In what has become a bi-annual tradition at the West Yellowstone School, basketball fans and parents of players hopped onto snowmobiles last Thursday to make a 100-mile round trip through Yellowstone’s interior to attend the Wolverine basketball games against Gardiner that evening.
The group was led and organized by Merrick Young, of See Yellowstone Tours and Three Bear Lodge, who said the trip is a unique opportunity that can only happen in a town like West Yellowstone.
“There isn’t anywhere else that I know of other than possibly Alaska that people would ride 50 miles to a basketball game,” he said. “Especially the fact that we’re riding through Yellowstone National Park’s beautiful scenic backdrop.”
Not only were they traveling through the park during winter, they were making the long trip exposed to the elements on snowmobiles.
Departing from the Bear’s Den Cinema early that afternoon, a string of 24 snowmobiles carrying 35 community members entered Yellowstone through the park’s West Entrance. The majority of the group was family members of athletes playing in the games, whom were excited to ride through the park and show their Wolverine pride. The trip through Yellowstone is also relatively shorter than driving around the park through Bozeman and Livingston, which is 166 miles one way.
“The group was mostly family,” Young said. “Most of the people had a connection with the school or were relatives of the players.”
As the group ventured down the groomed trail toward Madison Junction, a wolf feasting on a carcass and fields of bison were spotted as water glistened off of the fresh snow.
After a brief break at the Madison Junction, the group headed north to Norris Geyser Basin and continued on to Mammoth Hot Springs, where a bus was waiting to pick everyone up and travel the remaining few miles into Gardiner.
According to Young, this was the largest group of snowmobilers they’ve ever taken on the trip, and the large group broke off into smaller clusters so there wasn’t a two-mile-long string of snowmobiles heading through the park together.
“I thought it went great,” Young said. “This was probably one of the best turnouts.”
This was Young’s third trip leading the group, but he says the trips have been going on every other year for quite some time. They make the trip every two years because Gardiner and West Yellowstone alternate playing locations each season.
He says that people in the group that go on the trip every other year look forward to it, as it’s a special treat to travel such a long distance by snowmobile through the park.
“It’s great to be able to drive through an amazing park and to be able to see everything,” Young said. “It also helps avoid a four-hour car drive.”
After watching the second half of the boys’ junior varsity game and the boys’ and girls’ varsity teams play Gardiner, the group of snowmobilers piled their layers of clothing back on and traveled by bus back into the park to meet up with their machines. They then made the 50-mile trek back to West Yellowstone that night.
By the time the group rolled back into West Yellowstone around 10:30 p.m., sub-zero temperatures had set in and many were anxious to head inside to warm up. Although it was a long and cold trip back home, many of the travelers couldn’t wipe the smile from their faces as they completed the trip of a lifetime and were at the games to cheer on the Wolverines.
“People had a good time,” Young said. “Conditions were really good and the trails were smooth. It was a little cold but everyone did well.”