Snowmobiling in the wilds of West Yellowstone - A different family vacation

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 01:00


MINUS 36 CELSIUS…WHAT THE! A variation of 74C in just 24 hours certainly (39C to -36C) makes for a different family vacation. How you can go from heat exhaustion to the risk of frostbite is an education and also a bit of fun so join us on a very different sort of family holiday.

2013 was a torrid year for the Crown Prince. After 13 years of schooling, it all came down to his final VCE exams in the October. Brax had set himself some goals early on in the year and as an added incentive, I told him that should he achieve the mark he sought, I’d take him to Montana to go snowmobiling with our great Canadian friends, Scott and Gaby.

In an unexpected turn of events, the Vixster was retrenched from her company mid-year and decided to have a few months off before heading back to work. It was decided that the “Boys Trip” would become a family vacation. So in the first days of February with the mercury pushing into the high 30’s we arrived at Tullamarine, battling the lengthy lines at of the registration and immigration processes before boarding the flying kangaroo for our flight to Los Angeles.

Landing at LA more than a little tired we made our way through customs speedily and crossed to the separate domestic terminal for our connecting flights via Salt Lake City (SLC) to Bozeman, Montana. We had an anxious wait at the gate as our Delta flight was delayed several times leaving us with less than 20 minutes on the ground at SLC between flights. You know you are in a different land by the blanket of white covering the Midwest. The entire country was carpetted with deep snow. We hit the ground running at SLC, the chill and fogged breath deplaning onto the tarmac an indication of the arctic conditions to come. We made it across the five terminals to our Bozeman departure gate with a couple of minutes to spare.

Landing at the smaller regional airfield at Bozeman, the temperature had dropped significantly prompting us to unpack our down jackets. Wandering into the baggage claim area we were jumped by Gaby who had been lurking in a nearby gift shop. With bags collected Scotty swung by in the truck with a 27 foot trailer on behind. It was a bit of a squeeze but we managed to get the five of us squared away and began the 2 hour drive east into the Mountains and Yellowstone.

I just love the Montana mountain country and it was vastly different from our trip through the area some 16 months previously. Then it was early autumn with warm days and magnificent green forests. This visit it was a monochrome existence of greys, blacks and white. We arrived at Yellowstone with the temperature plummeting to minus 28C.

Ninety miles east of Bozeman, West Yellowstone is a town of some 1200 people. The town was founded in 1908 with the arrival of the Oregon Short Rail Line. The town’s history mirrors closely that of Yellowstone National Park. Early guides would have lead their clients into the park by following the course of the Madison River through the area that would one day become West Yellowstone.

Later in 1908, the first train loaded with tourists arrived on the Oregon Shortline railway extension. Over the course of several years, the track was constructed up from Ashton, Idaho through Island Park, Idaho, over Targhee Pass and into West Yellowstone, promoting development of the town at “the end of the line”.

The population swells during the summer, the many hotels, cafes and stores coming to life to service the tourist population. The western gate to the park is situated right on the edge of the town. Many enthusiasts also arrive in winter to snowmobile the extensive network of forest trails in the wilderness surrounding the park boundary. We would be joining them this year.

In an ominous sign of things to come, we noted the fact that West Yellowstone also holds the record low temperature for the lower 48 states at -66 °F (-54 °C),

After a good nights sleep, a hearty breakfast, we emerged into a grey day with snow falling. It was quite cold at -26C. At this temperature, every bit of airborne moisture freezes and drops to the ground making the air very dry. Snow is so cold as to be like powder. It will not stick to you and unless warmed to melting point, you do not get wet. The snow cannot be formed into a snow ball unless you take your gloves off and melt it enough with body heat to get it to bind together.

To be continued....
''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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