A Beginner’s Guide to Nordic Skiing in West Yellowstone

Nordic Ski West Yellowstone Montana

As soon as the snow arrives, visitors to West Yellowstone can enjoy Nordic skiing as a part of the complete winter experience. Beginners and experienced skiers alike can explore more than 50km of groomed trails in and around West Yellowstone from November to April each year, weather permitting.

Below, we break down the basics to help you get started with Nordic skiing on your next West Yellowstone adventure.

Why should I choose Nordic skiing?

Nordic skiing is a winter activity suitable for visitors of all ages and fitness levels. West Yellowstone offers easily accessible trails for both classic and skate skiing. Kelli Hart, co-owner of Freeheel and Wheel in West Yellowstone, recommends that beginners try classic skiing first.

“Basically, if you can walk, you can classic ski,” said Hart.

Classic skiing incorporates a diagonal stride, an alternating forward motion of the legs and arms similar to walking or running. The familiarity of the stride can make classic skiing a more manageable method for beginners. It can also be a more stable option for newcomers who struggle with balance. In addition to working out the entire body, classic skiing is a low-impact activity that is easy on the joints.

Skate skiing incorporates a forward skating motion with the skis in a V-shape, which can be more challenging or tiring for beginners unaccustomed to the altitude. If skate skiing looks more fun, visitors are welcome to take a lesson or rent the gear and try it out on their own.

Where can I ski?

The accessibility of Nordic skiing in West Yellowstone makes it an appealing winter activity for visitors, especially for those with limited transportation options. Freeheel and Wheel, the local ski shop offering gear, rentals, and lessons, is walkable from any of the hotels in town. From there, its only a short trek to three beginner-friendly trails.

  • Boundary Trail (Free): Dogs are welcome on this trail! Visitors can access the trailhead at the end of Boundary Street on the northern edge of West Yellowstone. The trail runs along the boundary of Yellowstone National Park toward Baker’s Hole campground. It is groomed for classic skiing on a need-to basis, usually once or twice a week.
  • Riverside Trail (Free): This trail enters Yellowstone National Park from Boundary Street and offers skiers stunning views of the Madison River and Gallatin Mountain Range. Visitors might even catch a glimpse of the elk, bison, or moose that frequent the area. The Riverside Trail is also groomed for classic skiing as needed.
  • Rendezvous Ski Trails ($190 per family season pass, $100 per individual season pass, $15 per day pass): The Rendezvous Ski Trails make up West Yellowstone’s premier trail system. The trail system includes 40km of trails groomed daily for classic and skate skiing. The relatively flat terrain allows beginners to gain confidence while the gentle hills offer entertaining challenges.

Additional trails can be found in Yellowstone National Park and north of town along Highway 191. Whether enjoying a leisurely ski or a challenging workout, beginners will be surrounded by spectacular winter scenery-regardless of the trail.

“What I like about our trail system, whether its the Rendezvous or another, is that you feel like it’s your own,” said Moira Dow of the West Yellowstone Ski Education Foundation. “There are so many kilometers and-just the way the trails are laid out-you feel like you have your own personal trail system.”

Rendezvous Ski Trails West Yellowstone Montana

What will I need?

Beginners don’t need to worry about purchasing expensive equipment to take part in Nordic skiing. Freeheel and Wheel offers gear rentals, including skis, boots, and poles. The shop also offers private and group lessons for both classic and skate skiing.

“The easiest way to get started is to take a lesson,” recommended Dow. “Nordic skiing can be intimidating, but don’t be scared.”

What should I wear?

Since Nordic skiing is a full-body experience, beginners can become overheated if they overdress and work up a sweat.

“If you’re slightly cold when you start, that means you’re going to be just right,” said Hart.

Hart recommends that beginners layer like an onion-incorporating breathable wicking materials, base layers, and light shells. Wool socks, gloves, hats, and neck gaiters can also help skiers stay warm, but avoid overheating.

What if I fall?

Visitors new to Nordic skiing occasionally express concern about recovering from a fall and opt for snow shoes instead. Though it can initially be difficult for a beginner to return upright after falling on skis, Hart urges newcomers not to be intimidated.

“People do feel like they may have more control on snow shoes, but I’m always surprised at how we can usually talk people into skiing instead.”

The gentle glide and pace of Nordic skis impart an added level of enjoyment to an outdoor winter excursion. Beginners eager to explore the area may also be able to cover more distance on skis versus snow shoes.


West Yellowstone offers a number of Nordic ski events throughout the winter season. Beginners can take advantage of ski clinics and novice races during the following events to build their skill sets and gain confidence on the trails.

Rendezvous 25K start West Yellowstone Montana

Rendezvous Race. Yellowstone Photo Studio

  • Yellowstone Ski Festival (Week of Thanksgiving): Each November, the Yellowstone Ski Festival offers clinics and races for skiers of all levels. Beginners can participate in novice events, volunteer, and draw inspiration from the elite athletes and world-class racing.
  • Free Ski Day: (January 2, 2022): Visit West Yellowstone in January to take advantage of Free Ski Day. Participants can ski the Rendezvous Trails for free and take part in a free, one-hour lesson for classic or skate skiing. Freeheel and Wheel also offers free gear rentals on a first come, first served basis.
  • Taste of the Trails (February 19, 2022): This supported 5K race is open to skiers of all levels and offers four food and drink stations en route. Beginners have the opportunity to ski the Rendezvous Trails at their own pace and enjoy delicious fare along the way.

Whether you are new to the sport or a seasoned veteran, West Yellowstone is a Nordic skier’s wonderland. Beginners can plan their trip around a particular event, schedule a lesson, or simply try it out on their own. With endless trails and beautiful scenery, Nordic skiing can be the perfect addition to your winter West Yellowstone adventure.