By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Senior Editor

WEST YELLOWSTONE – More than 5,000 people will descend on West Yellowstone over Thanksgiving week for the annual Yellowstone Ski Festival. Hosted in West for more than 30 years, the event attracts Nordic skiers from all over North America, including more than 70 collegiate and club teams taking advantage of the early season tune-up.

The festival kicks off Tuesday, Nov. 25 with demos, seminars and event sign-ups, and closes Saturday, Nov. 29 with a social gathering for all registered participants. Ex-Olympian Chandra Crawford will deliver the keynote address Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., speaking about her organization Fast and Female, which encourages females age 9-19 to remain active and healthy. Crawford was a 2006 gold medalist in the Freestyle Sprint for the Canadian Olympic team in Turin, Italy.

Indoor events will be held at the Holiday Inn West Yellowstone and Rendezvous Ski Trails will host ski races, conditions permitting. If snow is too thin on the Rendezvous trails, races will be moved to the South Plateau outside of West. As of Nov. 10 there was an inch of snow in town, but more than eight inches up on the plateau, according to festival director Moira Dow.

“No matter what, we’ll be skiing,” Dow said with three weeks to go before the festival and cold, snowy conditions in the forecast.

Competitors can earn season-qualifying points for the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA), the governing body of Olympic Nordic skiing. Points can also be earned for the International Ski Federation (FIS) circuit held in Europe throughout the winter.

Biathlon competitions will be held on Wednesday, and the USSA Freestyle sprints will take place Friday on a 1.3-kilometer course. The sprints are open to all racers, offering competitive skiers a chance to earn points and amateur racers an opportunity to test their skills against the sport’s top athletes.

Saturday is distance day and also includes a junior’s and master’s race. Skiers will compete on a 10- or 15-kilometer course depending on the class of competitor.

Dow stresses that not everything happens on the trails, and at night the festival hosts a number of speakers and demonstrations at the Holiday Inn. Presentations include, among others, how to wax your skis and tips on how to dress for Nordic skiing.

“We run the gamut from the beginner to the advanced skiers with our demonstrations,” Dow said.

With ski trails at nearly 7,000 feet, West Yellowstone is one of Nordic skiing’s premier early season locations in the U.S. Whether you’re a competitive skier or just want to see how your skills stack up against the country’s best, the Yellowstone Ski Festival is a great way to get the season started.

Visit yellowstoneskifestival.com for a full event schedule and registration details.