Whenever I’m away from home too long, I get a serious case of Yellowstone withdrawal. Because I grew up so close, I visited the park at least twice a year from the time I was too young to remember. Since I’ve been away, Yellowstone is always one of the main places I ended up missing.
Usually I’m able to head back home at least once a year and squeeze in a visit to the park. But during my time in grad school, I typically only made it home over winter break, which isn’t the ideal time to visit Yellowstone. When the roads are too icy, we don’t risk the drive. Thankfully, winter break 2018 granted us nice enough roads to make it down to the park for a day of skiing. And, you know, a day of fixing my serious case of withdrawal.
Most of Yellowstone isn’t open in the winter, but the northern section of the park is. We headed in through the Gardiner entrance and drove up to the Mammoth Hot Springs Upper Terrace. Beyond the parking area, the main road is closed to vehicles and the Upper Terrace Loop Road is open only to skiers and snowshoers.
So, my mom and I strapped on our skis and headed off on the familiar path around the 1.4 mile (2.2 km) Upper Terrace Loop Road. We’ve skied the loop many times before; but this time, at around the mile mark, we veered off onto the Snow Pass Trail. This trail ascends about 700 feet (215 m) in 1 mile (1.6 km) – a rather steep climb on cross-country skis, especially when it’s icy and there are lots of trees to dodge – to Snow Pass and then continues for about 3 miles (4.8 km) down the other side and back around to the road. From there, it’s a 2 mile (3.2 km) ski down the main park road (this is the portion that’s closed in the winter) back to the car.
It was just above freezing and sunny when we set off on our trip, but by the time we reached Snow Pass it was cloudy and extremely windy – weather that stayed with us for most of the rest of our trek. We never actually determined if it was snowing or just blowing. Whatever it was doing, the snow was being driven horizontally into our faces. We were thoroughly windblown and red-faced and plastered with snowflakes by the time we escaped the worst of it.
With the help of multiple layers and those nifty little hand and foot warmers, we stayed plenty warm despite the brutal wind. This was the farthest we’ve ever skied in a day (7 miles/11 km in total) but we really enjoyed it and it was a good challenge as well.
Plus, I was finally reunited with one of my favorite places!
To read my previous who-knows-how-many Yellowstone posts, click here.