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Making Tracks: Spring Skiing in Yellowstone National Park

Mar 18, 2019 05:39PM
By Lisa Ballard & Photos by Jack and Lisa Ballard

Yellowstone National Park, the nation’s first national park, is a mecca for wildlife watchers, backpackers, hikers, and anglers. Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and Mammoth Hot Springs are just a few of the many famous features in this internationally renowned, 3,500-acre public marvel of mountains, lakes, geysers, and other geothermal formations. The park attracts more than four million visitors each year, mainly during the summer and early fall. Only about 4 percent come the rest of the year.

It’s tougher to get into Yellowstone when the snow starts falling, usually by the end of September. Many of the roads to and through the park close, but Nordic skiers, backcountry skiers, and snowshoers still come to explore parts of its 1,000-mile trail network or zig-zag to the top of a 9,000-foot ridgeline and then float down a powdery slope. In the spring, that powder becomes delightful corn snow.

Last May, my husband Jack and I met several friends atop Sylvan Pass (elevation 8,530 feet), a high point in the road that enters Yellowstone from its east gate, 53 miles west of Cody, Wyoming. An avid skier, I had heard rumors about Yellowstone’s untracked bowls and glades and longed to experience them. No lifts, of course, but having skied Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington almost every spring since the early 1980s, I didn’t mind hiking for my turns. It had become a rite of spring. This year, the climbing would simply be in a different, albeit much higher, place.

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