37 skiers were stranded in Yosemite backcountry

A late season blizzard stranded 37 skiers inside Yosemite National ParkEarlier this week a late season blizzard hit Yosemite National Park, burying the region in snow and leaving 37 skiers stranded in the backcountry. Fortunately they all escaped unharmed, but were given a healthy reminder of the dangers of traveling in the wilderness during the winter.

A group of 21 cross country skiers made their way to the Glacier Point region of the park along a trail that stretches 10.5 miles in length. That trail ends with a spectacular view of Half Dome, the most prominent attraction in the park, and Yosemite Valley some 3000 feet below. A winter hut stands nearby, and most skiers end up spending the night there before making their way back out the following day. A blizzard struck the area on Sunday, dumping six feet of snow on the park. The snow was accompanied by high winds, which made visibility and travel nearly impossible.

When the weather cleared a few days later, the group donned their skis and headed for the Badger Pass Ski Area for help. That journey took a number of hours to complete, with each of the group members taking turns breaking trail at the front of the pack.

Meanwhile, another 16 people were stranded throughout other areas of the park, but eventually made it out as well. The Park Service used snowmobiles to create tracks that allowed some skiers to make it out on their own, while others had to be rescued by Snowcat or snowmobile.

Late in the week, most of the roads into Yosemite were still closed due to the heavy snows. As of this writing, snow chains are still required while traveling along the few roads that are open and conditions are still in a state of flux. Travelers planning to visit the area are encouraged to call 209-372-0200 (then dial 1, 1) for the most recent road conditions before they set out.

Six feet of snow in one blast? Didn’t someone send Yosemite the memo that it’s spring now?

The best little gear shop in Montana

Kelli Sanders and Mellisa Alder own the Best Little Gear Shop in MontanaWhen it comes to buying gear for our various outdoor adventures, most of us are restricted to making purchases from speciality retailers such as REI or big box sporting good stores like Sports Authority. But if you happen to live in a town with a locally owned gear shop, you probably have witnessed first hand just how different the experience can be. Often those shops create a sense of community with their clientele and deliver a different level of customer service than you get with the larger retail stores. Such is the case with a great little gear shop located in West Yellowstone, Montana called Freeheel & Wheel.

West Yellowstone is a sleepy little town of about 1200 residents that sits on the edge of Yellowstone National Park. You wouldn’t typcially think that such a small place would be home to a good gear shop, but then again, West Yellowstone isn’t like most towns its size. Its location puts it smack dab in the middle of some of the best outdoor environments on the planet, with plenty of rivers to paddle, mountains to climb, and forests to hike, all within a short distance. The town bills itself as the “snowmobile capital of the world,” but it also offers great cross country skiing and mountain biking along the Rendezvous Ski Trails, and it is home to one of the few biathlon courses in the entire country.

Located right on Yellowstone Avenue (where else?), Freeheel & Wheel isn’t an especially large shop, but that doesn’t stop them from offering plenty of services. You’ll find a nice selection of outdoor clothing from companies like Patagonia and Prana, not to mention a variety of mountain biking and nordic skiing gear as well. There is also a full service bicycle repair and ski tuning shop inside too, and a fantastic coffee bar that has enough options for any caffeine fiend.In the summer months, the shop rents bikes and has plenty of recommendations for rides throughout the area, including into Yellowstone Park as well as the Gallatin National Forest. Similarly, in the winter months, cross country ski rentals are also available and the staff has even more suggestions on where to go. They’ll even provide ski lessons if necessary. Vistors can drop by seven days a week to grab a bike and hit the trail.

The story behind Freeheel & Wheel is just as good as the store itself. The shop was founded by Kelli Sanders and Melissa Alder, who met as college freshmen at the University of Montana at Missoula more than twenty years ago. The two became fast friends and have been nearly inseperable ever since. After college, Kelli and Melissa knew that they wanted to go into business together, but weren’t sure exaclty what that business would entail. A visit to the Outdoor Retailer show, a bi-annual convention for gear companies, gave them the direction and inspiration they were looking for, and the rest is, as they say, history.

West Yellowstone is great little community with plenty of things to do all year round. The town, located a couple of hours drive south of Bozeman, is a hub for outdoor adventure activities and serves as a gateway to the national park right next door. If you’re in the area, and looking for something to do, be sure to drop by Freeheel & Wheel and ask for suggestions. The girls will be more than happy to help out, and even if you’re not up for an adventurous day in the surrounding wilderness, they’ll serve you up a mean cup of coffee before sending you on your way.

The Best Little Gear Shop in Montana

Ten great things to do in Yellowstone during the winter

Winter in Yellowstone National ParkAs many travelers know, Yellowstone National Park is one of the most spectacular natural wonders in the entire world. It deftly blends beautiful landscapes, fascinating geothermal activity, and an amazing abundance of wildlife to give a unique experience that has to be seen to be believed. During the summer months, the park is warm, lush, and green but overrun with tourists. Last year the park set a number of attendance records, which can, at times, bring traffic jams and crowded accommodations to Yellowstone. But in winter, the park is a whole different place, and for those adventurous enough to visit, it delivers a whole new level of adventure and fun. Here are ten great things to do in Yellowstone in the winter.

Enjoy the Wide Open Spaces
Yellowstone averages about 3 million visitors per year, but most of them arrive during the summer months. In fact, the winter only sees about 100,000 visitors in total, which means it is far easier to find a place to stay and you won’t have to battle long lines while taking in the sights. The place is so quiet that you might set out on a trail and not see anyone else all day long, which is likely to only happen during the quiet days of winter.

Go Snowshoeing in the Geyser Basin
in terms of winter sports, snowshoeing is one of the easiest to pick up. If you can walk, you can probably snowshoe. Strap a pair of snowshoes to your feet and head out for a hike through Yellowstone’s famous Upper Geyser Basin, where you’ll not only be treated to eruptions by Old Faithful, but a number of other fantastic geothermal anomalies. This region of the park has the highest concentration of geysers and hotsprings, and even during the winter they spew steam and water from the ground. Besides Old Faithful, you’ll also find the Castle, Daisy, Grand, and Riverside Geysers, all of which have fairly predictable intervals to their eruptions. Snowshoes help you to navigate through the deep winter powder and allow you to get up close and personal to these amazing hot spots.Witness a Winter Eruption of Old Faithful
You don’t have to go snowshoeing to enjoy Old Faithful in the winter. It is an easy walk from the new visitor center that opened late last year. The building is an excellent place to stay warm, and learn about the geysers, while you wait for the next eruption, which occurs every 91 minutes, give or take ten. During the summer, it is not uncommon to have huge crowds gathered around the boardwalk to witness the old girl go off, but in the winter, the crowds are sparse at best. For a truly isolated Old Faithful experience, wander out after dark. I did this on a recent trip, and there were just eight of us on hand to watch.

Spend the Night at the Snow Lodge
Yellowstone’s Snow Lodge, located near Old Faithful, is one of just two hotels that are open for the winter months. What makes the Snow Lodge unique however is that it can only be reached aboard a snow mobile or a snowcoach, which is a touring van converted to tank treads that enable it to travel through deep snow. Completed in 1999, the Snow Lodge is a modern, comfortable inn that pays homage to the old school “park-itecture” that is prevalent around Yellowstone, while creating its own identity at the same time. The Snow Lodge is a perfect base of operations for visitors who want to spend a few days in the park enjoying the snowy playground to its fullest.

Winter in Yellowstone National ParkGo Wildlife Spotting in Lamar Valley
Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley is often called North America’s Serengeti thanks to the large numbers of wildlife that inhabit the region. While many of those creatures are on display during the summer, it is far easier to spot them in the winter, thanks to the copious amounts of snow on the ground. Additionally, many of the creatures that inhabit the mountainous regions of the park move to lower altitudes during the winter in search of food. That means you’re more likely to see elk and big horn sheep in the colder months along with the usual large numbers of bison. Additionally, sharp-eyed travelers may also catch a glimpse of fox, coyotes, and even wolves on the prowl in Lamar Valley. Don’t expect bears however, as most are spending the winter months in a peaceful slumber.

Visit Lower Yellowstone Falls by Snow Mobile
The Lower Yellowstone Falls are truly one of the most beautiful and iconic landmarks in the entire park. During the winter months, the Falls succumb to the cold weather, freezing solid for weeks on end. But even in their frozen state, the Falls are breathtaking to see and worth a visit. One of the best ways to do just that is aboard a snow mobile, which can be rented at both the Snow Lodge and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Travel on snow mobiles in Yellowstone is highly regulated and a guide is required at all times, but it also allows you to visit places that are not normally accessible in the winter months. Once hired, the guide will take you through the snowy backcountry, which will reveal a number of spectacular sights along the way to the Falls, which are of course the ultimate prize.

Go Ice Skating!
Visitors to Yellowstone in the winter can take part in some traditional seasonal activities as well. For instance, both the Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel have skating rinks on the premises, which means you can hit the ice without having to wander far from the toasty confines of your lodge. Simply drop by the front desk at either location to pick up your skates. You’ll be pulling triple axles before you know it.

Winter in Yellowstone National ParkLearn to Cross Country Ski
Cross country skiing is one of the best winter activities that a traveler can ever experience, especially when visiting a setting as breathtaking as Yellowstone. There is something extremely sublime about gliding along through a fine, powdery snow with the Rocky Mountains looming high over head. It also happens to be a fantastic workout, but one that can require a little instruction and experience first. Fortunately, you can take a lesson at both the Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hotel, and then jump on a groomed trail not far from either location. After a little practice, you’ll be zipping along effortlessly in no time.

Soak in a Hot Spring
After spending a full day of playing in the snow, why not warm up with a dip in a natural hot spring? Yellowstone’s Boiling River, located not far from Mammoth, is one of the few places in the park where you can actually do just that, and while it can be quite crowded at other times of the year, during the winter it is easy to relax in the warm waters. The river is warm enough to keep you comfortable even in the the coldest conditions, just be sure to keep warm, dry clothes on hand for when you climb out. Brrrr!

Enjoy a Warm Drink by a Warm Fire
What’s the best way to cap an active day in the park? Easy! Pull up a comfortable chair and relax by the fire with a good book and a warm drink. Both the Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel have wonderful fire places inside the building, and whether you prefer a hot chocolate or a hot buttered rum, you’ll find sitting by the fire to be a perfect ending to a perfect day in Yellowstone.

If you do visit the park in winter, be sure to pack your cold weather gear and your adventurous spirit. You’ll need both.

Yellowstone opens for winter season

Yellowstone in WinterOne of America’s premiere national parks, Yellowstone opened for the winter season yesterday, with the South Entrance granting visitors access to the pristine backcountry that already seen plenty of snow this year. The East Entrance and Sylvan Pass will both December 22nd, offering even more access to this winter wonderland.

In recent years, it has become increasingly popular to explore Yellowstone’s stunning landscapes during the winter months, with many visitors taking in such sites as Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone with a fresh blanket of snow on the ground. But with so much snow in the region, travel by car is out of the question, which means that most will climb aboard a snowmobile to make the journey to those iconic places. The park puts strict limits on the number of such vehicles that are allowed in the park each day, and all riders must be accompanied by a commerical guide.

In preparation for the winter opening, Yellowstone employees have been very busy grooming roads and trails for winter travel. The park is already covered in various amounts of snow this season, with some areas remaining lightly covered for now, while others have experienced heavy snowfall already. Considering winter doesn’t officially begin for a few days yet, there is already plenty of the white stuff to play in.

For those that would prefer a more eco-friendly approach to visiting Yellowstone in the winter, there are other options besides snowmobiles and coaches. Snowshoeing and cross country skiing are not only great ways to explore the wilderness area, they are an excellent workout as well. The local park rangers also lead a number of great winter programs, which can be found by clicking here.

If you’re planning a winter escape to Yellowstone and would like to travel by snowmobile or snowcoach, you’ll find a complete list of authorized operators in the various regions of the park by clicking here.

Just because winter is about to set in doesn’t mean we have to give up on our outdoor adventures. Check out Gadling’s cold weather gift guide for plenty of winter gear to keep you warm all season long.

Five hotel holiday deals in New England

Are you looking for a winter wonderland for the Christmas season? New England is a natural destination. There are plenty of deals to be found, with packages that won’t force you to choose between your trip and the number of presents under the tree. Check out the inns below from New England Inns and Resorts to see for yourself what await!

1. The Stepping Stone Spa, Lyndonville, VT
The Kingdom Trails Winter Adventure package at The Stepping Stone includes two nights at this bed and breakfast, daily breakfast, two adult tickets for snowshoeing or cross country skiing at Kingdom Trails and a $50 voucher for dinner at Jupiter’s Restaurant. Rates start at $157 per person, based on double occupancy, and the deal runs from December 17, 2010 to March 20, 2011.

2. The Wentworth, Jackson, NH
Take a look at this property for the Jingle Bells Chocolate Tour. For a rate that starts at $208, you’ll pick up a night at the Wentworth, an hour-long sleigh ride through Jackson Village (with actual jingle bells and chocolate snacks), a four-course candlelit dinner for two and a full breakfast the next morning. The deal runs from November 27, 2010 to December 18, 2010.3. Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club, Lexington, MA Feeling the urge to hit the slopes before the end of the year? Check out the Berkshire Ski package at this property. For $140 per person midweek or $185 on the weekends, you can score a night at Cranwell Resort, unlimited cross country skiing, a $20 credit at any Cranwell restaurant and full use of the spa. The deal runs from December 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011.

4. The Beachmere Inn, Ogunquit, ME
Ring in the new year at the Beachmere. The New Year’s Eve by the Sea package is pulled together to make the last night of 2010 memorable. The last dinner you’ll have this year includes appetizers, buffet and dessert, not to mention dancing and party favors. Start fresh with a lavish breakfast the next morning. Two-night packages range from $530 to $595, with three nights ranging from $625 to $675.

5. Inn at Ormsby Hill, Manchester, VT
Visit the Inn at Ormsby Hill on the first two Saturdays in December for open tours of the inns in the Manchester area. Stay either the night of December 3, 2010 or December 10, 2010, and receive dinner in the evening, followed by a performance of “A Christmas Carol” at The Dorset Theatre. Open house tours run from noon to 4 PM the next day, with the $15 ticket price going to Habitat for Humanity. On your way home, you’ll have the chance to stop by a local nursery and pick up a Vermont Christmas tree to bring home!