Winter Wandering: Where To Get Your Fix for Nordic Skiing Near Cody

Moonlight and bonfires at Red Lodge Nordic Center.
Moonlight and bonfires at Red Lodge Nordic Center. Beartooth Recreational Trails Association
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East Yellowstone and the Cody areas aren't exactly known as a downhill ski mecca. But outdoor adventurers can still get their ski fix this winter, via three ski areas where they can indulge their skinny ski passion.

These nordic centers are within an hour's drive of Cody, as well as within easy distance of local brews and hearty grub perfect for post-powder refueling. Another bonus? If the conditions aren't great at one spot, chances are good that they’re excellent at another. So grab your gear and get ready to hit the trails this winter.

Red Lodge Nordic Center

Perfect conditions for skiing the Red Lodge trails.
Perfect conditions for skiing the Red Lodge trails. Beartooth Recreational Trails Association

Located north of Cody and nestled against the foothills of the mighty Beartooth Mountains is the hamlet of Red Lodge, Montana. Red Lodge claims both a downhill and nordic center so take both sets of boards with you. A quick drive from downtown, the Nordic center is operated by the Beartooth Recreational Trails Association and for just $5 you can ski all day. The foundation grooms 15K of both classic and skate track, with most trails wide open and flat, making them ideal for beginners. The north and far west trails are fun with some rolling hills and long downhill runs for a fast tuck and glide. But keep in mind there are no services at the center and dogs are not allowed.

After the sun goes down, head into town to the Red Lodge Pizza Co. for a specialty pizza or their Cole Creek Sandwich. Kids will love the crazy cookie desert. Or try the quaint and historic atmosphere of Fosters and Logan Pub and Grill, which has classic fare and 20 beers on tap as well. Another option just north of town is he Red Lodge Ales Brewery, which also is open for tours.

Park County Nordic Center

A great way to explore Yellowstone in the winter is via cross country skis.
A great way to explore Yellowstone in the winter is via cross country skis. Yellowstone National Park

Fifty miles west of Cody on the North Fork Highway lies the 19K of trails at Pahaska Tepee, groomed by the Park County Nordic Ski Association. You can ski along the gurgling North Fork River where you might see a water ouzel bobbing on a rock or even a moose lounging in the willows. Or head east to the Sleeping Giant Ski Area for a heart-thumping workout and to try out your telemark technique. Another trail heads west up the road and enters Yellowstone National Park.

On the way to the trails, keep an eye out for wildlife of all sorts: Elk and mule deer frequent the slopes, while herds of bighorn sheep literally lie on the roadway. A small number of Yellowstone bison migrate out of the park to spend their winters along the Shoshone River. Watch for them near the road as well.

There are several places to refuel after all that exercise. For south of the border fare, try Tacos El Taconazo on the west end of town and get a chicken chimichanga with the flag sauce. Or grab a burger at the Proud Cut or Cody's newest restaurant, The Buckin Burger, whose mac n’cheese is a favorite. For a slice of local life, check in at the Silver Dollar, where you'll find plenty of brews, burgers, and fries big enough to fill a platter.

Wood River Valley Ski Park

Cross country skiing offers a lung-busting workout and divine solitude.
Cross country skiing offers a lung-busting workout and divine solitude. Timo Newton-Syms

About 30 minutes west of Meeteetse is the Wood River Ski Park. This hidden gem boasts 25K of classic and skate track, backcountry trails, a warming hut, and a fully stocked overnight cabin for rent. The Meeteetse Recreation District grooms these trails and handles cabin reservations. You'll ski through meadows and forests, and with 11 trails to choose from, there’s fun for all experience levels. But you just might have the trails all to yourself, so if solitude is what you’re after, Wood River is the spot.

After you've had your fill of gliding, head back to Meeteetse for some well-earned eats and a dose of history: Amelia Earhart had a cabin built out west of town, and Butch Cassidy was arrested right on the steps of the Cowboy Bar, which is still a favorite for burgers and other bar fare. The Elkhorn Bar is another solid option, with steaks, sandwiches, and salads. Be sure to satisfy your sweet tooth with a visit to the Meeteetse Chocolatier. Saddle bronc rider and all-around cowboy Tim Kellogg creates these confections by hand and ships them across the globe.

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