Skiing from the Mount Zimmer Yurt

Story and photos by Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

Alpenglow radiates pink outside the Mount Zimmer Yurt, lighting the surrounding mountains and across the valley to the south over the dark, volcanic massifs of Pilot and Index peaks. Cooke City sits in shadow, seven miles away and 1,800 feet below.

I fill a bucket with snow to melt for water and walk back to the yurt – from the front deck, I can see the rocky 12,000-foot escarpments of Zimmer and Wilse guarding the entrance to the highest peaks of the Beartooth Mountains. The mercury on the yurt thermometer reads 5 degrees, so I head inside to the warmth of the woodstove and a game of cards.

The next morning I wake to the creak of the stove door – a friend is loading firewood into the stove and heating water for coffee. I look around at the other four bunks – everyone else is still sleeping. The yurt warms quickly, and after breakfast I load my backcountry ski pack with the day’s supplies – med kit, extra clothes, water, snacks, helmet, goggles, skins and avalanche gear.

Before heading out for the day, I walk onto the front porch and watch a light-colored fox run through the yard. Unafraid, it comes within 30 feet of me, placing perfect prints in the snow.

A half-hour later we click into our skis on the porch, climb 300 feet to the top of neighboring Alp Rock, strip off skins and drop 400 feet of steep powder turns into Star Creek. A 30-minute skin puts us atop the Grand Plateau, a 160-acre alpine patio at 10,500 feet on Mount Zimmer.

With no sign of recent avalanche activity and solid results from our snow pit, we again pull our skins and drop in, this time for the first of three 1,000-foot north-facing runs. My partner and I choose an intimidating, 45-degree rock-lined chute we’d scouted the previous day, and everyone else splits off for a glorious powder run down a wide-open gully.

The Mount Zimmer Yurt and the Woody Creek Cabin south of town are part of the new Cooke City-based business, Beartooth Powder Guides. Both have been booked regularly this year, their first season of operation, says owner Ben Zavora.

As part of the business, Zavora also guides backcountry ski tours, hosts ecology, avalanche education and ski mountaineering classes.

Unlike the yurt, which is accessible via snowmobile, the Woody Creek Cabin is set on a private inholding surrounded by Forest Service property and is accessed only via skinning or hiking. The 2.5-mile trail is gentle enough to allow carrying a heavy pack or pulling a sled. Zavora cut and hewed all the logs on the site last summer to build the cabin, which comfortably sleeps 10.

Above the cabin, a skin up Hayden Creek offers close-up views of Pilot and Index, and access to the expansive, east-facing Woody Ridge. While much of that face is high-consequence alpine terrain, the pitch eases higher in the drainage, and for those willing to make the hike back to the very top, the west side of Woody Ridge holds 1,000-foot gully stashes, hemmed by trees.

Together, the cabin and yurt access a range of ski terrain, from mellow forested meadows to ski mountaineering in the high Beartooths, with a slew of options in between.

Find more about this and summer operations at beartoothpowder.com.