When spring comes to West Yellowstone, the days gradually grow warmer while the nights stay crisp and cold. These unique weather conditions can only mean one thing—it’s time for crust cruising!
What is crust cruising? When the snow warms and softens under the spring sunshine, it refreezes overnight into a smooth, sparkling crust. Skate skiers can effortlessly glide, or “cruise,” over the crystalline crust without sinking into the deep snow beneath. Skimming across the surface of the spring crust allows skiers to quickly and easily cover a large amount of territory. Those who venture forth have the freedom to ski across areas that would be difficult to access in the middle of winter—giving them the opportunity to explore the spring scenery off the groomed trail.
“It’s so magical, it’s like you’re skiing on ball bearings,” said Kelli Hart, co-owner of Freeheel and Wheel in West Yellowstone. “You can go anywhere, you’re not on a groomed trail. You can look over to the east or the west and see an open snow field and just head for it.”
Spring weather in Montana can be unpredictable, however, and crust cruising is entirely dependent on the perfect combination of warm days and cold nights. Conditions may appear as early as March or as late as May. Look for daytime highs in the 40s and 50s paired with nights that dip into the 20s, teens, or single digits for the ideal crust conditions. If nighttime temperatures drop well below freezing, skiers might be able to crust cruise until about noon the next day. But when temperatures only dip just below the freezing mark, skiers have to be more careful and may only be able to crust cruise until around 11am. The key to crust cruising is to get an early start before the snow turns to mush!
“Waking up early and being part of the ecosystem here in Yellowstone can feel so good, it’s a very magical place,” said Hart. “I think [crust cruising] is one of the most incredible opportunities…it’s the most invigorating sport there is around here and so unique to the area.”
West Yellowstone visitors of all ages and levels can take part in crust cruising—you don’t have to be a veteran skate skier to experience the exhilaration. Though skate skiing can be challenging for beginners, those who feel comfortable and are capable of gliding are able to crust cruise. Those who prefer to classic ski can still crust cruise and have a blast, just not at quite as fast a pace as skate skiers. Visitors can take a skate ski lesson, rent gear, and grab a latte from Freeheel and Wheel to prepare for their next morning of crust cruising. Visit www.freeheelandwheel.com for more information.
Are you ready to cruise? Check out some of the best area locations below for your crust cruising adventure:
- Hebgen Lake
Depending on the snowpack, late March is the best time for crust cruising Hebgen Lake, just north of West Yellowstone. Skiers can usually crust cruise Hebgen Lake earlier than anywhere else in the area. First and foremost, it’s important to make sure that the conditions are safe. There’s a very short window of opportunity and the surface can melt out pretty quickly. But while it may be a touchy spot, crust cruising Hebgen Lake offers an expansive surface area paired with unrivaled views of spring mornings in the Madison Range.
- Yellowstone National Park
The northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park, just a 20-25 minute drive from West Yellowstone, offers some of the best crust cruising in April. Skiers can access exciting and beautiful terrain, including stunning river views, from Fawn Pass Trailhead and Bighorn Pass Trailhead. Those looking for a longer ski can connect the two to make a loop. The full loop can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, depending on your level, so get an early start!
- Rendezvous Ski Trails
Staying in town? West Yellowstone’s Rendezvous Ski Trails are home to more than 35km of premier ski trails groomed for classic and skate skiing. During the spring, skiers can find excellent opportunities for crust cruising, especially up on Windy Ridge. Depending on the weather pattern, crust cruising enthusiasts can easily ski the Rendezvous Trails until May.
Stay safe, have fun, and go crust cruising!
Author: Caitlin Styrsky