Meet Me at the Rendezvous: Cross-Country Skiing in West

Meet Me at the Rendezvous: Cross-Country Skiing in West

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St. Thomas, Mike

Twenty-five years ago, the US Cross-Country Ski Team encountered a problem with their early-season training in Cooke City, MT: too much snow. The solution? Move down the road to West Yellowstone and continue training there.

They’ve been coming back ever since. And why not? West Yellowstone offers some of the best cross-country skiing in the nation, with over 35 kilometers of groomed runs within the renowned Rendezvous Trail System alone. According to head groomer Doug Edgerton, who also served as the Chief of Course Preparation at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, the conditions are ideal. “We get reliable early-season snow,” he claims, which lingers thanks to the town’s notoriously frigid nights.” Edgerton says that he “grooms with a full-sized vehicle, five meters wide,” which is unique in this region. The wider trails give more space to both classic- and skate-style skiers—the classic tracks don’t hang off the edge of the trail, and freestyle skiers aren’t forced to skate over the pre-cut grooves.

Two major cross-country festivals bookend the town’s long winter. Over Thanksgiving, there’s the Yellowstone Ski Festival, a five-day event featuring two days of races, eight different cross-country ski clinics, free equipment demos by major ski manufacturers, and speakers including 1980 Olympic medalist and multi-sport phenom Beth Heiden. The races were part of the United States Ski and Snowboard Association’s (USSA) “Super Tour.”

On March 11th, 2006, the 27th annual Yellowstone Rendezvous Race comes to town, part of the American Ski Marathon Series. It normally draws between six and eight hundred skiers of all ages and abilities, and offers six races (five freestyle and one classic), ranging from two to 50 kilometers. This nationally-recognized event packs the town—“it’s the end-of-season celebration in West Yellowstone,” claims West Yellowstone Ski Education Foundation Director Jamie Greene.

Between the two major races, West Yellowstone settles into a quieter cross-country haven. “The quality of skiing on any given day in winter is outstanding,” exclaims Greene—it’s not unusual, he says, to ski 25 or 30 kilometers without seeing anyone. Depending on traffic and weather conditions, Edgerton grooms the trails three to five times a week, and season passes (December 1 – March 31) run only $25, while day passes cost $5. Greene admits that the resources offered to local cross-country aficionados are “one of the secrets about living here.” Whatever warms your Nordic wax—cross-country festivals, an Olympic-caliber trail system, or undisturbed skiing through miles of lodgepole pine and meadows—it’s all in West Yellowstone this winter.

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