It has been an unseasonably warm and dry fall in Southwest Montana, with highs well above freezing and no snow events, but race directors are feeling better after the arrival of the first winter weather of the season.
The area plays host to two USSA SuperTour events in the coming weeks — at the Yellowstone Ski Festival on Nov. 28-29 in West Yellowstone, Mont., and at Bohart Ranch Cross Country Ski Center on Dec. 6-7 — and race organizers are confident about the snow situation, particularly in West Yellowstone.
According to Moira Dow, program director for the Yellowstone Ski Festival (YSF), there were 8 inches of snow at the Rendezvous Ski Trails as of Nov. 16. This is enough to hold the scheduled skate races at the trails, but in the event of a lack of snow, the races would be moved to a plateau six miles from West Yellowstone. As of Sunday, there was a base of 19 inches on the plateau, and according to the National Weather Service (NWS) temperatures should remain below freezing for the next seven days, preventing any significant snowmelt.
Dow explained that while it is difficult to drive to the plateau — which is usually reserved for snowmobilers — it is well set-up for hosting skiers. Two years ago, YSF organizers moved the races to the plateau, substituting two point-to-point races (a skate prologue and 9-kilometer individual skate race) in place of the scheduled full-fledged sprint and looping 10/15 k individual race. The plateau, however, isn’t as accommodating to spectators, and without a range, it is unable to host biathlon events.
Both of this year’s cross-country races are scheduled as freestyle, so organizers won’t have to worry about having enough snow to set tracks.
“We plan for the worst-case scenario and hope for the best-case scenario,” Dow said.
Fortunately, it looks like Dow and the YSF will not have to worry about the worst-case scenario. The NWS predicts a large-scale Pacific trough to move through the area over this coming weekend, bringing accumulating snow to West Yellowstone. In addition, temperatures are expected to peak at 30 degrees on Thursday and Friday before falling to near 20 by the weekend. The six-to-10 day outlook looks favorable as well, with temperatures remaining below normal and precipitation above normal — meaning snow should keep falling.
The six-to-10 day outlook looks favorable as well, with temperatures remaining below normal and precipitation above normal — meaning snow should keep falling.
However, conditions are less favorable at Bohart Ranch, located at 6100 feet elevation and 16 miles northeast of Bozeman, Mont. Bohart “has five or six inches of snow,” said ski instructor John Skemp, and is currently closed to skiers. The center also does not have snowmaking capabilities (nor does West Yellowstone).
Dragan Danevski, nordic program director for the Bridger Ski Foundation, remains optimistic. Three weeks remain until the SuperTour races, and “every snow we get from now on will stick” due to the frozen ground, Danevski said over the phone.
He explained that the sprint course only requires about four inches of snow before it can be groomed with a snowmobile roller.
Fortunately, as in West Yellowstone, the forecast looks favorable for additional accumulating snow at Bohart Ranch. The same system affecting West Yellowstone will bring a good chance of snow to Bohart Ranch, while the NWS calls for a high of 32 on Thursday before highs fall to the upper 20s by next week.
“We depend on nature,” Danevski said, and it looks like in Southwest Montana, skiers will get some help from nature in the next couple weeks.