Yellowstone NP 2019
For however right or wrong or silly the reasons, I finally learned how to ski and got a pass that gave me access to a bunch of different places. I certainly have gotten outdoors for the winter, even though it hasn't necessarily been with a backpack...but what is fun about skiing is that it leads you to ski bars and people telling epic stories of where they've been and what they enjoyed. And I kept hearing about Jackson Hole. I kept hearing not just about the skiing, but how enjoyable the town was and how everyone seems to have had a great time. Thinking to myself that I had not seen the Tetons in over a decade, it was time. Not knowing what I was going to do, I fixed my snowshoes that had broken in Alaska, packed my bags, tossed myself onto a 14 hour plane excursion, and ended up in Jackson.
The skiing was good, but the snow was icy and fast, so a lot of the mountain was much out of reach for me. But after a solid full day of skiing, I had a great time on the mountain and am happy at progressing learning new skills. After returning and eating a delicious buffalo prime rib for one of the best meals I ever had, I finally went online and started my research...how could I get into Yellowstone in the winter...I knew the park was closed for cars (even capable ones like the trusty rental Renegade Trailhawk), and I would not be able to snowshoe in far...
Snow machine! Or as those from the lower 48 call it, incorrectly, a snowmobile.
I found a local guiding company and called them up, and sure they had room, so finally I found my way to get into the park. I had no idea the park fully closed on March 15th, so my unplanned timing could not have been better.
The time change to daylight savings could not have occurred at a more fortuitous time. The shuttle van picked us up in the dark, but as we were driving to Flagg Ranch the sunrise started to pick up and through the frosty windows we could see the first rays of morning sunlight start to hit the top of Grand Teton. The whole range just gradually lit up in this glorious golden morning sunlight, creeping down the mountains each minute. Seeing the sunrise on the Tetons in the winter is utterly spectacular. And what a gorgeous view; no fog, crystal clear blue skies all around, it was the sign we would have a perfect day.
We suited up as the early morning 18 below was a bit chilly, but I&ve already had experience in how to deal with the cold. But never been on a snow machine! I've been riding motorcycles for nearly 18 years, but this was something totally different. No countersteering, and the throttle was just a lever on the right side. The road was graded, but icy just like Jackson Hole and rutted, so the snow machine kind of wandered side to side wherever it wanted to go. So strange to be going forward but not able to keep the thing straight; by contrast a dog sled seemed much more in control as a driver! After the first five miles things felt a lot more comfortable.
So different then visiting Yellowstone in the summer; not just because of the snow, but just because there's no traffic jams! So wonderful. It was so cold the steam was just coming off of the rivers, not because they were heated, but just because it was so cold. It was so cold that I think it might have been ice fog, not steam. Covered in feet of snow, the lakes and canyons just look phenomenal and spectacular.
Our guide took our group to Old Faithful. So beautiful to see it in the winter, not just because of being surrounded by the snow, but just the lack of crowds! Being able to have your own spot, no one in front or behind or across, seeing the geyser steam and spout, such a unique experience. In the distance, bison were meandering around the geyser basin. But we wouldn't see them just from the distance...
After crossing some spots of bare pavement heated by the thermal features we went to the paint pots, and bison just started wandering down the road. As we were walking around, another group just started to walk by all the pathways and as we were rounding a corner around one of the mud pots, they were just right there in front of us! Of course we had to keep our distance, but seeing them just with the snowy ground and the steam in the background was like looking at a living postcard. All the documentaries do not do justice for how starkly beautiful Yellowstone is in the winter.
We took our snow machines back, now all a bit more trained doing longer runs and hitting some faster speeds. Quite a thing to go 50 on a snow machine! And in the warmer areas we kept seeing a bit more wildlife. In the end, we were joined at some point by a bald eagle, a coyote, a cow and calf moose, lots of bison including one that was playing "king of the mountain" on top of an exposed ridge, a flock of trumpeter swans and a huge beaver. For the south of Yellowstone being so cold that most animals migrate away, we saw a great variety for sure!
After refueling the snow machines it was time to head back into town, and in the light we could see the large herds in the elk refuge. Though from far away, I've never seen that many elk in one place ever. It is sad that Jackson interfered with their migration. I had never known why the refuge existed, but now I am glad it does.
Overall we did just shy of 100 miles on the snow machines. I wish I had more time there, to take a snow machine in along with some snowshoes and a tent, go tromping out on Lewis Lake, explore over days into the backcountry basin by Shoshone Lake.
Yellowstone and Grand Teton in the winter are mindblowingly spectacular, and I am so glad to have been able to experience them in this special season. Jackson is a wonderful town with great food, great breweries and a good character. Jackson Hole has some beautiful ski trails. But the wild keeps calling my heart. I will be returning here again. I will learn cross country skiing to get into the backcountry.
Jackson has it all.
Picutres were from the a900 system with the 24-70 and 70-400 lenses.
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