The Cooke City Yurt

The Cooke City Yurt

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Pilney, Kathleen

Here’s a riddle for you: What looks like a Jamba boat, has seats made out of bike tubes, is pulled by a snowmobile, and is known for hauling scores of powder-hungry skiers and riders to some of the best backcountry skiing in Montana? It’s Bill Blackford’s makeshift snow shuttle, a cold-weather contraption that will, if you’re so inclined, drop you in the middle of snow heaven.

In addition to running shuttles to Daisy Pass—a favorite jumping-off point for snowmobilers, skiers, and snowboarders visiting the Cooke City area—Blackford has an alpine yurt for rent deep in the heart of the Custer National Forest, some nine miles from the nearest plowed road. The remote location and heavy area snowfall makes the yurt one of the wonders of the off-piste world for backcountry enthusiasts. "Back there,” Bill says, “it’s easy to find terrain that no one else has skied."

The yurt is located at the edge of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, above Lake Abundance and the Stillwater River. With a shuttle (or your own snowmobile), it takes about an hour from town. If you’re on skis, give yourself half a day—and that’s from the top of Daisy Pass. Options abound, however: get a full ride in; get dropped at Daisy Pass and ski the rest of the way in; ship your equipment via shuttle and manpower the entire nine-mile trek; or make your friends walk while Bill drives you in. No matter what your mode of transport, once you get there you’ll find that the yurt is ideally situated for forays into the surrounding mountains. Skiable slopes rise in every direction. A local favorite is Mount Abundance, which rises thousands of feet above the canyon floor.

The yurt sleeps six comfortably and is equipped with a cook-stove, pots, plates, utensils, bunks with foam pads, a wood stove, lanterns, and board games. You supply the food (and beer), sleeping bags, outdoor equipment, and fervor. Make sure to bring your avalanche beacon and shovel; out here, you’re your own ski patrol. Beacons can be rented at the Bike Shack or at any of the snowmobile shops in Cooke City.

Bill also provides guided backcountry tours. He says a guide isn’t necessary, but if it’s your first time in the area, it’ll save you time and sweat if he shows you the exact location of the yurt and the best slopes around it. He’s been skiing the mountains around Cooke City for years, so you can bet he knows a few hot spots. Bill says the key thing people should understand is the remoteness of the yurt. “Once you’re out there,” he says, “you’re committed to being there." This is not meant to scare you off, but as a reminder that such a trip takes planning. Bill suggests spending at least two nights out to make the trip worthwhile.

Given the distance and unpredictable weather conditions, coming out requires some forethought—with 2,100 feet of climbing between the yurt and the top of Daisy Pass, Bill recommends shuttle call-time be no later than 4:00 pm. After that, you might just be spending another night out. Because of the yurt’s isolated location, emergency contact may be of concern to visitors. No worries. Bill asks guests to provide an itinerary. If your itinerary seems to be unrealistic (or overly ambitious), Bill will be sure to dial you in. The yurt is only half a mile from the Wilderness boundary, which is monitored by the Forest service daily. Cell phones do work in the area, though some movement may be required to get a signal.

The Cooke City Yurt costs $90 per night, or $150 for a two-night stay. Each night thereafter is $75. A shuttle ride costs $40 per person round-trip. Otherwise, get a one-way ride to Daisy Pass for $15 and ski the rest of the way in. For more information, contact Bill and Tami Blackford at the Cooke City Bike Shack, 406.838.2412, or visit
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