Bison on the ridgeline in Hayden Valley

Awoke up to light snow dusting our yurtlet, a lot warmer this morning, my nose hairs did not freeze as soon as I poked said nose out of the door. Another fabulous feast for breakfast.

Picking my way across streams

We decided to go on the medium level ski in Hayden Valley this morning. It was meant to be about 7 miles but ended up being a lot shorter (about 3.5) which we both found disappointing as we were really enjoying the ski and would have liked to have been out for longer. However the weather was set to deteriorate and I think most of the group wanted to call it quits so we headed down to Yellowstone Lake to see what ‘critters’ were out and about. We did have a great sighting of a coyote feeding on some road kill by a stream just off our road as well as a distant sighting of an otter and a handsome bison resting by the side of the Lake Hotel at Yellowstone Lake as well as several sighting of bison herds. The Lake itself was majestic, frozen white and expansive. 

Coyote feeding on road kill

Back to our skiing, it was a surreal experience heading off over rolling hills in a light snowstorm, making tracks through the fresh snow, sometimes cutting through to the underlying sage bushes. I am glad I was just behind our guide Ben as although it was harder work I had a good feeling of solitude, and got nice and warm. The transition between firm snow and then deep soft patches which went up to Ben’s knees was at times tough to navigate. I could be going along quite happily and then suddenly boompf into a soft hollow, which if one was not concentrating could lead to a faceplant.

Ben explained that the area we were skiing through had been part of Yellowstone Lake in times past. When it drained the marsh grasses and other grasses colonised the area and the bison and other herbivores help maintain the landscape. They keep the trees that try to grow in check  by eating saplings and rubbing against the bark of the older trees weakening them by ringing the bark. We stopped by a small glade where we found bison hair / fur hanging onto the bark next to areas that had been rubbed clean of bark.

We then transitioned to some old woodland on the side of the meadows. Felt very peaceful sheltered from the wind and snow. I really enjoyed picking our way through the trees, crossing snags and snow humps. We emerged on the far side of the wood to an open area called Crater Hills, a bit of a misnomer as there are no craters. Instead the geothermic hot spots caused the covering glaciers to melt slightly and deposit their debris which over time formed into rounded hills. Beautiful to see covered by snow. We experienced some more soft snow spots one of which caught John out big time. We then had a tricky descent with a ‘compression’ at the bottom. Another face plant and a lesson from Ben in how to get up in deep powder. One useful trick new to me was using my ski poles as a cross rather than in parallel to lever up against the snow. Useful when I started day dreaming a bit later and had my own face plant to practice getting up from.

We headed east along the tree line keeping the hills to our left aiming for an area of geysers and mud pots. We saw a herd of Bison ahead moving up the hill as they foraged for food. Took our skis off when we reached the main geyser area where we met up with the other group who were coming in the opposite direction. We all walked up Crater Hill to look down on Blue Geyser, very pretty. The outflows from the pool were stained green by algae and the pool itself was a deep blue green. I only caught the odd glimpse when the steam cleared slightly when the wind changed direction. It was a very unique experience to be picking our way round geothermal pools,  mud pots and small geysers on our skis rather than by foot. 

We headed back on the track the other group led by Piper had made which made for an enjoyable ski especially as the wind was behind us now. The sun showed its face and I was very happy. Blair showed us the scapula bone of a bison in the hot springs area which they had found on the way out. Apparently the older bison sometimes hang out by the hot springs where they die, although this has become less prevalent with the introduction of wolves into Yellowstone.

Rough outline of our ski trail, clockwise

See below for a video of our day followed by a compilation of photos. Press play to view