Frozen Diamonds, Fire and Ice–Old Faithful Winter Sojourn

                               “Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.”                                                       Unknown


Diamonds sparkle in winter sunlight. Snow puffs are frosting on rocks and spruce branches. The trail winds through old growth spruce, fir and white bark pine. A short climb up the Divide Trail leads to the beginning of the Spring Creek Trail and winter heaven.  The first hill is a big one, winding its way down through trees. Carefully, so carefully this year, I baby my 3 month old knee and ease my way down the track. Toward the bottom, the trail narrows and I put skis in tracks and hold my breath and cruise along until it flattens out and I stop and look back to watch Diane follow. With huge smiles, we glide along, pointing out marten tracks and particularly beautiful trees.

Skiing at Old Faithful: There is nothing like it in this world. The hot springs and geysers create a winter wonderland of ghost trees and ice. To ski past geysers and deep blue hot springs, through steam and sun is magical. It’s more than magical.


I’ve been skiing Old Faithful winter seasons since the 1980’s. First as a guest at the old Snow Lodge (an employee dorm in the summer). In those days, snow was higher than the phone in the phone booth (remember those things?). Back then eschewing a drop off cost money we didn’t have. We’d ski out the door in early morning and return at dusk, easily skiing 100 miles in 5-7 days.

I ski those same trails today. Some have changed: a bridge is out and not replaced, or the trail re-routed to avoid new thermals. But most trails remain so much the same that I remember them easily. Now we catch a Bombardier (an old style snowcoach) for a ride to the trailhead. A luxury that my knee appreciates. This year’s Bomb rides are bittersweet. 2015-16 is the last year for the use of the Bomb in Yellowstone. They have gone up on the auction block. I will miss them, miss the noise and the speed. Miss the u-shaped seating arrangement facing inward. Miss the roof trap door that opens when the Bomb is stopped to stand up and take a quick view and photo of bison, swans, or whatever critter graces us with its presence. Miss, especially, the history of winter park use that they represent.


Another day, Fairy Falls becomes our destination. The day is windy ‘blowing like stink’ a sailor would say. Blowing enough that carrying skis pushes one sideways. We move to quickly get out of the wind, then ski behind Midway Geyser Basin, slowing down to drink in the beauty of Grand Prismatic, the largest hot spring in the Park. At over 320 feet across and 121 feet deep, its has a majestic beauty. While many like the views from above—it’s the only way to really see the entire spring—I like the winter views while skiing along its backside. Steam rises and if one is fortunate and the lighting is right, the steam changes colors from blues to rose/orange. Snow mounds and deep orange hues embellish the run-off channels. This trail gives a skier the most variation for the effort— we cruise past thermal springs then stride through new growth lodgepole pine (grown up from the 1988 fires), and after a rolling few miles, arrive at 197 foot Fairy Falls. The ice has a blue shade to it and wraps around the dropping water. Some years, when sub-zero temperatures have maintained their hold on the Park, the ice wraps completely around the fall. While the summer view of Fairy Falls is majestic, the winter ice brings out an ethereal quality. It reminds me of a fairy’s lacy garment.

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For some reason, the bridge at the base of the falls has been removed. This is the second year that we’ve not found a replacement. We decided to continue, if we could find a route and try to get to Imperial Geyser. Diane broke trail while I skied slowly behind and questioned my sanity (my knee was doing the questioning). Over logs and around deadfall, through an old bison pockmarked meadow, and we made it. In previous visits, Imperial Geyser has been quite active, erupting every few minutes. This year, she seems quiet, bubbling a few feet high in one area. Imperial, though calmer, has not lost its beauty.


Much of the return ski was what I would call a ‘zen’ experience. I put my head down into the wind and pushed on, knowing that if I stopped too long, I might not continue. The longest I’ve skied this year, and it took a toll on my endurance. I fought to keep my mind in the present—one foot sliding in front of the other, into the wind with head down, teeth gritted. I did not want to contemplate how good it would feel to get back to the room, to sit on the bed, to stop moving.

Two good days of treating my knee as ‘normal’ and expecting it to do what I needed it to do, told me that I’d done enough skiing. I wandered out to the geyser basin with my journal and fed my soul in a more subdued manner. I caught an eruption of Old Faithful. No matter how often I see her erupt, I never tire of it, never lose the awe of it. Winter crowds are smaller and they seemed to stay for the entire eruption cycle, unlike summer crowds who turn away after the first few tall spurts. I sat on the benches, now only 12 inches above the ‘ground’ (ground being the snow piled and trampled solid on the boardwalk).


Gratitude. I try to cultivate an attitude of feeling grateful. Being thankful for this world, for being able to participate in its beauty in whatever manner that I can, brings me great joy. And I am most grateful for the time spent in the beauty of Yellowstone.

“Life is hard? True–but let’s love it anyhow, though it breaks every bone in our bodies.”                                                                                                       Edward Abbey


4 thoughts on “Frozen Diamonds, Fire and Ice–Old Faithful Winter Sojourn

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