Category Archives: Wyoming

Vail CEO’s Epic Generosity

Ski company boss writes BIG checks to worthy causes.

Vail-logoVail and Aspen, the most glamorous names in American skiing, are the linchpins of the communities where their ski mountains are located. Rob Katz, the mega-resort operator’s head man, and his wife, Elana Amsterdam, have opened their checkbook with unprecedented generosity.  From Vail Resorts’ press release:

Vail Resorts, Inc. CEO Rob Katz and his wife, Elana Amsterdam, founder of Elana’s Pantry, made personal contributions totaling $2 million to 12 local non-profit organizations in the communities where the company operates, including Eagle, Summit, Denver and Boulder counties in Colorado; Summit County in Utah, South Lake Tahoe in Nevada, North Lake Tahoe in California; the Municipality of Whistler in British Columbia, Canada; Afton in Minnesota; Brighton in Michigan; Kenosha County in Wisconsin (near Wilmot); Cooma in New South Wales, Australia (near Perisher); and Jackson in Wyoming (near Grand Teton Lodge Company). Each of the contributions will be directed toward programs that support the welfare and education of children in these local communities.

“The success of our local communities brings a number of unique challenges that require our focus and attention – none more important than helping kids and families who are most vulnerable. Elana and I feel fortunate to be able to provide this support to these outstanding non-profits to allow them to continue their great work,” said Rob Katz, chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts.

This announcement follows last year’s $1.5 million contribution by Rob and Elana to the Epic Promise Foundation, which provides grants to employees of Vail Resorts who are in need or are looking for additional educational opportunities…[There are] non-profit organizations receiving funds from this $2 million gift and the impact these funds will have on children and families in the local communities they serve. 

Think about this next time you buy VRI resort pass or buy a lift ticket.

Two ElkFests. Two states. Two seasons.

ElkFest in Jackson, Wyoming is one of several spring events.

J-HoleElkFestEstes Park, Colorado’s ElkFest is in the fall during the rut when the the bulls issue their plaintive mating calls, the aspens turn golden and snow often begins to dust the high peaks. Jackson, in Wyoming’s wonderful northwestern corner, also has an ElkFest, but it is in spring when the wildflowers bloom and hibernating wildlife show up. ElkFest takes place May 21 – 22, followed the next weekend by Old West Days, May 26 – 30

Wagonloads of antlers along the streets of Jackson attract buyers from all over the world for ElkFest’s annual Boy Scout Antler Auction on May 21. Now in its 49th year, the auction typically features more than 10,000 pounds of the naturally shed elk antlers gathered by local Boy Scouts. That rustic antler chandelier probably was made with antlers gathered by the local Scouts. The majority of auction proceeds go back to the National Elk Refuge on the outskirts of town, which devotes approximately 25,000 acres to the preservation of winter range for elk and bison herds.

Continue reading Two ElkFests. Two states. Two seasons.

The Ides of December Bring Snow to the Rockies

Big snows foretell great skiing over the holidays.

Nineteen inches of new snow at Winter Park make it the snowfall leader du jour.
Nineteen inches of new snow at Winter Park make it the snowfall leader du jour.

Here in Colorado, seven resorts welcomed more than a foot of new snow within 48 hours, with Winter Park leading the way with 19 inches of fresh powder. Monarch and Steamboat each measured 17 inches of new snow, Telluride reported 15 inches, Snowmass recorded fourteen inches, and Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort and Copper Mountain each received about a foot. Elsewhere in Ski Country, Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk and Ski Cooper each accumulated 11 inches of new snowfall, Aspen Highlands and Eldora welcomed 10 inches, Wolf Creek reported 9 inches, and Loveland received 8 inches. Arapahoe Basin and Ski Granby Ranch each reported 6 inches, while Crested Butte, Sunlight and Howelsen each measured 4 inches of new snow. The CSCUSA snow report is updated by the resorts themselves. Vail and Beaver Creek,  not CSCUSA members, also received 11 inches each. The Summit Country resorts of Breckenridge and Keystone were in the single digits, as did Loveland. Their snow reports can be accessed through Vail Resorts’ www.snow.com website.

In Utah, unsurprisingly, the Little Cottonwood Canyon resorts of Alta and Snowbird received the most snow out of the most recent storm, 5 inches in 24 hours and 12 inches in 48 hours. And in Montana, the small ski area of Lost Trail Powder Mountain, in the southwestern part of the state near the Idaho line, snagged 15 inches of new snow. Wyoming’s Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee hit the snow jackpot two or three days ago, with just a few additional inches in the last 24 hours.

New Mexico’s reported snowfall totals were literally all over the map. Impressive 14-hour snow totals were logged at northern ski areas (8 inches at Angel Fire, 10 inches at Ski Santa Fe and 14 inches at Taos, plus 15 inches at the Enchanted Forest Cross-Country Center).  That, barring a warm spell, should set it up splendidly for the holidays.

Shuttle Between Bozeman Airport & Yellowstone

Shuttle service eases a winter stay at America’s first national park.

Park entrance sign in winter. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA.Yellowstone National Park is a magical but challenging place in winter, so anything that makes it easier to visit is a very good thing. One is Yellowstone National Park Lodges‘ convenient airport shuttle service from Bozeman.

Now in its second season, it runs when the only two winter lodges in the park are open.  The Old Faithful Snow Lodge opens on December 20 and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel the following day. Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel closes for the season on March 2, 2015, and Old Faithful Snow Lodge closes a day earlier. The historic Old Faithful Inn is among the park lodges that do not operate in winter.

In addition to the challenges of winter driving for some people who do not live in snow country, a rental car is really superfluous. Except for the road between Gardiner and Cooke City, Montana in the northern part of the vast national park, winter travel on park road is limited to snowmobiles and enclosed heated snowcoaches that offer daily transport between a variety of locations.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts also offers half- and full-day snowcoach, ski and snowshoe tours and ski and snowshoe rentals and instruction. Visitors to Yellowstone can catch the shuttle from the Holiday Inn near the airport at 1 p.m. It returns to the airport to pick up arrivals for a 1:45 p.m. departure to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. The shuttle leaves Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel daily at 8:30 a.m. and arrives at the airport at 10:30 a.m. and can drop people staying in at the Holiday Inn. The fare is $53.50, plus taxes and fees, each way. Guests who have booked a winter package receive a special rate on the airport shuttle of $39 plus taxes and fees, each way. FoMoInfo: 307-344-7311 or 866-GEYSERLAND (866-439-7375).

Cheyenne Trolley Tours Start Rolling

Seasonal history tours a hit in Wyoming’s legendary Old West capital.

CheyenneTrolley-logoCheyenne is beginning its seasonal Wild West Trolley Rides, fully narrated Historic Tours through the heart of Wyoming’s capital. Even though the city is north of here and in winter can feel like a different colder climate zone from Colorado Front Range, summer days can be just as hot. Therefore, the enclosed, air-conditioned cars of Cheyenne Street Railway Trolley are a welcome respite as well as interesting and informational.

The tours depart from Depot Plaza wind their way through town for 1 1/2 hours with stops at the Depot Museum, Nelson Museum of the West, Wyoming State Museum, Wyoming State Capitol Building, Botanic Gardens, Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum and the Historic Governors’ Mansion.

The season runs through late September with weekday tours leaving at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday tours are at 10 a.m., 12 noon and 2 p.m. Sunday and Monday tours are at  12 noon and 2 p.n. Weekend and holiday tours include a free stop at the Old West Museum. Tickets are $10 for adults, and $5 for children ages 2 to 12. A good deal is the $17 Trolley Plus Adult Pass, which includes weekday admittance to the museums that otherwise charge: Old West Museum, Nelson Museum, and Depot Museum. FoMoInfo, call 307 778-3133.

Ski Free at Grand Targhee This Spring

Powder pocket in the Tetons offers season-end bargain.

GrandTarghee-logo,jpgThere are few ski resorts in the country that have better and more abundant snow than Grand Targhee, which has been graced with 400+ inches so far this season (including 4 inches last night) and is measuring its snowpack at 130+ inches — that’s more than 10 feet. Combine a small resort village and a remote location (it’s in Wyoming, but you get there from Idaho) and you don’t get crowds — not ever. Great deals abound across the snowbelt at the end of the season, but very few match and none exceeds Grand Targhee, which is operating through Easter, April 20.

This small resort village on the west slope of the massive Teton Range has rolled out an unbeatable lodging package that includes free skiing with at least four nights of lodging. Grand Targhee’s  headliner package includes four nights lodging and four days of lift tickets starting at $82 per person per night based on double occupancy in Targhee Lodge.

A tiny resort directly at the base of the lifts means you can almost roll out of bed and hit the slopes -- for free with 4 nights of lodging in spring.
A tiny resort directly at the base of the lifts means you can almost roll out of bed and hit the slopes — for free with 4 nights of lodging in spring.

Also, since children to age 12 stay, ski free anyway when staying at Grand Targhee Resort, this can be the cheapest family snow vacation imaginable. One child skis/stays free per paying parent. Also, kids eat free off the kids menu at the Branding Iron Grill with the purchase of one adult entrée from the dinner menu from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. (offer  for lodging guests only).

Silky groomed trails as well as untracked powder make for sweet skiing -- and the views of the Grand Teton and nearby peaks add to the joy.
Silky groomed trails as well as untracked powder make for sweet skiing — and the views of the Grand Teton and nearby peaks add to the joy.

Use those savings to splurge on a Snowcat Adventure on Peaked Mountain, which is adjacent to the lift-served terrain. Just two groups if no more than a dozen skiers and riders eacg play in a huge powder reserve of more than 600 acres, where 14,000 to 20,000 vertical feet per day await. Targhee’s professional guides lead small groups through expansive bowls, gladed cruisers and steep tree pitches. The bonus is breathtaking views of the Tetons — unless it’s snowing again. This outstanding sidecountry experience is $349  per day (including lunch and snacks), $249 for a morning half-day or $199 for an afternoon half-day (both including snacks). I’ve done this a couple of times, and a half-day was plenty.

Idaho Falls and Jackson are the two closest airports. Shuttle service is available. FoMoInfo or to make reservations. 800-TARGHEE.

Cheyenne’s Midnight Ball Drop Highlights New Year’s Eve

Wyoming’s capital reprises its low-key midnight ball drop

Cheyenne's Depot Plaza shines on New Year's Eve. [Photo: Plains Hotel]
Cheyenne’s Depot Plaza shines on New Year’s Eve. [Photo: Plains Hotel]
Last year, my husband and I rang in the New Year in Cheyenne. I wrote a post about the experience, and this year, I’m suggesting it for anyone who doesn’t have plans — especially for those whose bucket list includes the New Year’s Eve ball drop at Times Square but really doesn’t want to face New York’s crowds or cost should head for Cheyenne. Two years ago, Wyoming’s capital and largest city hastily put together a New Year’s Eve celebration on the expansive plaza in front of the landmark Union Pacific Railroad Depot. New York’s big party attracts something on the order of a million revelers – roughly twice the population of the entire state of Wyoming.

The highlight of Cheyenne’s festivities at its s third annual Times Square-inspired ball drop. Despite last-minute organization and fierce winds that first year, it was successful enough to result in an expanded version last year, when it was cold but not windy. And that was so successful that Cheyenne is repeating it this year, and historic Plains Hotel across the street from Depot Plaza is ramping up the festivities with a six-hour party (see below).

Following in optional fund-raising dinner inside the depot (now a museum and function facility), people bundle up for the outdoor festivities that are free to all. And all show up — families with little kids, groups of friends, canoodling couples and seniors milling around under the canopy of the night sky. The Depot Plaza is brilliantly lit, rocks with a DJ selection. The nearby stores are not boarded up. There are no mounted police or officers in riot gear lurking on the perimeter, just a mellow multi-generational crowd milling around (there’s no milling room in New York).

As midnight approaches all eyes dart between the laser countdown beamed onto the depot tower and the lighted ball dropping from a high crane set p nearby. The countdown clock and the regular clock on the dept tower weren’t in sync in December 31, 2012, but everyone knew it was midnight when the ball reached the ground.  Happy New Year greetings, hugs, kisses and fireworks light the night sky. What a wonderful way to start a new year.

New Year’s Eve 2013 – New Year’s Day 20014

This year, the celebration gets even better. As I mentioned, the historic Plains Hotel is putting on its first annual Capital Countdown Party. From 8 p.m. on the 31st to 2 p.m. on the 1st, the hotel ballroom will be will be transformed into a premier dance venue with epic lighting and bass thumping sound! For those who want to see  the New Years Eve Ball Drop (and who doesn’t?), the hotel promises a VIP red carpet viewing area with outdoor heaters. The hotel is suggesting that guests “come dressed to impress!”  Buy tickets online for  just $45 per person or $80 per couple. Or, make it a getaway (as we did last year) and stay the night. Two packages are available. For twosomes who want to take the elevator home, the Plains Hotel’s  Capital City Countdown Package, starting at $210 per couple, includes accommodations and the party and the New Year’s Out Package starting at $300 for two includes lodging, the part and dinner at the Capitol Grille, the hotel’s restaurant. Reserve by calling 307-638-3311.

Yellowstone Region’s Fall News & Views

Yellowstone area’s bargain golf, ski news & national park wonders

It is still summer in the Rockies, but there is a definite hint of autumn in the air as you go higher and farther north. This is the time of year with crisper mornings and shorter days. And as a bonus, summer’s monsoon rain pattern is no more. The greater Yellowstone area, where Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, meet offers a variety of sights and activities that, as the ads always promise, offer “something for everyone. Montana’s Big Sky Resort offers bargain golf packages and has big news for winter guests. Big Sky Resort and Yellowstone National Park are on my radar screen right now, and here’s why:

End-of-Season Golf Value Big Sky, Montana

Lone Peak is the beautiful backdrop for Big Sky Resort. This photo was taken in spring, when the greens were green, and the fairways were too, but snow still lingered on the soaring mountain.
Lone Peak is the beautiful backdrop for Big Sky Resort. This photo was taken in spring, when the greens were green, and the fairways were too, but snow still lingered on the soaring mountain.

I’m not a golfer, but if I were, I’d be looking to take advantage of Big Sky Resort’s current golf package. The price is right, the scenery is sensational and I’m told the golf is great too. It is promoted as the best golf deal in the greater Yellowstone area, and who am I to argue? I get the value, even if I don’t get the sport. A two-night package includes lodging at the Huntley Lodge, Whitewater Inn, Shoshone or Summit hotel, two rounds of golf on an Arnold Palmer-designed 18-hole course and a scenic lift ride for two people starting at $87 per person, per night. The lowest price is at the Whitewater Inn. No end date has been announced, but I’m guessing the package will be over when it gets cold and the snow starts falling. Book online or call  800-548-4486.

Big Winter News at Big Sky

I have been to this area once in summer but more often in winter, so I was very interested to learn that Boyne Resorts, the owner of Big Sky,  is partnering with CrossHarbor Capital Partners LLC and Boyne Resorts to acquire the assets of Moonlight Basin, an attractive but financially shaky development whose ski facilities are contiguous to Big Sky’s.  This agreement follows the recent acquisition of the assets of Spanish Peaks, another ambitious but financially shaky luxury resort development by the same partnership. The press release calls it “the next step in the creation of one of the largest and most compelling mountain resort experiences in North America.”

Moonlight Basin’s ski operations are to be combined with those of Big Sky Resort, with seamless operations, which means one ticket/pass good for more than 5,700 acres of skiable terrain, 4,350 vertical feet, the iconic Lone Peak tram, 23 chairlifts and 10 surface lifts, expanding the reality of its “Biggest Skiing in America” slogan. And for golfers. Moonlight Basin has its own  Nicklaus-designed, 18-hole course. Meanwhile, the very lovely and very private Yellowstone Club on the other side of Big Ski Resort doesn’t play well with others. While its exceptionally well-heeled residents and their guests have access to that wide-ranging Big Sky terrain, the riff-raff isn’t permitted at the Yellowstone Club’s runs. The club has undergone its own financial and other scandals, but it seems to be solid now — under the ownership of CrossHarbor.

Autumn at Yellowstone National Park

Bison grazing across from the Roosevelt Lodge Cabins in Yellowstone National Park.
Bison grazing across from the Roosevelt Lodge Cabins in Yellowstone National Park.

I am frankly put off by the steady upscaling of rural Montana with gated communities, mountain mansions and other trappings of tasteful yet conspicuous wealth, and that makes me treasure all the more the public lands that belong to all of us. And in the context of this region, that means Yellowstone National Park. Humans and their high-powered businesses can change the landscape around a conference table, but national parks and other wildl ands continue to live on nature’s timetable. And nature determines that fall is definitely approaching. The park likes mostly in Wyoming, but its western gateway is only about an hour’s drive from Big Sky. It is home to grizzly bears, wolves, and herds of bison and elk, and the park is the core of one of the last, nearly intact, natural ecosystems in the Earth’s temperate zone. It was the world’s first national park, and it merits visiting at an time of year. Xanterra Parks & Resorts operates nine lodges within the park. Most close in winter, with late summer and fall wind-down season. All of the park’s entrances are still open, and its lodges have greater room availability and the park in general is less crowded. There are also front-country campgrounds, and while the park is a sensational backpackers’ destination, fall is a time when the wildlife starts preparing for winter, and even wilderness camping enthusiasts often fine it wiser to spend their nights surrounded by four solid walls and a roof over their heads.

Bit-O-Wyo Show is Funky Western Fun

Family ranch near Cheyenne puts on a hootin’ good dinner show

Bit-O-Wyo-logoIn the winter, the Bit-O-Wyo Ranch is home to Dennis Steele, Molly Myer and the Steele kids, but come summertime. it becomes one of Wyoming’s favorite destinations for visitors and local families. If you find yourself in Cheyenne or elsewhere in southern Wyoming and are looking for some old-style fun, consider a visit to the Bit-O-Wyo Ranch’s Horse Barn Dinner Show. It is intentionally hokey, so it is guest-pleasing fun. It features the Blue Water Cowboy Band, who have their act of Western music and broad comedy down pat. No matter how sophisticated you feel you are, it’s hard to put on airs when everyone is having a hootin, hollerin’ grand old time.

It's show time at the Bit-O-Wyo Ranch.
It’s show time at the Bit-O-Wyo Ranch.

Guests arrive at 6 p.m. for a chuckwagon-style steak dinner, which means going through the chow line. The beans are so popular that the owners have obligingly put the recipe on their website. Show time is every few days through August 24, and it is so popular that reservations will be taken for 2014 even before the 2013 season ends. The cost for the dinner and show is $40 per person, with kids under 7  free and discounts for seniors and military families. Reservations are required by calling 307-638-6924.

Ranch cabin with broad views and cozy, Western-style interior.
Ranch cabin with broad views and cozy, Western-style interior.

The Bit-O-Wyo Ranch also offers scenic trail rides for all ages, with breath-taking views of high ridges, vast valleys, rippling creeks and Aspen groves. Reservations are required by calling 307-638-6924. New this year, the Bit-O-Wyo offers four-day cabin rental packages that include the Horse Barn Dinner Show and trail rides.

470 Happy Jack Road, Cheyenne, Wyoming;  307-638-6924.

 

Yellowstone is 141 Years Old Today

World’s first national park quietly marks an anniversary

Yellowstone-signOops. I missed Yellowstone National Park’s 140th anniversary on March 1, 2012. Round numbers engender greater attention, but every year is worth acknowledging and celebrating for America’s (and the world’s) first national park. Ulysses S. Grant is generally acknowledged as being one of the worst presidents in American history, but he did leave a fantastic legacy by protecting this marvelous, miraculous eco-system. In this time of looming Sequester-mandated budget cuts, mostly likely starting any minute now, treasuring and supporting our precious national parks is all the more important.

Located in northwestern Wyoming with small strips in neighboring Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone wears two faces. In summer, it teems with tourists who mostly drive from feature to feature — lakes, mountains, waterfalls, river-carved gorges and most of all geysers — but in winter,

Old Faithful photo by NationalParksTraveler.com.
Old Faithful photo by NationalParksTraveler.com.

the park closes in on itself. Most of the roads remain unplowed, all but one of the entrances are closed for the season, only two of the hotels remain open and significantly, wildlife — bison, elk, deer, wolves and coyotes — are far easier to spot than in the summer months when they tend to hide from the procession of vehicles on paved roads.I first visited Yellowstone in winter, many years ago as a day off from skiing at Jackson Hole. A group of us formed up at Flagg Ranch at the southern end of the park for a rumbling, rattling Snowcoach ride to Old Faithful, the park’s signature feature. I was still in New York at the time, and this trip was my first winter experience in a Western national Park. It was magical and contributed to my living in Colorado now, with the splendor of the Rocky Mountains at my doorstep.. I have been back at Yellowstone four times since then — twice each in summer and winter, and to me, winter is better.  So here’s to Yellowstone!