The Most Incredible Cross-Country Skiing Festival You’ve Never Heard Of
The Rendezvous Ski Trails — all 35 kilometers of them — are groomed daily. Photo Courtesy: Destination Yellowstone
Almost 7,000 feet above sea level, and near the halfway mark between the equator and the North Pole lie the Rendezvous Ski Trails of West Yellowstone, Montana. The subarctic climate here delivers consistent snowpack from the beginning of November to the beginning of May, and the 35 kilometers of ski trails are bordered by Yellowstone National Park, itself a wintry landscape of snow-blanketed terrain, frozen waterfalls and geothermal geysers. It’s hard to imagine a more picturesque setting for the five-day Yellowstone Ski Festival taking place Nov. 20-24, with a schedule that includes a biathlon and various racing competitions, ski clinics taught by former Olympians and more. Ready to go? Here’s an itinerary to help you get the most out your adventure.
So you’re stoked to make first tracks, but first you have to get there. Area airports serving West Yellowstone year-round include Bozeman, Montana (BZN) 90 miles to the north and Idaho Falls, Idaho (IDA) 110 miles to the south. Or … you can always road-trip it!
Be sure to arrange lodging beforehand. For a more traditional hotel experience, book the Holiday Inn West Yellowstone or Gray Wolf Inn and Suites. If you’re looking for a more rustic and scenic stay, grab a cabin through Explorer Cabins at Yellowstone or get a ski lodge atmosphere with a room at Three Bear Lodge. For accommodations that are both comfortable and economical, check out the Brandin’ Iron Inn or Alpine Motel.
Day 1 — Learn from Experts and Check out Backcountry Flicks
Get your day started with a steaming cup from Mocha Mamma’s Coffee within the Freeheel & Wheel at 33 Yellowstone Ave. Their Espresso beans are locally roasted, and they offer a variety of milk and syrup flavors to customize your morning cup. If you need equipment rentals, you can get those here, too.
The five-day clinics at the festival begin at 8:30 a.m. Instructors range from former Olympic Team members to lifelong world-class Nordic skiers. Whether you’re a master racer or a casual skier, these clinics provide a solid understanding of technique and provide tools that help you gain efficiency and strength throughout the season.
Cross-country skiing crossed with target shooting … sounds easy, right? Come find out for yourself! If you want to participate in the festival’s Nov. 21 Biathlon, or just want to sample what participating in a Biathlon is like, then the 10:30 a.m. “Try it Biathlon Demo” lets you do just that. Just don’t forget to register — it’s limited to 80 participants.
After all the day’s activities you will have worked up an appetite. Take care of that with dinner at Bullwinkle’s West (115 N. Canyon St.). They have a huge variety of comfort food like sandwiches, burgers, pastas and steaks — just what you’re craving after a day out in the cold.
Cap off your day by attending the Winter Wildlands Alliance Backcountry Film Festival from 7 – 8:30 p.m. These films both inform and entertain, bringing some extremely breathtaking backcountry adventures to life. Consider it your inspirational fuel for the days ahead.
Day 2 — See a Biathlon, Followed by Whiskey and a Fashion Show
Get ready for an active day by limbering up and getting centered with a 7:30 a.m. Pilates and Yoga-based Stretch & Breathe session at the Holiday Inn. Limited mats are available, so it’s recommended to bring one if you have one.
The Biathlon starts at 10 a.m. If you’re not familiar, this sport combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting in a race where the contestant with the shortest course-completion time wins. Rooted in the early skiing traditions of Scandinavia where Norse god Ullr was worshiped as the deity of both skiing and hunting, the sport gradually evolved into a fitness exercise, eventually becoming an Olympic event in 1960.
For lunch, head to Soup Fest at the Rendezvous Trailhead Building to try some fresh homemade soups sold by the West Yellowstone Ski Team. The proceeds go to support the ski team, and really, what sounds better than some hot soup while you’re spending a day on the trails?
If the fellas in your party are looking to warm up and brush up on proper ski-waxing techniques, Willie’s Distillery from Ennis, Montana will be pouring for “Whiskers, Whiskey and Waxing” at the Holiday Inn at 5:30 p.m. (Don’t worry ladies, your gender-specific event comes on Day Four.)
At 9 p.m., end your day with some runway action at a Fashion Show, displaying the latest in slope style from DÆHLIE, Patagonia, Borah Teamwear, Bliz, Salomon, Rossignol and more.
Day 3 — Demo Gear, Stash Grizzly Grub and Give Thanks
Start your day at Euro Café (237 Firehole Ave.), whose menu offers an extensive breakfast selection to include lighter fare like scones, in addition to heartier plates like Breakfast Pizza (!), skillets, crepes and more.
From 10 a.m. until noon, check out the On-Snow Gear Demos, where industry vendors like Rossignol, Fischer, Madshus, Salomon and more will be there to talk gear with skiers. It’s a an awesome opportunity to make sure you get the gear that’s perfect for your needs, plus you have several days to try it out.
And, hey … in case you forgot, it’s Thanksgiving Day, and the Grizzly Bears want a feast, too! So at 1:15 p.m., “Help Hide Food for Grizzly Bears” with the Keeper Kids Program. Just make sure to sign them up at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center by 1 p.m., because space is limited.
As far as a Thanksgiving feast for you, The Branch Restaurant in The Holiday Inn at 315 Yellowstone Ave. has you covered. When was the last time you had Thanksgiving dinner in a museum-quality 1903 executive dining railcar? That’s what we thought!
What better way to finish off a proper Turkey Day than with a little tipple? The Slippery Otter at 139 Canyon St. is a great spot to sample some Montana craft brews, or anything else your palate may desire.
Day 4 — Learn the Ways of the Wolf and Listen to an Olympian
Starting at 10:30 a.m., the Naturalist Program at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center will teach you everything you want to know about the local wildlife (and we’re not referring to the patrons at the Slippery Otter last night).
At 2:30 p.m., the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center will be presenting “Wolfpack Chat,” a seminar focusing on the five Yellowstone wolves who live in three different packs and call the center their home. It’s a great way to get an up-close look at the normally secretive lives of wolves.
The fairer-sex counterpart to the aforementioned “Whiskers, Whiskey and Waxing” is “Women, Wine and Waxing,” and that will be happening from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn. If you’re a woman, like wine and would like to know more about waxing skis, then this is the place to imbibe and learn.
The Master Skiers presentation at 6:30 p.m. features Olympian Andy Newell. Besides his two Olympic appearances, his 2006 bronze medal in the World Cup Sprint Race was the first earned by an American Nordic skier in more than 20 years.
For dinner, enjoy some fine dining at Serenity Bistro (38 N. Canyon St.), whose menu offers a wide range of delicacies like Elk Tenderloin, Buffalo Tortellini, Twice-Cooked Quail, Trout Escalope and Wild Sockeye Salmon.
At 7:30 p.m., catch Wildlife Biologist Doug Smith’s presentation. He has studied wolves for more than 20 years, and is the project leader for the Wolf Restoration Project in Yellowstone, having been with the program since its inception.
Day 5 — Off to the Races, Wild West Pies and Medal Ceremonies
Kick off the final day of the fest by picking up breakfast at the Book Peddler at 106 Canyon St. At this truly unique shop, you can enjoy coffee and pastries while browsing a variety of vintage books and antiques.
It’s race day! The events begin with the Freestyle 10K and 5K races at 10 a.m., followed by the Masters Race 5K Freestyle at 11 a.m. and Juniors Race 5K Freestyle at 11:30 a.m. If you’re wanting to participate in any of these races, make sure to register beforehand.
Before heading to dinner, check out the Homeroom at Madison Crossing — a unique destination for rustic creations by local artisans, including cabin décor, kitchen gear, furniture and more.
Wild West Pizzeria & Saloon at 14 Madison Ave. is an awesome dinner spot. With pies named after Old West icons like Doc Holliday, Calamity Jane and Butch Cassidy, you can be certain this place will slay your hunger. And, you can always swing back later for drinks and live music starting at 8 p.m.
Finally, the Ski Festival Awards Ceremony takes place from 7 – 9 p.m. at the Holiday Inn, and the rewards are impressive — involving not only medals but also cash prizes. All athletes must be present to receive their awards, so if you competed and won, make sure to come and collect!