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For years I had heard and read about the fall camps and early season skiing in West Yellowstone, Montana. It wasn’t until last November, however, that I finally got to experience it for myself. And aside from kicking myself for not having come to “West” at this time of the season before, my primary other reaction was that this is truly the Nordic happening of the early season in the United States. More than just a series of instructional training camps, the Yellowstone Ski Festival, as it has now become known, is a veritable homecoming of the sport – an annual ritual for many who trek to this corner of Montana at the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Rick Halling of Atomic Skis put it best, “It’s like the Birkie, every day of the week.” Not the competition, perhaps, but certainly the energy, camaraderie and passion for the sport.
The Fall Camps began in the ‘70s when the U. S. Ski Team had to move its training camp to West Yellowstone from Cooke City because they had too much snow. In the early days only the U.S. team and a few university teams were in attendance. Since then the Fall Camps have annually played host to national and factory teams where they often experienced domestic snow for the first time of the season.
"It's like the Birkie, every day of the week."
Five-, three-, one- and half-day camps are now the focal point of the six days around the Thanksgiving holiday. Coaches from across the country are imported to impart their vast knowledge to skiers of all ability levels. Based at the Rendezvous Trails in West Yellowstone, skiing opportunities are almost always plentiful. Never in its 28-year history have the camps been cancelled, though on a couple of occasions it was necessary to move to a higher portion of the trail system to find snow. Although it did arrive fairly late, finding snow was not a problem last year, and a three-inch topping on Thanksgiving Day provided a welcome icing on the cake.