By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily
Weathering Wyoming winters can wear down even the most resilient Wyomingites, but hidden within the snow and wind is a veritable “wonderland” of recreation, a Wyoming Office of Tourism spokesperson said.
“I think winter in Wyoming is great, because it’s so accessible,” said Piper Singer, an Office of Tourism public relations and media manager. “There’s not just one spot for winter recreation and getting to those activities is usually a short drive from wherever you’re staying.”
Listed below, the Office of Tourism suggested some winter activities to help residents and visitors break a bad case of cabin fever.
February is a lame duck for economic development in northeastern Wyoming.
But in 2019, Sheridan Travel and Tourism Executive Director Shawn Parker decided to shake up the city in the most Wyoming way ever — a ski rodeo.
“I worked with the WYO Rodeo Board and the city engineer to put together something crazy for the slowest spending day of the year,” Parker said. “The result was Sheridan Winter Rodeo.”
The main attraction — skiijoring — combines horseback riding and skiing in a mad dash for the finish line.
“Skiijoring is a sport where a horse and rider tow a skier or snowboarder along a snow-covered course with jumps and obstacles, competing for fastest time,” Parker explained.
The event was a success last year, drawing thousands, and this year, he said the organizers are stepping it up a notch.
“We’re adding Nordic skiing and fat biking the weekend before the rodeo,” Parker said. “And we’re extending the rodeo a full day to give all the (skiijoring) teams an opportunity to compete.”
Scheduled for Feb. 15-23, the event is quickly growing in popularity, but he said visitor lodging is still readily available.
“Not a lot else is going on, so people will probably be able to easily find a room,” Parker said. “But, the rodeo is becoming such a big hit that people will want to think about booking ahead to get the best accommodations.”
When the weather outside is frightful, visit the hot springs in Thermopolis, Singer said.
“It’s in a central location with great options for lodging and dining,” she said. “With the Hot Springs State Park, not only can you soak in the natural hot springs, but you’re just a hop, skip and a jump away from great opportunities for watching wildlife.”
Home to bison among other native wildlife species, the park boasts a free bath house, allowing visitors to bask in nature’s hot tub with water temperatures averaging about 104 degrees.
“It’s a charming town, and it definitely has that Western feel so many people come to experience,” Singer said. “Plus, for many, it’s on the way to Yellowstone National Park. It really is one of Wyoming’s hidden gems.”
While the park’s public restrooms, drinking systems and outdoor pool are closed during the winter, the bath house is open year round.
The Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks are as synonymous to Wyoming as the Statue of Liberty is to New York, but some people miss out on the opportunities these destinations offer during the winter, Singer said.
“Both parks are open throughout the year, but for Yellowstone, you’ll need snow coach transportation to get there,” she explained. “There are several companies located at either entrance people can book rides with.”
Exploring the parks in the off-season grants visitors an opportunity to see nature’s splendor through a different lens, Singer added.
“In many cases, it’s even easier to see the wildlife in the winter,” Singer said. “There’s several guides and outfitters that offer winter tours.”
Lodging is available in Yellowstone, but Grand Teton National Park is accessible via a day pass only.
“It’s absolutely beautiful and a whole different world up there in the winter,” Singer said.
Skiing, sledding, snowshoeing
For just the price of a cold, wet backside, sliding down a snowy hill is perhaps the most affordable and memorable winter activity in the history of mankind, closely followed by snowball fights and snow sculptures.
But at some point, the neighborhood sledding hill just isn’t enough, and that’s where Wyoming shines brightest, Singer said.
“Jackson is internationally known as a world-renowned ski destination, but we have high-quality skiing in nearly every corner of the state,” she said.
In the southeast, Snowy Range Ski Area offers numerous downhill and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails about 30 minutes from Laramie. Eleven miles from Casper in central Wyoming, Hogadon Basin Ski Area features 28 machine-groomed trails, two lifts and minimal lift lines. On the Western side of the state, Pinedale is home to one of Wyoming’s oldest ski destinations: White Pine Ski Area. And, to the North near Cody, Sleeping Giant Ski Area and Antelope Butte Ski Area provide Rocky Mountain skiing opportunities without the hassle and long wait-times common to ski resorts south of the Wyoming border.
With snow flying during as many as nine months a year, Singer said the state boasts numerous state parks and public lands for residents and visitors to discover their own trails via cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
For those with a need for speed, snowmobiling combines the petrol-fueled antics of off-road motor sports with the ability to visit awe-inspiring landscapes previously inaccessible without spending days or weeks slogging through the snow.
Mike Gray, the Laramie Area Visitor Center operations manager, said interest in Wyoming’s snowmobile trails has significantly grown during the last decade.
“Albany County sells the most snowmobile permits of any county throughout the state,” Gray said, explaining permit sales is the primary method for tracking the sport’s popularity. “We’ve definitely seen an upward trend in recent years, too. I think it’s because the Snowy Range is the perfect backdrop for spending a day on the sled.”
Albany County is home to 200 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and about 120 of un-groomed trails, he added.
Farther north and east, Singer said snowmobilers can follow trails for hundreds of miles along the Continental Divide.
“The Black Hills area near Sundance is another nice area to ride,” she added. “They have a 295-mile trail that loops through South Dakota, which is a great way to see some of the state’s greatest offerings like Devil’s Tower.”
Whether on horseback, snowmobile, skis or snowshoes, Wyoming is a frozen theme park for outdoor enthusiasts.
“All of these activities come together to create a unique winter wonderland that is sure to have people coming back year after year,” Singer said.