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Winter in the Mountain West

Courtesy Ogden CVB

In many places, a forecast of snow and subzero temperatures is enough to keep you indoors for the day. But in America’s mountainous West, cold, snowy days make some of the best opportunities for outdoor recreation.

From Utah to North Dakota, winter brings a wide variety of outdoor activities that can make great memories for travel groups. Many youth groups in that part of the country take annual ski trips, and there are plenty of great slopes throughout the region. Skiing is only the beginning; adventurous groups can try snowmobiling, dog sledding, snowshoeing and a host of other outdoor activities during a wintertime tour through the mountain areas.

If you have travelers who enjoy adventure and outside-the-box experiences, help them stave off cabin fever with a winter tour to some of the following great destinations.

Yellowstone by Snow Coach

Montana and Wyoming
For generations, Yellowstone National Park has attracted throngs of family visitors each summer, who go to see some of North America’s most amazing geological formations. In winter, however, a visit to Yellowstone is an entirely different experience.

The park closes to most vehicle traffic during the colder months, but groups can get a tour of the winter wonderland by way of snow coaches, tour vehicles that have been specially outfitted to traverse the snow.

“We run snow coach tours from December 15 through March 15,” said Mark Pearce, director of marketing for snow coach operator See Yellowstone. “The park is completely different in winter. It’s much nicer to me — the scenery is stunning with all the snow. The animals tend to come up to the road, so you see a lot more of them. And it’s much quieter because there are very few people inside the park.”

The company offers three different winter tours of the park, all of which start in West Yellowstone, Montana, and then cross the state line into Wyoming shortly after entering Yellowstone. One of the most popular tours takes guests to Old Faithful geyser and then into other thermal basins. A canyon tour takes groups to the north and south rims of the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.”

In addition to the snow coach tours, the company also offers guided snowmobile and cross-country-skiing expeditions in the park.

Skiing and More
Ogden, Utah
Winter is prime season in Ogden, Utah, a town about 45 miles north of Salt Lake City. Situated amidst the Wasatch Mountains, Ogden has two major ski resorts: Snow Basin and Powder Mountain.

“Snow Basin was the venue for the 2002 Olympic downhill and Super G speed events,” said Rich Koski, director of sales at the Ogden Convention and Visitors Bureau. “A lot of money was put into infrastructure there: It has beautiful day lodges, gondolas and an Olympic tram.”

The other resort, Powder Mountain, has 7,000 acres of skiing with a combination of lift service, snow cats and a bus system. Both resorts also have groomed trails for Nordic skiing and snowshoeing.

Snowmobilers will enjoy a visit to the Monte Cristo Recreation Area just east of town, where there are several hundred miles of groomed trails. Some of those trails lead to Hardware Ranch, a state-owned elk refuge that is also accessible to groups by motorcoach.

“The local farmers in the 1940s started putting hay out there so that the elk wouldn’t come to their farms,” Koski said. “Today, they have a gathering of 400 to 500 head of elk. They have horse-drawn sleighs that can take you right down in the middle of the herd.”

For a different experience, groups can visit Pine View Reservoir, where outfitters can arrange to take them ice fishing for croppies, perch and tiger muskies.

Sunlight Mountain Resort

Glenwood Springs, Colorado
With great skiing as well as a host of other wintertime activities, Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, makes an ideal destination for church group trips.

“We’re located right between Vail and Aspen, but we’re much smaller than the resorts there,” said group sales manager Erin Walla. “We have about 450 skiable acres, with great runs for everyone. There are lots of beginner and intermediate runs, and we also have one of the steepest runs accessible by chairlift in the state.”

Because all of Sunlight Mountain’s ski runs end up at the main lodge, group leaders can turn their skiers loose without fear of anyone’s getting lost. The resort’s ski school can teach beginners the basics of skiing, snowboarding and other mountain activities.

Travelers who don’t want to ski can enjoy the mountain in numerous other ways. The resort has 41.6 miles of snowshoe and cross-country-skiing trails. Travelers can rent the necessary equipment for these activities in the main ski shop, and groups can arrange to have a mountain guide accompany them on a snowshoe hike.

Snowmobiling tours offer another way to experience the area’s beauty.

“We have a Baylor Park tour that takes you up into a meadow that has 360-degree views of the mountains around the area,” Walla said. “The guides take you into this huge meadow and then lets you tear it up for about 45 minutes.”

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.