Cooke City: Zimmer Yurt

Mt Zimmer Sunset

Cooke City, Montana; one of those places where you say it's name, depending on who you talk to will either bring two drastically different reactions. You either get the, "where is that?" or the "I love that place". Hearing and reading about the latter reaction from ski mountaineers is what has been motivating me the past few years to visit. This past weekend, because of an unexpected four days off for the holiday, I finally had the opportunity to get out there.

January 2, Day 1: "Welcome to Man-tana"

We - Wiley, Ryan and myself - left January 1st, New Years Day, maybe the roughest day to wake up early to get into a car and start driving four hours north. Luckily, only four hours because we made plans to stay in Bozeman for the night with one of my friend's, Wiley, friends.

After a night of meeting new people, slow drinking, conversations and a great dinner we got up in the wee hours to head out to Cooke City at 5am. Four hours later, the sun just barely cresting over the massive peaks that surround the tiny 140-person town, we meet up with our guide service, Beartooth Powder Guides, who is to take us into their yurt for the next 3 days.

Cooke City, itself is barely a town. It is within a few minutes of the Yellowstone National Park border making it difficult to get to in the Winter with one way in and one way out because of the Beartooth Highway only open during the short warm season (highly recommend driving it if in the area). This obviously makes it a rather isolated (lovely) place.

Cooke City, Montana Town

Ore House Saloon Cooke City, Montana

Yellowstone Trading Post Cooke City, Montana

Shark Fin Cooke City, Montana

Entering the town you notice that snowmobiles litter the gas stations, bar and breakfast restaurant. This is what I imagine these old west towns looked like in the past but those people rode different stallions than your modern day sledneck. Looking up past the small one story buildings you are surrounded by massive peaks that look so good to ski right out your front door, which apparently does happen. The town had a western charm to it that I imagine will probably never change. Sure it is a destination, but I find it to be too isolated and because it is surrounded by non-developmental, national park land the chance to build anything major is nonthreatening.

With the yurt 7 miles from town, we get snowmobiled in keeping us fresh for the first day so we can go touring after our "this is how things works here" orientation. Brian, our guide, gave us some beta on the area and left us to be in our small, spacious, probably-going-to-smell-after-day-one, six-person-capacity-home for the next three days.

Zimmer Yurt

Zimmer Yurt

Zimmer Yurt

The yurt sits on a small knoll directly overlooking Companion Lake with mountains as far as the eye can see. Nothing will motivate you more but a view like that to go romp around in the mountains.

Highly motivated and stoked we got our gear ready and got out to check out what the scene was in south central Montana. We had three routes planned; one short, one medium and one long. Since we had some time but not a ton we opted for the medium sized tour that would take us into the Zimmer Creek area, that is overcast by the major peak, Mt Zimmer.

Skiing out of the yurt we found insta-powder that led us into the mouth of the creek. Hiking in another two miles we looked around our 270 degree view of possibilities. Because of the terrible snowpack that Montana was currently seeing we decided, before we even left Jackson, that we would be over-conservative. To preface, the snowpack in Montana is similar to Wyoming's. Deep, deep facets that regularly fail to the ground with or without a trigger. With that in mind, again, we decided to keep everything low angle somewhere in the 30 degree range staying out of the meaty 36-40 degree range where snow likes to slide.

Moving forward into the creek, you could feel that the snow in every aspect was still holding solid powder. Ben, one of the Beartooth Guides, had suggested something south facing as it would still hold up for another day but most likely not for the next with the temps getting into the mid-20s and the sun fully blazing on the surface. We scoped out some areas after moving up and out of the trees, focusing in on a south facing line off of what is called Jim Dandy. There were a few scattered trees making them solid anchors for the terrain and making us feel a little better about what could happen.

Mt Zimmer

Reaching the summit of Jim Dandy, you could see everything that Zimmer Creek had to offer. Steep lines, mellow lines, coulis; hell this one drainage had it all. Of course there also is Mt Zimmer which is just plain intimidating, especially when it is not filled in.

We sat up top, took photos, transitioned over and started our move back home. The snow up high was pretty terrible, wind-blown but once we got a few turns in the snow softened and semi-powdery snow was slashed. Skiing through the trees held even better snow spitting us back onto our skin track, our road home.

January 3, Day 2: "Yurt Lyfe"

Waking up in a yurt is actually pretty cozy. Grant it, I refused to cook so breakfast was made for me (I cleaned) and the fire was taken care of by the other two. Seeing as my place in Jackson is freezing year round, any place over the temperature of 50 degrees feels hot to me but it was good to have partners who enjoy doing that stuff.

At any rate, we ate breakfast after sleeping in until about 8am and headed out to a bigger tour day out past Goose Lake. We started hiking out knowing well and good that we would be out for the whole day packing lunches and enough water to sustain an eight hour hike.

Crossing over snowmobile tracks for a few miles we finally reached the wilderness boundary where only human-powered feet can go. The drainage is pretty long and slowly opens up to where Goose Lake is hiding under snow and ice.

The scene is unimaginable. To the north, in the distance, massive 2000' couloirs stare at you straight in the face asking to be climbed on Wolf Mountain. To the east, rocky faces show potential of what could be if things start to pick up this season. To the west, you find more mellow, playful lines that remind me of being in Chile.

Wolf Mountain

To the East

It is a place I was jones'n over but at the same time needed a reminder that it is sketchy out there. Then you look a little bit to the Northwest and see a huge, natural slide off of Mount Fox that quickly does just that. A slide that broke off the entire face, end-to-end, to the ground and the deposition zone traveled all of the way hitting our skin track.

Mt Fox

Moving closer to the Goosebumps, where we heard there was the best view, we stopped short and hit an easy line, called Warmup, before slogging up to the viewpoint. The snow stayed consistent throughout, wind-loaded and not real good until we hit lower angle where snow had settled to some powder.

Getting to the bottom, at the lake, we transitioned and moved for the Goosebumps getting one of the greatest views of the area. Look below for those photos/video:

With the sun setting, we made our way out and back to the yurt for our last night there. A solid 10 mile day in the books and we all were pretty cashed but still wanted more.

January 4, Day 3: "Boom, Boom, Slice"

Unfortunately, we made plans to leave today as we all have to go back to work on Tuesday. We picked the shortest route which was our route out as well. We got our overnight gear packed and ready to be thrown back on the snowmobile for Brian to take back to town carrying only our day packs on us fully aware that we will be skiing but will also have a seven mile hike out as well.

We went up to Alp Rock to scope out the zone. It was pretty disappointing and not much to write home about so we said "screw it, let's just go home." We started moving down and hit a continuous pillow line that was really fun and something I have never done before. It was a nice conclusion to the trip. We started moving lower and lower, then I lost Ryan who was leading. I look up and see him putting in a bootpack in another very awesome, I-can't-wait to ski, pillow line.

One after the other, we hike up and down, up and down (probably 3 or 4 times each) skiing some of the best snow we have found all trip. We made plans to be hiking out by 11am. We did not start moving out until about 12:30pm. Like I said above, I have never skied a pillow line like that before, and I have never had the much fun. I get it now. I get it.

Exhausted we shared a beer on the hike out to get back to the yurt which was no longer ours and started moving back to town. Seven long miles taking two hours time while staring at one of the coolest ranges surrounding a town, it is hard not to reminisce what kind of weekend you just had and wanting to come back almost immediately. Wiley threatened that she was moving there.

Cooke City, Montana a place where, if conditions are right, can have any type of skiing that you damn well please. If considering going up there I would do it. Grab some friends and spend some of that hard earned money on an amazing experience. I would love to go back myself, we will just have to wait and see what is going on this season.

 The view into town

Thanks to Wiley and Ryan for joining up with such late notice. I would not have been out there if you guys didn't say yes.

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