Yellowstone in winter

Yellowstone in winter, on cross-country skis: Gliding through a wilderness of ice and snow

Yellowstone’s wilderness is reclaimed when the throngs of summer tourists leave and the temperature drops below zero. Most of the park’s roads and services shut down, and the landscape is transformed into an otherworldly land of ice and snow.

Relatively few people venture into the park at this time, just 17,262 overnight visitors last winter compared to the nearly 1.2 million overnight stays between June and September 2010.

The wildlife reemerges with the people gone, and wolves, foxes, swans, geese, eagles, bison and elk are more frequently seen at this time of year.

It’s also a prime time for cross-country skiing. Yellowstone in winter has plenty of trails for novices like us and experts alike. No matter the skill level, a ski trip in Yellowstone leaves you with a sense of the park’s beauty that is completely different from the busy summer months.

The Old Faithful Snow Lodge and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel near the northern entrance are the only accommodations inside the park during the winter season from mid-December until the first weekend of March. There’s usually plenty of space throughout the season, with Old Faithful normally running at about 70 percent of capacity and Mammoth about 60 percent full. The exception is Christmas, when the lodges are usually full.

But the adventure begins just outside the door with the iconic geyser as the main attraction. In winter its possible to find yourself alone watching Old Faithful hiss, gurgle and finally erupt in the twilight. Mother Nature putting on a show with the only other attendee a disinterested fox hopping on and off benches in search of some forgotten scraps.

Most wintertime visitors choose to tour the park by snowcoach or snowmobile. But there’s really no better way to become immersed in the park than with a pair of skis. There are the easy outings, such as the trails around the Upper Geyser Basin just outside of the lodge. Then there are the tougher ones, including arduous trails to the Continental Divide.

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