CommunityYellowstone Festival Moves Forward with an Emphasis on Skiing and Safety

Jason Albert Jason AlbertNovember 6, 2020
Before Covid. A mid-winter photo of West Yellowstone bliss. (Photo: WYSEF)

With a massive low-pressure system flowing off the Pacific, over the Cascades, and onward to the Northern Rockies, it means the watch is on for snow in West Yellowstone.

But, these are not normal times. We’ve written similar sentences in the past. Yet the message remains essential when speaking of traveling from point A to point B. We’ll say it again: be safe.  

The 2020 Yellowstone Ski Festival is a go with some expected changes to the weeklong series of events running between Nov. 21-29. Upfront, let’s discuss the changes. For the racers, the traditional FIS cross-country races in West Yellowstone and the Yellowstone Altius Biathlon race have been canceled.

According to Rachel Spence, head of the West Yellowstone Ski Education Foundation (WYSEF), the Ski Festival Committee met Wednesday evening and decided to cancel. “We took all of the factors in, gathered all our info, and based on the increase in [COVID] cases and what the county was recommending. With what is going on, we just felt the right thing to do for the community, and for the safety of everyone was to cancel the races.”

Spence added that since the races are a non-essential event, this tough decision simply made sense.

Additionally, if festival-goers are expecting indoor waxing clinics or the vendor fair and fashion show, those too will be left off the schedule. In other words, the festival promises to remain true to its core mission, providing world-class grooming and skiing, and outdoor ski clinics. Some vendors may be outside near the trailhead to hand out wax samples, for example, but ski and boot demos will not be available.   

The upside is that in many respects, the show goes on. “The educational teaching clinics where we have had, in essence, over three to four hundred people annually, those clinics are still going on,” said WYSEF Board member Jack Hart. “From an educational standpoint and ski experience standpoint everything will be the status quo.”

If you have been practicing proper Covid-19 avoidance practices, nothing will seem strange in West Yellowstone. We all know the drill. Copy that for West Yellowstone – a town that experienced massive tourism this summer as millions visited Yellowstone National Park. Despite reduced facilities open inside Yellowstone, visitations were up this summer compared to 2019. The influx of tourists provided locals and business owners an opportunity to implement safety policies around town and inside local businesses.

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“A fall ski festival is going to be significantly less of an impact than what the summer was,” said Hart. “We had 2.5 million people come through our National Park gate this summer, so we were handling literally hundreds of thousands of people. I will say, it will be an easier event to manage from a COVID protocol standpoint.”

In normal years, the Festival attracts upwards of 5000 skiers and is the second-largest gathering of its kind in the U.S. This year, Spence and Hart said they expect roughly half that number. Although that is still a bump to West Yellowstone’s small population, it is a fraction of the tourist numbers the town managed from June through September. Spence said the town is scaling back, yet most restaurants and lodging remain open. Restaurant take-out services are already part of the paradigm. “After the summer, for everyone, this is not a new thing, we are set up for safety and businesses have their policies set.”

A West Yellowstone go-to: Freewheel and Heel is open for drinks, take away snacks, and ski rentals: no seating indoors.

“We are following city, county, and state-mandated guidelines, because bottom line, we know no one is going to come to West Yellowstone unless our customers feel comfortable here skiing,” reiterated Hart. “And we want to make sure that the general public understands that we are following those guidelines, mandates, and rules to the T, because obviously, we are not looking to make this a spreader event, we are looking to make this as safe as possible.”

Learn the drill in West Yellowstone.

As of July, Montana has a statewide mask mandate. The axiom on the Rendezvous Ski Trails will be safety-first. Skiers are required to wear a face-covering (buff’s OK) where remaining socially distanced is more difficult. This includes the ski trail’s main entrance, places where you may purchase a pass, and main trail junctions. Skiers will also be asked to wear a face-covering while skiing on the two trails leading to the main trail network. If a skier is sick, the local organizers ask that you avoid the trails. 

“I think the takeaway point is that we are asking for anybody at any trail junction, which is where we see people typically collect, we are asking for virtually no standing around. Social distance everywhere and wear a mask when appropriate,” Hart said.

Skiing at the 2020 Yellowstone Ski Festival will include grooming on the extensive Rendezvous trails. Organizers will not be grooming the South Plateau during the Festival. 

For up to date information, the best place to look is the Festival website or their social media channels. On-snow clinics begin on November 26.

Jason Albert

Jason Albert

Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.

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