Quick Rips: Episode 1
End of the Road... a Yellowstoned Weekend
video/photos by: Willy Nevins
words by: Alister Horn
It was about a decade ago that I first heard of Cooke City, MT, pinched between the Absaroka Mountains and the Beartooth Range. The first rumors (no road, sleds only, endless terrain, cold as shit) were from more adventurous Wasatch-based skiers I knew, and once it was on my radar it just kept pinging. Around that time we started connecting with snowboarders from Bozeman, and from the way they spoke about it I knew that it was only a matter of time. So, early last season, during an uncharacteristic lull in snow in the Wasatch, the stars aligned and a small crew of Chimera riders (Willy Nevins, Zach Higgins and myself from SLC, Tanner Crow and James Black already in the area) convened in Cooke City for a few days of snowboarding and recon. It went well, and here is a rough guide to Cooke City for anyone who is curious. As always, apologies to any locals hoping to keep the secret. I’m not giving away anything that couldn’t be found through a lazy skim of social media or the internet, and we’re always careful to preserve any truly secret gems that are divulged to us in confidence. No names are given here, but it is not hard to look at trip reports and Google Earth and find yourself some really fun skiing.
Getting there: Cooke City isn’t nowhere, but you can sure see it from there. From SLC it’s a (beautiful) day’s drive, mostly along country roads, including several hours driving through the northern end of Yellowstone National Park, dodging geysers and tipping sleeping buffalo (JK, don’t go anywhere near the geysers). (To clear up misunderstandings, in the winter there is only one road into Cooke City; from the west, and through the Park. East out of town is packed snow and snowmobiles only. The Park road is paved, open all day long, and gates appear to be unmanned; in either case, there was no need for us to pay park entry fees). Flying into Bozeman is not cheap, and you’ll still need to commit to a few hours of driving. Finally, while snow-mobiles are not totally necessary, they’ll broaden the experience considerably.
Staying there: There are some rentals, and some modest lodging in town, but Cooke City is a major sled destination so lodging gets filled quickly. RV camping is certainly an option, and the town is set up well for it (small enough to walk, or ski, around; public restrooms; parking lots that aren’t a bust) but bring a small dog or other sleeping bag partner…it’s cold. On the topic of cold, bring every puffy you own and bring at least 2 on your tour. If you’re not used to time on snowmobiles, it’s hard to describe how damn cold they can get, and in Cooke City your chances of a sled ride at some point are good.
Eating there: Not a whole load of options if you’re fussy, but if you’ve just toured and are ready to assimilate anything containing salt and fat, it’s fine. At some point you’ll end up at the Miner’s Tavern; be prepared to meet anyone you might have ran into that day. If you can’t stand 3-4 days of straight pizza, don’t forget to stop off for groceries long before the Park (from the west, Bozeman) otherwise it’s gas station cuisine. Any Ernest Hemingway fans should know that the Miner’s Tavern was apparently a favorite stopping spot (or, at any rate, a place to stop) so if you feel moved to sniff his seat or order a double-bourbon, take note.
Splitboarding in Cooke City:
The snowboarding is great. We focused on low hanging fruit, and were treated to burn tree glades, steeper complex lines, pillow zones and some of the funnest mini-golf I’ve ever ridden. Big-mountain committing lines are also abundant. Very generally, south of town is the Yellowstone National Park boundary, with access right from town, and everything from short-day tours to mammoth traverses. A lot of steep, complex terrain, and high winds, so as always you need your brains tuned into snow conditions. There is obvious and fun terrain a short ski due north of town, some of it more manageable and a good way to get started with an easier day or two just getting familiar with the snow and region. The Fin is an arresting sight from town; a large, tempting east-facing flank of Republic Mountain, and totally skieable from town (we did not). The Fin is very much avalanche terrain, and deserves a lot of respect, as does much of the terrain around Cooke City. Also from town, a boot-packable and highly enjoyable pillow zone. Just look south of town and set your sights about 500’ high...
With access to a snowmobile, access into the Beartooth range really starts to open up east of town. If sharing sleds, you can use them simply for access to some really great yo-yo splitboard tours. If you’re more comfortable making your own trails, then there are seemingly endless zones to set up laps, and really clock-up some vert. One of the days, logistics had me skinning a few miles along the packed snow road east of town, and there were no end of friendly snowmobilers stopping and asking if I wanted a ride. If you’re willing to do a little research into where you wanted to ride, to stick out a thumb, and to buy some beers at the Miner’s Tavern, I'm willing to bet you get snowmobile bumps all day long.
We loved it. Above is a short edit we made to give a little flavor of the trip but, as always, the edit scratches the surface of the experience. A great crew, a little investment in time, and even little-to-no access to sleds, and you’ll find gold in the Beartooths.