Friday, January 19, 2018

Yellowstone, Stemple Pass, Skidway ski area

I sit here recounting the past week that included a trip to Yellowstone's Mammoth Area (Sunday through Wednesday), some tele skiing at Stemple Pass (Saturday), and an exploration (Wednesday) of what remains of the Skidway Ski Area between Townsend and White Sulphur Springs on Deep Creek, while a January-Thaw Chinook is ruining all the snow.

Yellowstone's Gardiner/Mammoth area in winter

A couple of young bulls sparred outside our bedroom window at Mammoth

Steaming stream on Mammoth Hot Springs Lower Terrace

Winter weather bringing out the best in the hot springs

Looking down into Yellowstone River above the Tower Falls

We spent three days at the Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge at Yellowstone National Park, which we used as a base for a ski to Tower Falls and an exploration of the Mammoth Hot Springs upper and lower terraces.  The steaming pits set against the snow made the trip worthwhile.
We couldn't have had more beautiful weather, with temps in the 30s at day and radiant sunlight that made it feel warmer than that under clear skies.
There weren't many tourists.  We saw more wildlife, particularly elk and bison, than other people.
The area could use more snow, but we had enough for our purposes.
The lodge, though old and a bit spare, is beautifully designed in art deco motif, and we were warmed each night by the piano player expertly doing standards from the American Song Book.
The food wasn't too bad, nor too highly priced in the separate dining hall.  I didn't like walking across the icy parking lot in the dark to and from dinner, but the service there was outstanding because the help is just that:  helpful and ready to serve.
We traveled no further than Tower Junction, deciding that exploration where we were staying would be more worthwhile than traveling the 50 some miles to Cooke City on the other end, and then back again, which would have eaten loads of ski and snowshoe time.

Skidway on the way home

Katie on the ridge

From the ridge looking north toward Mount Edith in the Big Belt Mountains

Look closely and you'll see the old ski runs west of the trailhead.  Our route is in blue. 
The small Skidway Ski Area closed in the early 70s when I lived in Helena.  I had never visited it, but heard that the Forest Service had put in a 3.5 miles cross country ski/snowshoe loop near there and the Skidway Campground.
From White Sulphur Springs it is about 18.5 miles south and west on Highway 12.
There is a nicely plowed parking area right off the road and the ski begins to your right up the road to the campground.  
At about a half-mile the road splits.  If you want to do the full loop, go to your right (west).  If you want to see the campground area, which offers some hills for turns, turn left.  We did the full loop and followed the blue diamonds through mature Douglas fir to the ridgeline, the half-way point, a climb of about 650 feet.  We passed a couple of areas on the way up that looked as though they were narrow runs from the old ski hill.  The snow had iced up and wouldn't have been good for tele turns.  The top is broad and flat and offers great views in all directions and some other possibilities for tele skiing.
On the way down through the forest we saw many signs of elk, moose and deer that had been there recently.
Although this area is marked for cross country skiing, we saw greater snowshoe activity.
When the snow is good, this would make for a good backcountry trip, combined with a soak in the White Sulphur Springs Spa.

A reliable favorite:  Stemple Pass
Mark Hertenstein begins a descent with tele turns in the Poorman Creek headwaters off Stemple Pass

What started out as a tele turn trip in the Cadotte Creek area morphed into a great day of turns at Stemple Pass last Saturday.
There had been a big dump of snow in our area, but it translated into wet, heavy snow in Cadotte, making turns and even cutting trail difficult.
So, we turned our attention to Stemple and had a terrific day.
We found our low-angle open slopes on the lower portion of the North Meadow Loop, about two miles from where we parked at the pass.
We spent a pleasant afternoon in the headwaters of Poorman Creek carving turns in relatively heavy, but very skiable powder.

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