The stars must be aligned just right or maybe it's the freakish way the third weekend of March falls on the calendar in 2009, but for the first time in years, weather permitting, Yellowstone National Park will still be open for snowmobiling during the World Snowmobile Expo March 13-15. Yellowstone is slated to close for the season March 15.
Years ago, when the Expo was being discussed it was decided that a good weekend for the event would be on the same weekend Yellowstone closed for the season to snowmobiling, which traditionally had been the third weekend of March. The thinking was that would be a great way to kind of end the season, have the Expo on the final weekend of snowmobiling in YNP.
The plan worked for years until Yellowstone National Park officials decided to close the Park the second week of March, which happened to be one week before the Expo. On occasion, due to poor snow conditions, the Park would also close earlier than expected.
But this year, if the snow will hold, anyone who would like one more ride into the Park before it closes for the season can do so while they're in West Yellowstone, MT, for the Expo.
It is kind of weird how that weekend falls in March. The Expo-celebrating 19 years this season-has continued to be held on the third weekend of March. This year however, the Saturday of Expo weekend is actually the second Saturday of the month but Sunday is the third Sunday of the month, so technically the Park is kind of closing on the second weekend of March, which has been the case the past few years. The Expo is being held on the third weekend of March, only because of that Sunday being the third one.
Either way, it will be a bit nostalgic around town as sledders will be entering and leaving YNP. Of course, you have to use Best Available Technology snowmobiles and use a commercial snowmobile guide but hey, you can ride in the Park.
In addition to being able to snowmobile in Yellowstone National Park, many sledders will still be able to take advantage of the hundreds of miles of groomed trails outside of the Park boundaries, all easily accessed from the town of West Yellowstone. Although the Expo somewhat signals the unofficial end of winter, the season usually extends well past the third weekend of March-thanks to the perfect combination of plentiful snow and a high elevation that adds weeks to the season. While a number of snowmobilers love to ride the well-groomed trails around West Yellowstone, others know it's the place to go for excellent off-trail riding as well.
There will also be all the usual festivities around town that Expo goers have come to expect. This includes the SnoWest SnoCross, sanctioned by Mountain West Racing; snow drags, sponsored by the Washington State Snowmobile Racing Association; a vintage and antique snowmobile show (held at the race track); ATV races and an enduro race comprised of teams of three riders using one machine. The snow drags feature starting pads that allow competitors to have equal starting conditions in each of the four lanes of head-to-head racing.
The ATV races will have qualifying rounds on Friday and finals on Saturday morning. Three classes of sport utility vehicles (amateur, pro and UTV) will battle each other on the same course used for snocross. Pros will compete for a $2,000 purse.
New this year will be a Toughman Enduro Race. Scheduled for Sunday afternoon, three-man teams (using the same snowmobile, a stock 600cc or less) will compete to see which team can finish the most laps in two hours. There will be both amateur and professional classes.
Then, at Expo headquarters-The Holiday Inn Conference Hotel-you'll be able to see all the 2010 model year snowmobiles from Arctic Cat, Polaris, Ski-Doo and Yamaha as well as hundreds of aftermarket products from clothing to hop-up parts to snowmobile DVDs to skis and more. Last year there were more than 100 booths representing every aspect of snowmobiling you can imagine.
There's also plenty to do around town.
If you haven't been to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center (www.grizzlydiscoveryctr.org) lately, then it might be time to check it out during Expo weekend. Just last year, the center was expanded with the addition of the River Valley Wolf Habitat and Naturalist Cabin. The cabin allows you to view two different wolf packs up close. The cabin has huge glass windows that look out on the two packs' habitats with just the glass separating you from the wolves when the come close to the cabin. During a recent visit this winter we went to the cabin and while looking out into the wolves' domain, two wolves walked right up to the glass window, which was the only thing separating us from the animals. It's a very unique experience.
Of course, it's always interesting to see the bears, of which there are more than a half dozen these days on display at the center. Two-three bears are allowed out onto the compound at various times during the day. The center also offers several programs throughout the day.
The Yellowstone IMAX Theater, located right next to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center on Canyon Street, is another place worth stopping. There are a couple of new movies showing at the IMAX, in addition to the traditional "Yellowstone" movie.
For more information on the World Snowmobile Expo, log on to www.snowmobileexpo.com.
For information on lodging, rentals and Yellowstone tours, call (406) 646-7701 or visit www.destinationyellowstone.com.