Welcome to West Yellowstone: Trailside Insight with Thor (and Video with the Elites)

Gabby NaranjaNovember 25, 2015

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont.–The list of athletes and clubs is seemingly endless. Skiers from from the elite to the novice cruise the Rendezvous Ski Trails at the 2015 Yellowstone Ski Festival. Though the range of abilities varies greatly from athlete to athlete, one point of contact connects all festival skiers together: Thor Godar.

“I am working for the entire week and I am the pass checker at the main entrance point,” said Godar, the one-way stop for all nordic skiers attending the event. “I’ve been doing this for about ten years; this is my 22nd fall festival. … I’m planning on having my ashes scattered somewhere on the trails. I just haven’t decided [which trail] yet.”

Thor Godar, West Yellowstone Ski Festival Trail Pass Checker and West Yellowstone native, chats with BSF elite athlete Jennie Bender Tuesday, November 24th. (Photo: Gabby Naranja)
Thor Godar (l), Yellowstone Ski Festival trail-pass checker and West Yellowstone native, chats with Bridger Ski Foundation skier Jennie Bender on Tuesday at the trailhead of the Rendezvous Ski Trails.

That’s dedication in it’s truest form. While most individuals attending the ski festival hit the trails in the morning, head out around 11 for lunch, and return again for the late afternoon, Godar remains at the trailhead from when athletes first arrive until their final departure, for the whole week.

“I have over boots, over gortex hiking boots. I have fleece lined jeans, and I believe I have three coats,” he said after examining his layers of protection for the long hours standing outside. “No matter what I wear on my hands my fingers get cold because I have Raynaud’s syndrome,” he added.

Eight hours in the cold is plenty long, regardless. However, with close to 4,000 people estimated to attend the festival, Godar’s time does not go unwarranted.

“Last year our best estimate was about 4,000 [skiers]. But it’s hard to know how to count them because most people are skiing twice a day and some of them have been here for three weeks already,” he reflected, “I’m going to say 4,000…But I’m the only one who looks them all in the eye.”

Montana State University nordic team captains Cambria McDermott and Lina Hulton in the stadium at the Rendezvous Ski Trails during the West Yellowstone Ski Festival in late November. (Photo: Gabby Naranja)
Montana State University nordic team captains Cambria McDermott and Lina Hultin in the stadium at the Rendezvous Ski Trails during the Yellowstone Ski Festival in late November.

While the occasional forgotten trail pass may induce Godar’s moralizing look, for the most part, he feels trails users appreciate his service.

“Some of them are very grateful that I’m here every year and they know me. Some of them probably hate my guts because I ask to see their passes — most of the high-end people are in a desperate rush to get to the trail,” he said. “So I would say that it varies. But, I’m kinda famous.”

Despite his claim to fame, Godar deems his return to the festival gates is all part of the atmosphere.

“It’s my favorite week of the year. It’s like a family reunion of a large highly dysfunctional family,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody else and people are hugging all over the trails, some of them propose marriage on the trails and, I love it.

“I’m a highly paid professional, but I might even do it for nothing,” he added.

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Gabby Naranja

Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.

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