Notes From the Road: Summer Skiing in Yellowstone Country

Notes From the Road: Summer Skiing in Yellowstone Country

If you’re visiting Montana’s Yellowstone Country for the summer and thought that winter was the only time to click into a pair of skis, let us make your day.

It’s true: you can ski year-round here in Yellowstone Country. And not only can you ski, but you can ski without having to strap your skis onto your pack and posthole it in your ski boots. Thanks to Beartooth Basin Summer Ski Area, which was established in the ‘70s but is still a small-town secret around here, you can ski challenging terrain during the warm weather without having to schlep your gear up and down the mountain. It might just be the perfect time to pack the kids off to Yellowstone National Park with the grandparents.

I spoke with a member of the ownership group, Justin Modroo, about all things skiing in the summer and what you need to know about getting your turns in this May, June and, yes, even July.

What is Beartooth Basin?

Beartooth Basin is a summer ski area that is currently open to the public daily until July 6, 2014 (snow and weather depending, of course, because this is Montana and we give no guarantees about the weather). Yes, Beartooth Basin is only open in the summer.

Here’s the most interesting part: every piece of the ski operation (with the exception of the tow lifts, which have to be dug out every year … with hand shovels) is brought in each season. That means that, though skiers can come get their turns in starting in May, the Beartooth Basin ski crew is up there at the end of April, scouting out the snowfall, carting their many generators and equipment and making small talk with the Montana Department of Transportation (who so expertly plows the road from the Montana side leading up to Beartooth Pass). Once the road is clear, the team can get down to brass tacks, preparing the basin by controlling the cornices with explosives and making it safe for skiers. Then comes the arduous task of digging out each of the 10 lift towers, installing generators and creating a seasonal ski area. It’s like a pop-up shop for skiing.

Who skis there?

Currently, it’s mostly independent ski camps that use the facilities. Ski teams and instructors from all over the country will bring their team, or a group of students that they privately coach, to Beartooth Basin for a week or a weekend. They’ll run their own ski curriculum and rely on the expertise of the professional staff at Beartooth Basin Ski Area to groom moguls, create big air features and advise on the terrain.

Ski camps used to have to travel to South America or New Zealand to get some skiing in during the off-season. With the growth of Beartooth Basin, they no longer have to rely on expensive flights to Argentina and Chile or expensive flights and time zone differences in New Zealand for their team. And they can tailor the experience for just about everyone. While they specialize in catering to alpine racing teams, they’ve also hosted big mountain camps, freestyle camps and, if that weren’t enough, even put in a Nordic ski area at the request of a client.

If you’re not a professional skier (or too old to try to become one) you’re in luck. Beartooth Basin is open to the public as well. This terrain is steep and featured, so only expert skiers should plan on coming and having a rad time (and a rad time is really what these guys are all about). Snag yourself a season pass or just make a day of it. Either way, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. (How many of your friends can say they’ve skied in July?)

What does a typical day look like?

Well, for starters, we’re skiing in the summer: nothing is typical.

But if we’re being honest here, the lifts are open from around 8am - 2:30pm (weather depending and you know how we feel about the weather). It may snow a foot while you’re up there (yes, even in the summer) so be prepared for some slight interruptions in lift service. But on a calm, clear day, you can get turns on snow-covered terrain all day long.

The ski area, though lift operated, isn’t a resort. There’s no lodge or even a warming station. That means you should dress appropriately and bring extra layers if the weather turns bad. And also, there’s no apparel shop, so don’t forget your goggles.

What’s the best thing about skiing in the summer?

According to Justin, it’s all about the experience. “You leave Red Lodge and it’s summer, but you drive to the top of the [Beartooth] pass and it’s basically winter time; the views are amazing, the snow is amazing. It can be the summer solstice but feel like winter.”