Cooke City Experience – Beartooth Powder Guides and Patagonia


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | March 9, 2015      
Woody Creek Cabin with the view reflected.

Woody Creek Cabin with the view reflected.

Fifteen strangers, most of us wearing matching Patagonia clothing, (how’s that for an icebreaker?) all met in Bozeman, MT.

This coming fall, Patagonia will release their quiver of outerwear designed for human-powered ventures into the backcountry. What better way to showcase the new products than to get journalists together on an intimate backcountry hut trip in the Beartooth Mountains on the Montana/Wyoming border. Patagonia and Beartooth Powder Guides based out of Cooke City, Montana joined forces for a week-long leg busting, gear testing foray into the mountains.

Our first stop had us spending the evening at the Chico Hot Springs resort just south of Livingston. We gathered that evening for an incredible meal where Patagonia’s top mountain designers talked shop and gave us the full rundown on the new Backcountry Touring line. Post presentation, we soaked in the springs and packed our bags for an alpine start to drive through Yellowstone Park to Cooke City.

Some of Patagonia’s new Backcountry Touring line en route to some skiing around the cabin.

Some of Patagonia’s new Backcountry Touring line en route to some skiing around the cabin.

In the foothills of the Absaroka Mountain Range, Chico Hot Springs Resort.

In the foothills of the Absaroka Mountain Range, Chico Hot Springs Resort.

Glen and Christian showcasing the new Refugative Jacket – a 3 layer Gore-Tex shell with circular knit backing -- packable and light.

Glen and Christian showcasing the new Refugative Jacket – a 3 layer Gore-Tex shell with circular knit backing — packable and light.

Entrance to Yellowstone National Park

Entrance to Yellowstone National Park

The locals.

The locals.

To think that this message was warranted…

To think that this message was warranted…

The end of the road through Yellowstone National Park in the winter is a quaint (alright, painfully tiny) town dominated by the infamous sledneck culture, along with a modest number of human powered backcountry skiers and splitboarders. For my first trip to Cooke City, many of the fabled rumors were proven true — the ambient noise of snowmobiles and the smell of 2-stroke, as well as the incredible relief and terrain of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountain Ranges.

Our group of 15 strong showed up to Ben Zavora’s house on Main Street (also the store front for Beartooth Powder Guides) and was briefed by the four guides on the next week of “gear testing”. The guide service owns a yurt as well as a cabin, and our large group was to split into two. The Mount Zimmer Yurt is a 7 mile snowmobile ride from town, and is nestled up high in the alpine below many large peaks, including Granite Peak, which is Montana’s tallest peak. The terrain, although only seen from afar, looks absolutely marvelous. The Woody Creek cabin, hand built by Ben himself, is positioned in a meadow just below tree line and provides access to four different wilderness areas and high alpine peaks most of which are in Wyoming. The group split up by mode of travel; the splitboarders went to the Mount Zimmer Yurt and the skiers and I (the rogue splitboarder) spent the week at the Woody Creek Cabin.

The sled-neck heaven of Cooke City

The sled-neck heaven of Cooke City.

The gypsy caravan heads up to Woody Creek Cabin

The gypsy caravan heads up to Woody Creek Cabin.

Some terrain immediately adjacent to the cabin.

Terrain immediately adjacent to the cabin.

The skin up to the cabin is only about an hour from town, so the gypsy caravan set out with extra kits of outerwear to test. Beau Fredlund and Ben Zavora were the chosen ones to accompany us for the rest of the week. We arrived at the cabin and I was immediately impressed with the layout and construction of this thing, especially knowing that Ben had carried everything up there on his back – describing his summer of building as “serious man camp.” Before soliciting my endless questions, we salvaged the afternoon and got out for a sampling of the terrain nearby. With a few inches of recent snow and ridgetop winds, we stayed relatively low for the best snow.

Looking out across the valley towards where the yurt is located.

Looking out across the valley towards where the yurt is located.

Ben and Beau manage the terrain on our way back to the cabin.

Ben and Beau manage the terrain on our way back to the cabin.

Evenings at the cabin were spent having an open forum on how the various outwear kits performed, listening to Ben and his numerous crazy stories about the area, and of course working hard to get through the select bottles of whiskey that were hauled up there. The cabin sleeps 11 people on memory foam mattresses and boasts great views off the porch of the surrounding peaks. Beartooth Powder Guides rents out both the cabin and the yurt for unguided adventures — both around $250 per night. A definite recommendation!

Arriving back at the cabin every night in time for a whiskey slap.

Arriving back at the cabin every night in time for a whiskey slap.

The cabin is plenty spacious for 11 people.

The cabin is plenty spacious for 11 people.

Ben and Beau worked hard to keep us all satisfied, fat and happy in the evenings and safe and stoked during the day. This was my first guided experience, and I will say it was strange at times to have food prepared and dishes cleaned while I sat back and engaged in conversation. Of course, I could not sit back for too long and stepped in and forced my way to some dirty dishes (thanks for that Beau). As much as I value being in the primary collaborative decision making process while out in the mountains, the trip format with Beartooth Powder Guides and a large group of strangers made the most sense for ease of decision making and risk management during the day. Beau and Ben struck the balance with our group and we were rewarded with long days and excellent skiing.

Beau, Ben, and KT hashing out the details for skiing and photos.

Beau, Ben, and KT hashing out the details for skiing and photos.

Relatively safe conditions allowed us to venture into more open terrain.

Relatively safe conditions allowed us to venture into more open terrain.

Couldn’t leave Cooke City without a little couloir skiing.

Couldn’t leave Cooke City without a little couloir skiing.

Glen and KT booting up the “Dead Goat” Couloir -- interesting namesake --  Ben found a goat skeleton near here with a rope tied around its neck.

Glen and KT booting up the “Dead Goat” Couloir — interesting namesake — Ben found a goat skeleton near here with a rope tied around its neck.

Looking out into the greater Yellowstone area, including a distant view of the Tetons.

Looking out into the greater Yellowstone area, including a distant view of the Tetons.

With several days of exploring the nearby terrain and testing different outwear combinations every day we started to wind things down. Ben had made it clear that we couldn’t carry any libations out with us, so our final evening was spent working hard to honor such a request. The results were a mixed bag of emotions on our morning of departure and we made our way back down to Cooke City – a quick 30 minute ski.

More eye candy.

More eye candy.

One of my favorite parts about this trip was the travel through the Greater Yellowstone area. As a place I have visited in the summer when I was very young, and only hearing of the persistent traffic jams and middle of the road stopping cars, I avoided ever coming back. The drive in the winter, although not clear of people, is an indescribable blend of massive alpine faces, hearty wildlife, and a winter landscape of beauty and ruggedness. In a relatively short drive, we witnessed countless bison, bighorn sheep, coyotes tramping across river valleys, and a pack of 11 wolves eating a bison carcass. All of this, surrounded by some of the most dramatic landscape around.

Roadside attractions.

Roadside attractions.

Thanks again to Corey Simpson and all the others with Patagonia and Ben and Beau with Beartooth Powder Guides for a great trip to a very uniquely beautiful locale.

If you are searching for more unbelievable eye-candy of this area give Beau Fredlund’s Photo Blog a gander (note: set aside a couple of hours).



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Comments

21 Responses to “Cooke City Experience – Beartooth Powder Guides and Patagonia”

  1. Tuck March 9th, 2015 11:44 am

    “This coming fall, Patagonia will release their quiver of outerwear designed for human-powered ventures into the backcountry.”

    Too funny. I’ve been using their outwear for that purpose for a few decades now.

    Can you comment on how you liked the new items?

    I’ve been using their Nano-Air jacket this year, and I’ve started referring to it as the “magic jacket”. It’s been washed once all season, because it was getting slightly whiff… That was after several 16+ mile runs and many ski days.

    That jacket with a harder shell would be a one-jacket quiver.

  2. Lou Dawson 2 March 9th, 2015 12:19 pm

    Tuck, I asked the same thing… word is this is a truly purposed “backcountry skiing” complete line of clothing. Perhaps just semantics to some degree, but it sounds like they really do have some stuff that’s pretty specifically targeted and designed.

    Coop has the review part of this in the works, I’m sure the stuff was super nice.

    Pretty interesting watching everyone jump on the backcountry skiing train. Can’t blame ’em, best danged sport in the universe.

    Lou

  3. Toby March 9th, 2015 12:28 pm

    So, hopefully they bring some truly breathable jackets with Polartech shield material to the market. Or anything equivalent good stuff. I cannot stand all of these WS and GTX hermetically sealead oferrings marketed as “active” something..
    And more athletic fit please finally.

  4. Ted March 9th, 2015 12:36 pm

    Hopefully they figured out that no matter how “breathable” the fabric is, nothing beats good ventilation; pit zips, thigh vents, etc – gotta have ’em.

  5. Jerky Schmilkus March 9th, 2015 1:18 pm

    “Hopefully they figured out that no matter how “breathable” the fabric is, nothing beats good ventilation; pit zips, thigh vents, etc – gotta have ‘em.”

    Not a single piece of my backcountry gear bears a single ounce of unnecessary zips for vents.

    Too hot? Wear a lighter jacket.

  6. Jernej March 9th, 2015 1:33 pm

    Sorry Jerky… but I`m alread wearing the lightest possible jacket and pants. Still waaaay too hot on most days even with the vents. I usually end up going uphill in base layer only and pants rolled up into shorts. I liked the idea someone mentioned in another post – zip off pants 🙂

  7. Dan March 9th, 2015 2:43 pm

    Nice TR. Is there anything to say about the forthcoming Patagonia “AT ski clothing”…more than one photo, or is that a secret?

  8. John March 9th, 2015 2:50 pm

    I skied there in December. There is some great terrain, plus getting to see Yellowstone Park in the winter is unique.

    It is a great place to take a group of people in which some ski, some may want to snowmobile, and some just want to enjoy the park with it’s wildlife and scenery. There are also over 300 ice climbing routes in the area.

    Ben is a great guy!

  9. ty March 9th, 2015 3:38 pm

    a blog post is presented about what is likely the most rad place to ski tour in the lower 48, and most of the comments are about jackets. sheesh

  10. Lou Dawson 2 March 9th, 2015 4:38 pm

    Ty, you’ve got a point. But. You want to lead off with something other than a jacket comment (grin)?

    Me, I’m fascinated by a place where I could park my sled in front of my house, hop on, and be ski touring pristine backcountry in minutes? Is that what it’s really like there?

  11. Patrick Fink March 9th, 2015 4:59 pm

    What kind of rope are you using in those ski cutting shots?

  12. John March 9th, 2015 6:01 pm

    Cooke City is “sledneck city” for some of the winter. Don’t know the exact dates, as many factory teams test there. You may be awakened in the middle of the night by a high revving sled.

    Yes Lou, you can park them at your front door, and access a lot of the area via mining claims. Need to look at maps for legal access though. Many sleds venture into non-motorized areas to the East of Cooke City.

  13. Coop March 9th, 2015 6:03 pm

    Thanks for the comments all!

    Lou,
    Yes you can sled through town and ski from town or sled from town and ski from there

    Patrick,
    That rope is the 6mm mammut rappel cord.

    All the rest,
    I will cover all the gear in a post this week. Check back in!

  14. ty March 9th, 2015 6:55 pm

    Yes, that is what it is really like there. You don’t even have to use your sled, cause the touring right outside of town is great. The two trips I have had this year were incredible. Low avy danger, fresh snow, lines of a lifetime.

    A year ago I was there in late march. It snowed continuously for the entire 4 days I was there….I parked my sled in front of the hotel and toured from town each day. In the morning i toured south of town for a while, skied back to town, had lunch and sat in the hot tub, and then went for an evening ski north of town, shredding incredible turns through people’s back yards, and finishing the line by doing a drop onto main street. That is Cooke in a nutshell. The slednecks can be a bit annoying and down right dangerous if they are highmarking on a line you are climbing or skiing, but that aspect of the experience is a little overblown, and they can be avoided if you venture into the wilderness areas, which is not hard to do.

    A few other things. Cooke is the wild west. It is where the highway ends (literally) and you are just as likely to ski with wildlife as you are to ski with other skiers. It is a very special place that is kinda under the radar for now, but the snow fall is legendary, and the terrain is unreal. I suspect it will only grow in popularity with the touring crowd despite how far out of the way it is. 3 weeks ago there was a group of sled-snowboarders there filming with high dollar cameras. I have seen some cool edits pop up on the interweb the last few years, so the secret is out in some respects…

  15. Lou Dawson 2 March 9th, 2015 7:55 pm

    The next Japan!

  16. Ted March 10th, 2015 7:18 am

    Let’s be clear. Cooke is not under the radar nor has it been for quite sometime. @ty, Im guessing your frame of reference is small but it continues to grow each year both with snowmobiles and skiers and has only been fueled by a certain bankrupt business owner and a blogger.

  17. ty March 10th, 2015 11:26 am

    Beau’s blog is rad. Its the best ski-photo blog ive ever seen….when i say it us under the radar Im comparing it to other places that ive regularly skied over the last 10 years, and Cooke is relatively unchanged compared to The Wasatach, Bridger Bowl and Teton Pass. Those places are a lot more busy and overrun by skiers. Cooke really is not, especially south of town

  18. Trent March 10th, 2015 5:22 pm

    Jernej,

    “I usually end up going uphill in base layer only and pants rolled up into shorts.”

    What’s wrong with that?

  19. gringo March 11th, 2015 5:59 am

    I’ll give another thumbs up to Cooke City. Epic terrain, and a wild west feeling thats has been all but erased in gentrified UT, WY, and CO ski hotspots.

    Not sure that it will ever get too big considering how long it takes to get there, I mean a 10 hour drive from SLC ( for example) is pretty long for most people.

  20. See March 14th, 2015 8:36 pm

    Looks fantastic, but where the women at?

  21. Coop March 14th, 2015 8:40 pm

    See,
    I couldn’t agree more. There were several women planning to be on the trip, but coincidently various things came up.

    It would be great to have that perspective on Patagonia gear as well as the trip! Kt Miller was there briefly – behind the lens as per usual.





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