We went to Yellowstone for our big winter vacation this year. Our first stop was a half day skiing around Mammoth Hot Springs.
We met up with my parents and flew commercial to Bozeman Montana. United Airlines continued their pattern of delayed flights. From there we took a shuttle bus to Mammoth Hot Springs. The following afternoon we rode the snow coach the rest of the way in to Old Faithful.
Skiing Mammoth Hot Springs
We had a whole morning at Mammoth Hot Springs before our scheduled departure on the snow coach. To make our life simpler, we rented a pulk rather than shipping ours from NH. After picking up a pulk from the ski shop, we took advantage of their free shuttle to the local trail heads. To be conservative, we chose the 2.5 mile upper terrace loop making sure we would get back in time for our afternoon snow coach. Ski trails map
We saw some large sink holes blowing warm air. They all had fences around them, and signs saying not to walk on the vegetation, so I couldn’t see what was at the bottom. At the summer time pull out overlooking the terraces, a small hot spring had recently broken through and was busy melting and corroding the pavement away. Orange Spring Mound was impressive, but behind it, there was another round dome with a small peak at the top that squirted a little water every few seconds.
Mostly there was enough snow on the trail. Right by the thermal features it melted out. The ski touring center put down synthetic turf carpets in those places. Looking north, the steep mountainsides and valleys were almost completely brown. The dominant storm pattern brings snow up from the south, dropping most of it on Jackson Hole and the Yellowstone caldera.
The second half of the loop was farther from the thermals — a nice snowy glide down through the woods. We had lots of time left, so I skied back up to the top for a second run. Then Isaac woke up and we ate lunch at the overlook above the main hot spring terraces.
Snow Coach to Old Faithful
The snow coach ride is a combination shuttle and tour. They don’t plow the roads in Yellowstone, so you have to take one of the tours in, or win the lottery for the few private snowmobile passes. We climbed up over the ridge and immediately found more snow in a high wide plain. Off towards West Yellowstone we saw large peaks covered in white, but they remained elusive off in the distance.
Entering the caldera, we stopped at Gibbon Falls. We passed many forests recovering from the 1988 fires. Swaths of identical height lodge pole pines pierced here and there by dead trunks almost twice as tall. We saw swans, ducks, geese, and a pair of bald eagles. We stopped at the Madison warming hut. A whole bunch of other tours stopped there too. Quite the traffic jam in the bathrooms.
We briefly stopped at a hot spring and reacquainted our nostrils with the sulfur scent of rotten eggs. And finally, almost to Old Faithful, we found a herd of bison blocking the road. Two snowshoers waited a ways back, hoping to eventually get through. With two snow coaches we convinced the bison to move off to the deeper snow and the snow shoers tucked in tight beside us.