In 2004 the event’s name was changed to the Yellowstone Ski Festival to more aptly reflect its character and full scope. And a festival it truly is. The town of West Yellowstone gradually comes alive as skiers from literally across the U.S. and Canada begin arriving to shake out the cobwebs and get their first taste of the glide of the season. A slow crescendo builds as skier numbers mount to near 1,000. By the time the camps take off, the place is completely abuzz with all things Nordic skiing. Last year 3,200 cross country skiers passed through West Yellowstone in the days leading up to and including the Festival week. Many linger after the festival continuing to take advantage of what is often the only skiable snow in the nation.
The Yellowstone Ski Festival is also the first opportunity of the season for all the major ski equipment manufacturers to get in front of their buying public to hawk their wares. Opportunities abound to see and try new gear. Every evening for the entire week of the festival (except Thanksgiving Day), a consumer trade show is held in the Holiday Inn SunSpree Hotel. During the day you can’t get to the core of the Rendezvous Ski Trails without running the gauntlet of manufacturers tents and booths for the Try It and Buy It Gear Demos. It couldn’t be a more perfect environment in which to experience the new equipment – ski out to the site, slap on some demo gear, tool around the trails a bit and come back and try some more. When you’re done, you can just jump back into your own equipment and head out for a day’s skiing.
What truly impressed me the most about the festival, however, was the breadth of skiers there. Without exaggeration, there had to be skiers from every snow state in the U.S. – from New England to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Canada was well represented, too. It was like a meeting of every ski club on the continent. Most exciting were the many young skiers, there with their high school club or team to get some early on-snow time. College ski teams were everywhere doing the same, with many participating in the NorAm SuperTour races at the end of the week.
There’s another plus to make the early season trek to West. While there may be enough snow for skiing, there is not usually sufficient snow for snowmobiling. As such, the onslaught of snow machines that descends on this gateway to the Yellowstone has yet to begin. For once, the Nords are the majority and the town rolls out the red carpet. As it is still relatively early in the grand tourism scheme of things, many establishments are not yet open. But most of the hotels are open as are many restaurants. This influx of Nordic skiers is a tremendous boon to the town at this early time of the season which otherwise would be a quiet picture of desolation. And though hard numbers remain elusive, with over 3,000 people eating, sleeping (mostly) and playing in town for three to five days during a time when there is nothing else happening, the economic impact is significant .