Big Sky Montana Cross Country Ski Trails

cross country skiing Grand Teton National Parkcross country skiing moose Jackson Hole Wyoming Grand Teton National parkcross country skiing Towgotee Pass Shoshone National Forest

A new book by Montana photographer Tom Murphy reveals a side of Yellowstone National Park that few people have seen, much less understood and appreciated.
Winter, the park’s longest and hardest season, is celebrated—“respected” may be a better word—in Murphy’s large format, hardcover book, Silence & Solitude: Yellowstone’s Winter Wilderness ($29.95, Riverbend Publishing). The book’s 130 photographs range from sweeping panoramas of backcountry landscapes to details of delicate ice crystals. Many of the photographs show wildlife trying to survive in near-arctic conditions: bison stoically standing in a geyser’s warm steam, hundreds of elk following one another single file through belly-deep snow, and a red fox leaping high in the air to come down hard on crusty snow and pin a mouse to the ground.

In his foreword to the book, popular author and Outside magazine editor-at-large Tim Cahill writes, "These are photos that mirror a man’s passion, and I know of nothing like them anywhere. Tom Murphy is an artist of major distinction. More often that not, the image itself tells a story. This is because Tom, who has been a guide in the park for two decades, knows the flora and fauna and the natural rhythms of the place in the way that he knows the beating of his own heart. Consequently, his photographs are not simply stunning or striking: they are also knowledgeable and even wise.”
Murphy, 51, was the first person licensed by the National Park Service to conduct photography workshops in Yellowstone. He spends 80 to 100 days within the park each year, and once he skied solo for 125 miles across the park. That trip, made during one of the worst winter storms of the decade, took 14 days.
“I seek out the winter here because I find things that are difficult or impossible to find anywhere else,” Murphy writes in the book’s introduction. “I make these photographs because I love the quiet beauty of this wilderness. I hope others feel, through my photographs, the wondrous elegance, symmetry, surprise and power of the place.”
Murphy also provided the film for a new video by Montana Public Television on winter in Yellowstone. The video and a CD of the video’s music are companion items to the book and share the same title, Silence & Solitude: Yellowstone’s Winter Wilderness.

Outside Magazine editor-at-large

“Don’t you think this idea is,” I asked gently, “oh, vaguely suicidal.” My thrifty photographer friend, Tom Murphy, wanted to ski across Yellowstone National Park: a two-week backcountry ski expedition where there would be little or no possibility of rescue in case of an accident or an unforeseen emergency. He wanted to slog through a country noted for 50 degree below zero temperatures and blinding blizzards and snow twenty feet deep in order to take pictures. Tom is not a high tech guy and owns none of the latest warmest gear. It seemed to me that his cameras would freeze up, along with his fingers, and hands and perhaps his entire body, and that it was possible he might very well die in the name of photography, which sounds noble enough from a distance, but moronic when the potential victim is a friend. It was an impossible trip. In order to navigate the country, for instance, one would be obliged to cross rivers fed by hot springs, rivers that consequently did not freeze and ran waist deep in the shallow sections so that it is necessary for a traveler to strip from the waist down, shoulder pack and skis, then ford the river, half naked, in the freezing cold, through the near-frozen water. Tom had just asked if I wanted to come with him—this was in back in 1985—I said, “uh, no.”
For the record, I need to say that Tom is also the world’s most “frugal” outdoorsman: his pack is 20 years old, as are his skis, and he wears thin red dress socks under his old leather boots, socks that, he is proud to say, cost him 50 cents a pair. But his gear does the job. He gets across the park in the winter, something few of us could accomplish. In the same way, his cameras are simple: he is concerned with composition and light and information that tell a story. That’s all. And that’s more than enough. Tom Murphy goes out in the winter in his silly red dress socks and he brings back these wondrous, these stupendous images. This book is the closest most of us will get to a backcountry ski trip through Yellowstone. It is a fine thing to have Tom Murphy as our guide. He a passionate naturalist, an artist of major distinction…and, as it turns out—red dress socks not withstanding—a man not nearly as suicidal as I once imagined. Sartorially challenged maybe, but not suicidal.


Teton Region Cross Country Ski Trails
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Grand Teton National Park
  • Flag Ranch Area
• Colter Bay Area
• Taggart Lake Area
• Moose Wilson Road Area
• Signal Mountain Area
Teton Valley

• Teton Canyon - Drive up Ski Hill Road out of Driggs. The road will change names a few times but I don't think it is noticeable, (I never did) just stay on the main drag until about a mile after you go through Alta there is a turn right on Teton Canyon Road. drive down this road until you get to the parking area. This is a beautiful ski at The Grand Teton towers over you the whole way.

• Darby Canyon - This is an ungroomed multiple use trail. Between Victor and driggs on hwy 33 you will turned east on Darby Road it dead ends at Stateline road then turn right it will then turn left on Darby Canyon Rd and soon the road will end where the trail starts.

• Fox Canyon - This is an un-groomed multiple use trail. Between Victor and Driggs on hwy 33 you will turn east on and take it till it ends.

• Moose Canyon - This is an un-groomed multiple use trail. About a 2 miles east of Victor torn lift on Old Jackson Hwy go about a half mile then turn right on to e. Moose Creek Road and go to the end.

• Cabin Creek - is at the bottom of the west side of Teton Pass. park at the parking area on the north side of the road. At the bottom and on the south side of the road you will find the Cabin Creek Trail.

Jackson Hole

• Cache Creek - located on the southeast corner of the town of Jackson east of Snow King Ski Resort. This is a busy trail but it does provide a quick access out of the town of Jackson.

• Game Creek - travel south from Jackson on Hwy 89/191 approx. 7 miles, and turn left onto road #30455 9Game Cr. R.) toward Game Creek. Parking is on left less than a mile up this road

• Granite Creek Hot Springs - Go 12 miles south of Jackson and head south on Hwy 191 through the beautiful Hoback Canyon. About fifteen miles up turn on Granite Creek Road and right away you are at the trail head. It is a ten mile ski to the Granite Hot Spring but even if you make it a shorter trip you will still enjoy it. This is a popular groomed snowmobile and dog-sledding trail.

• Gros Ventre Road - go about 7 miles north of Jackson to the Kelly turn off and after go through the town of Kelly go about another 2 miles then turn right on Gros Ventre River Road, follow it until it ends at the parking area above Slide Lake. The exposed red cliffs juxtaposed against the snow is a beautiful site. This is Rocky mountain Bighorn Sheep wintering grounds and the chances of seeing some are about 90%. This is a popular groomed snowmobile trail.

• Shadow Mountain - is about 15 miles north of Jackson, look for Antelope Flats Road then turn left when the road ends and follow it till it ends. This Trail is about an 8 mile loop with about a thousand foot elevation gain that provides great views of the Tetons

Island Park/Ashton

• Harriman State Park is located 20 miles north of Ashton on Highway 20. There is a total of 21 miles of trails, and 10 of those are groomed, providing opportunities for all levels of skiing. Harriman is a wintering ground for the majestic trumpeter swan and is home to many other animals. A warming shelter and restrooms are provided at the trail head. The $3 entrance fee is waived if you have a Park N' Ski permit on your vehicle.

• The Fall River Ridge Park N' Ski area is located 10 miles east of Ashton on the Cave Falls Road. The various loops are suitable for beginner and intermediate use. The terrain consists of rolling hills dotted with meadows, and stands of lodgepole pine and aspen trees. A small plowed parking area is provided and is shared by snowmobilers and skiers. They also share one mile of trail. Nearly seven miles of trails make up this area, which is groomed periodically when funding and weather conditions permit.

• Bear Gulch/Mesa Falls - This ski area is located seven miles northeast of Ashton on Mesa Falls Forest Highway 47. The trail parallels the snowmobile trail out to the spectacular Lower and Upper Mesa Falls. The trail then branches away from the snowmobile trail and travels along the canyon rim, then returns to the trail head. This trail is recommended for intermediate and advanced skiers because of the steep climb in the first mile. The trail is nearly nine miles long and is groomed periodically when funding and weather conditions permit.

•The Brimstone Trail is located one-quarter mile north of the Island Park Ranger Station on Highway 20 near Ponds Lodge Resort. The terrain varies from gentle grades to downhill runs through tree groves. The nine miles of trail offer scenic views of the Island Park Reservoir, Box Canyon, and Buffalo River. The trail provides opportunities for all levels of skiing ability.

• The Buffalo River Trail - is 2.6 miles long, starting at the Island Park Ranger Station and winding along the Buffalo River through forests of lodgepole pine. The trail's gentle grade provides an excellent opportunity for beginners to polish their skills. Both trails are groomed periodically when funding and weather conditions permit.

Swan Valley

• Palisades Creek - just east of Irwin turn left on Palisades Creek Road and drive till it ends at the trail head. This is a beautiful narrow canyon for the first mile and you will want to watch for big rocks in the trail early in the winter, a mile up after there first bridge the canyon opens up some for some beautiful views. There is a lake up about 4 miles.

• Indian Creek Trail - is about 15 miles south of Swan Valley Hwy26 drops into the indian Creek bottom there is parking on the west side for the road the trail starts on the east side of the Hwy. This is a also a snowmobile route

• Fall Creek Campground - is About 5 miles north of Swan Valley you cross the Snake River there you turn left on River Road and go up about 2 miles to the parking area on the left side of the road. Ski along the river to get to Creek Campground this parking is the same one for Fall Creek trail which is also a groomed snowmobile trail as is all of River Road. Bonneville county grooms Fall Creek Campground for cross country skiing.

• Bear Creek Trail - is about 4 miles south of Irwin. Go till you get to Palisades Dam an park in the parking lot at the top then ski south on the Groomed snowmobile trail. for the ambitious the forest service rents a cabin 12 miles up and makes a nice little destination.

• Fall Creek - About 5 miles north of Swan Valley you cross the Snake River there you turn left and go up about 2 miles to the parking area on the left side of the road. Ski up the Fall Creek Canyon groomed snowmobile trail as far as you like. This is a great wildlife viewing area.

Ski Mountaineering

backcountry skiing, deep powderBackcountry skiing means off the beaten track, so how do you get to the backcountry? If you're an extremist, then you'll set off under your own power from Greater Yellowstone's many hundreds of trailheads toward a snow-covered crag. However, this is not a decision to be taken lightly – the terrain can be dangerous if you are inexperienced or ill-prepared.

Gearing Up • Some skiers shove their feet into regular ski boots, strap their alpine skis to their pack, and slog uphill to grab a shot of snow. But that gets old fast. Modern backcountry skiing gear, which is otherwise known as randonee (pronounced "ron-doe-nay") or alpine touring gear (known as AT), lends itself to hiking. It's very lightperforms some quick math to calculate that, depending on the brand, randonee gear weighs 30 to 50 percent less than resort skis, boots and bindings. If you're going uphil lthat all translates to more energy saved.Randonee or AT gear is designed to for skiers to climb steep hills and ski rugged terrain. Contrary to telemark gear, alpine ski turns transfer to the backcountry on these skis and bindings with no new techniques to learn. You will, however, shell out around $2,000 for skis, bindings, boots, beacon, probe, shovel and skins. While any ski works with a touring binding, most backcountry skiers go for boards that are fat for flotation and lightweight to save energy climbing.

Backcountry Ski Spots
S-turn carving on Teton Pass
S-turn carving on Teton Pass
Teton Pass
• (Jackson Hole) Interested in maximum vertical with minimum approach? Try Teton Pass. Teton Pass is a popular backcountry skiing destination outside of Jackson Hole Wyoming and Teton Valley Idaho. You can easily access this area by driving west on hwy 22 from Jackson Hole or west on hwy 33 from Victor Idaho.

Towgotee Pass • (Dubois WY) Towgotee is a region more than just a pass and the whole region provides many skiing opportunities, many touring and some backcountry downhill. Towgotee Pass receives over 600 inches of snow annually and there are many around the touring areas I include where you can bushwhack some good downhill turns.

Beehive Basin • (Big Sky, MT) Beehive Basin Ski Trail is a moderate 5 km single-track loop near Big Sky. The trail begins with a few switchbacks, which are a bit steep. The route then flattens out for about 1 mile before turning steeply uphill. Near the end is a very steep hill. The view is spectacular. Near the end of the trail you will find a shallow lake surrounded by vertical cliffs. Avalanche hazard areas are common. Ski route goes into Lee Metcalf Wilderness. In the fall and winter Beehive Basin and nearby Middle Basin are THE spots to get some early season powder turns in Big Sky. Skinning and snowshoeing are viable ways to travel through the snow, but often the trail is already boot packed most of the way. As a word to the wise, anybody who plans to hike Beehive in the snow should go only with others who have knowledge of the area. It's agreed that certain places shouldn't be hiked without avalanche gear. Avalanches are a reality at Beehive. According to the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center, on Jan. 20, 2008, a skier was buried and killed there by a slide. This trail is not groomed. map

Hyalite Canyon • (Bozeman Montana) Hyalite Recreation Ares is quickly becoming a very good backcountry skiing resource around Bozeman. The Blackmore and Grotto Falls trailheads will lead you to great skiing. Another option is the History Rock trailhead. The short approach and smallish open meadows means it may get tracked out faster but it's great for a few quick runs. This is a busy back country destination so it is best to arrive early. Also, it's a long way to Blackmore Peak so consider arriving as early as possible and doing a few laps on the actual face.

Bridger Bowl Backcountry • (Bozeman Montana) Bridger Bowl is world-renowned for its fantastic terrain and great powder. Bridger is unique in that it offers vast amounts of steep, backcountry terrain accessible to those with a beacon, but within the ski area boundaries. Skiing the Bridger Ridge is more accessible, especially since the addition of Bridger's newest amenity: Schlasman's lift, which carries skiers to just below the Bridger ridge.

Bell Lake Yurt • (Pony Montana) The yurt will be equipped with a full kitchen including a gas stove top with BBQ grill, wood burning stove and sleeping accommodations for up to eight people. Guests will find a wide variety of terrain for the knowledgeable backcountry skier, snowboarder or winter traveler adjacent to the yurt for multi-day adventures........................More Info


Beyond the Grand -- The life of America's Most Influential Ski Mountaineer - Bill Briggs Biography By Louis Dawson • Bill Briggs gulped from his water bottle, laced his boots, and clicked his ski bindings. Standing at the apex of Wyoming's precipitous 13,770-foot Grand Teton, he caught his breath and took in the view. To his east, the Gros Ventre mountains rose from the haze like a Tolkien fantasy, while the plains of Idaho faded two hundred miles west. Below his feet, snow like a steeple roof dropped thousands of feet to the chasm. Briggs plan was to slice turns on that snow -- to be the first to ski down Grand Teton. On that day of June 15, 1971, as his skis carved arcs down to Garnet Canyon, his goal became reality.

Skiing the Grand Teton - Yes they do

Winter in the Snow; Tenting and Telemarking in the Tetons
By David Noland • LEANING wearily on our ski poles, the three of us stood at the crest of Beard Mountain, a smooth, rolling, 10,500-foot summit in Wyoming's Jedediah Smith Wilderness. My friend Ted Buhl, an accomplished back-country skier, grinned like a madman in anticipation of a dream run: vast expanses of feathery, untracked, knee-deep powder and a brilliant blue sky with the jagged peaks of the Grand Teton Range as a backdrop. Best of all, there was not another human being within miles -- a just reward for the grueling four-hour climb on skis from our camp in the valley below.

I, on the other hand, could manage only a tentative smile. A novice back-country skier, I was a long way from the gentle, packed cross-country ski trails I'd happily shuffled along for years near my Hudson Valley home. I suspected that my usual technique to avoid oncoming trees -- fall down as quickly as possible -- might not suffice here. "Just stay crouched and bounce up and down a little to get a feel for the powder," said our guide, Glenn Vitucci. "You'll be fine."

Perhaps he was right. An expert skier, naturalist and an 11-year veteran of the Teton back country, Glenn had inspired confidence from our first meeting three days earlier----------------------------------> more

Chronology of North American Ski Mountaineering and Backcountry Skiing
By Louis Dawson • This chronology is always being improved and updated. Note that the focus here is ski mountaineering and backcountry skiing that involves climbing mountains and skiing down them. While less emphasis is placed on ski traverses, these are considered as well, provided such traverses cover mountain terrain and involve climbs and descents as an integral part of the route (other than ski traverses included for context). One of the most important milestones in this list of events is the first time a particular mountain is skied down from the exact summit or near. While many mountains in North America were explored by people on skis in the early 1900s, the actual event of a person climbing to the top and skiing back down may have occurred at a date later than the first ski exploration. I've attempted to note both events when possible. My picks for the most important ski mountaineering events in North America are marked with a yellow background. -------------------> More

Avalanche - Highland Bowl, Colorado
By Louis Dawson • Aspen, Colorado. For myself and John "Izo" Isaacs, the morning of February 19, 1982 dawned clear, calm and filled with excitement. At 3:30 AM we strapped climbing skins to our skis, and began the long climb via the Highlands Ski Area to the summit of Highlands Peak. We intended to ski Highland Bowl, the stupendous amphitheater formed by the north and south ridges of the peak. Hundreds of avalanches fall here each winter. Most of these grind to a halt on the low angled "flats" midway between the summit and valley. But during heavy winters, monster slides roar almost a vertical mile to the valley floor.
Back in 1982, Highlands Bowl was closed by law to most skiers (it is now part of the ski area's "extreme" terrain). The ski-patrol would take the occasional guided tour, but neither Izo nor I cared to deal with red tape, nor have someone tell us where to ski. ------------------------------------> More

Safety on steep snow - Ice ax, crampons, and self arrest technique
By Lou Dawson • Climbers and skiers die every year from sliding falls on snow. Thus, no discussion of safe snow climbing and steep skiing would be complete without a review of the self arrest -- the time honored method for stopping such falls.
For snow climbers and mountain skiers the self arrest has four forms. These depend on gear. While climbing, you'll need to know how to self arrest with your ice ax. While skiing, you can use specialized self arrest grips on your ski poles. These are less effective than an ice axe, yet skiing while holding an ice ax is dangerous and awkward, so arrest grips can be useful. If you have ski poles, but no arrest grips or ice ax, you can perform a self arrest with your pole tips. This is awkward and ineffective. Lastly, if you have nothing, you can try to arrest with your hands and boot toes. This is bogus -- but good to practice so you know why you need a tool for an effective arrest.------------------------------> More

Avalanche Information

backcountry skiing Jackson Hole Wyoming

Montana Avalanche Information • Gallatin National Forest

Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center • Official home page for the Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center. Avalanche advisories are updated daily around 7am from early November to late April. - The Avalanche Center • The CSAC Snow and Avalanche Center provides global snow avalanche information. It is a comprehensive source for current conditions, education, incident reports, and more.

Jackson Hole Snow Observations • This site is meant to be a public forum in which backcountry users can share observations of avalanche activity and snow-pack conditions. By recording snow and avalanche Information , we hope to create a database that will allow users to track weak layers and avalanche cycles throughout the year. In addition, the Weather Summary can help you track changes to the snow-pack as they occur. If you find value in viewing these observations, please help perpetuate the site by contributing notes from your next tour. There is no technical standard required for submitting observations, however, we do ask that users adhere to our site guidelines when scoring stability tests.


Teton Region Back Country Ski Tours
avalanche snow pit Teton Pass Jackson Hole Wyoming
Avalanche Pit

Rendezvous Ski and Snowboard Tours • Established in 1986, Rendezvous Ski and Snowboard Tours operates three backcountry ski yurts high on the western slope of the Tetons near Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee Ski Resort. Our huts provide access to the Jedediah Smith Wilderness Area and Grand Teton National Park, where over 500 inches of legendary light, dry powder snow falls each winter. A variety of terrain from high mountain ridges and broad, low-angled powder bowls, to the steep and deep combine to make some of the best backcountry ski terrain in the lower 48.

Exum Mountain Guides • Exum offers group and private avalanche training, alpine and nordic ski tours, and ski and snowboard descents of the remarkable mountains of the Teton area. You will gain basic avalanche awareness, improve your skiing and snowboarding technique, and practice the use of avalanche rescue transceivers. Technical skills, such as steep skiing, rock and ice climbing, and rappelling are practiced during ski and snowboard mountaineering trips.

Yellowstone Expedition • Let us show you the finest way to experience a true Yellowstone winter, at a cross-country skier's pace from the Yellowstone Yurt Camp. Join our certified back country ski guides to explore the Yellowstone backcountry. Our multi-day cross-country skiing excursions are based from the comfortable Canyon Skier's "Yurt Camp" located only one half mile from the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Hellroaring Ski Adventures • Hellroaring Ski Adventures will help you create the adventure of a lifetime. Touring, Powder Skiing / Riding, Ski Mountaineering, the Extreme. Let us know what your dreams are and we'll make it happen.

Backcountry Organizations - contact us to have your organization listed

Montana Backcountry AllianceMontana Backcountry Alliance was formed in 2005 to build an organized community advocating for traditional, human-powered winter recreation. We have commented as a group and individually on forest service management plans, held ski movie premiers, and helped conduct citizen monitoring projects. We intend to build on our success and further strengthen the traditional winter recreation community by advocating for specific non-motorized areas with reasonable access for human-powered recreationists. The motorized lobby is powerful, organized, and well-funded. But we are motivated and dedicated to establishing a strong voice in this important debate. We are also hopelessly addicted to skiing and riding, and will be busy enjoying the wonderful opportunities Montana offers in the winter. Get out and enjoy them too!

Montana Mountaineering AssociationMontana Mountaineering Association promotes the values of rock climbing, mountaineering, ice climbing and backcountry skiing by offering a variety of instructional programs. These diverse programs are taught by an incredibly qualified instructors and guides. We offer individual and group instruction in our local mountains around Bozeman Montana with one of our programs extending to the Andes of South America. Our goal is to give prospective alpinists the tools they need venture out on their own, whether it be mountaineering, backcountry skiing, ice climbing, or rock climbing.

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