and into Island Park, Idaho, and over 35 kilometers of varied terrain on the Rendezvous Ski Trails on the southwest edge town. Not to mention all of the miles of trails to the north and west of town. 

The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center is open year-round (these grizzlies don’t hibernate) and offers kid-friendly activities and presentations, including “Birds of Prey” and Keeper Kids. Weekly presentations by Yellowstone Park rangers can be found right in West Yellowstone at the Visitor Information Center. The local skating rink and sledding hill, located at Pioneer Park, are open daily and rentals are available.

Winter brings a variety of events to West Yellowstone. Monthly, Kids‘N’Snow weekends offer an assortment of low-cost activities introducing families to winter activities including ice skating and sledding, snowshoeing, dogsled rides, M120 snowmobile demo rides, winter learning programs, and Saturday night s’mores. This year’s winter series run December 17 through March 6.

Ski events include the annual Yellowstone Ski Festival held Thanksgiving week each November, and the annual Yellowstone Rendezvous Race in March, the area’s only marathon cross-country ski race. Make it a weekend and bring your camera for the Youth Ski Festival on March 6. Young skiers compete in lighthearted events like musical chairs, relay races, and the obstacle course. Or try one of the citizen ski races, open to every age and racing ability; winners take home the highly coveted SPAM can trophies. The Rendezvous Ski Trails also host the growing sport of winter biathlon, which combines Nordic skiing and shooting. For a fun time, visit the second week of February for the annual Taste of Trails, a casual snowshoe or ski event with food stations along the way.

December kicks off the beginning of the sled-dog race series in West Yellowstone as well. West Yellowstone Sled-Dog Races will host three events this winter, starting with the Rodeo Run Races in December that includes ski-joring (dog and human). Mushers and their teams are available for a meet and greet during the Christmas Stroll on December 17. The series continues in January with the Fun Run, when professional mushers from all over the world converge on West Yellowstone to train their teams at high elevation in preparation for the International Pedigree Stage-Stop Sled-Dog Race (IPSSSDR). The 2nd annual Yellowstone Special Stage race is a three-day race designed with the smaller kennels in mind, and will take place February 29 – March 2.

In January, the NAIFC Ice Fishing Tournament takes place on Hebgen Lake, just north of town. This official North American Ice Fishing Circuit event on Hebgen Lake at Kirkwood Resort & Marina is winter’s equivalent of summer’s big-time bass and walleye tournaments, filled with seminars, a kids’ workshop, and the fishing competition itself. The West Yellowstone / Hebgen Lake Tournament, like all NAIFC qualifiers, is a three-day event, two-thirds education and one-third competition, with a maximum entry of 150 two-person teams. For those three days, West Yellowstone becomes the center of ice fishing with tremendous fishing-education opportunities on Friday and Saturday and world-class competition on Sunday. 

The 26th Annual Snowmobile and Power-Sports Expo culminates the winter with snowmobile events, a vintage snowmobile show and racing, M120s, concerts, and the Exhibition Hall where snowmobile manufacturers showcase next year’s models all at one place at one time.

If it seems like a lot is going on this winter in West, that’s because there is. Head down and check it out.

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