West Yellowstone Montana is a small mountain town nestled next to the western border of Yellowstone National Park. Winter comes as early as late October and can last through early May. With over 143” of snow annually, being active in winter is especially important. Like many other towns across America, West Yellowstone is challenged with increasing rates of childhood obesity and a downward trend in physical fitness.
The first Kids’N’Snow event took place in West Yellowstone, Montana from Thursday, December 16th through Sunday, December 19th, 2010. Over 118 kids participated in this first Kids'N'Snow event ranging from four years old to a young-at-heart grandfather. Families came from West Yellowstone and surrounding areas including Bozeman, MT; Ennis, MT; Belgrade, MT, Island Park, ID, and Idaho Falls, ID. The Bowling family from Langwood, Florida participated in events every day ranging from ski games to snowshoe hikes to the Saturday morning talks at the Visitor Center. The Swain family from Queensland, Australia was here on their 6-week ’summer’ vacation. They had planned a one-day snowcoach tour into Yellowstone Park, but came down two days early to participate in Kids'N'Snow activities. Their sons really enjoyed the "cool avalanches" video presented by the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center and seeing the hawk in the live raptor presentation by Trent Redfield from the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center.
Joanne Girvin, from the Hebgen Lake Ranger District of the Gallatin National Forest, conducted two snowshoe walks along the Boundary Trail including one with a family of 6 that came down from Bozeman, Montana just to try out the trails around West Yellowstone. They explained that they had been going to other trails around Montana, but had never been to West Yellowstone. They said it was the perfect family outing. WYSEF volunteers put on ski games (a fun way for kids to become acquainted with cross country skis) for six kids on a very snowy Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning, more kids had a chance to learn (or practice) skiing on the Rendezvous Ski Trail.
A family from Logan, Utah came up for the SPAM Cup and took part in the Kids'N'Snow activities. The Bressels said they love coming to a place with trails that wind through the forests and are relatively flat for kids. They wanted to know when the next Kids'N'Snow would be so they plan another trip to West Yellowstone. Stephanie Mollett of Ontario, Canada brought her sons in for the Sunday morning Yellowstone snowshoe walk and talk with Yellowstone Park Ranger Rich Jehle. They were excited about the Kids'N'Snow program and also wanted information on any more programs for next winter.
The program was expanded in 2011/2012 to one weekend during each winter month. Weekends were structured around existing events and expanded with other additional activities. Families came from locations within 110-miles (a day’s drive) including Big Sky, Belgrade, Ennis, and Bozeman, Montana; and St. Anthony, Rexburg, Island Park, Driggs, Idaho. Others came from farther away including Butte, Missoula, Helena, Billings, and even Great Falls, Montana. Others came from Twin Falls, Pocatello, Burley, and Boise, Idaho as well as many locations in Utah including Bountiful, Salt Lake, Logan, and Provo. We had several families that came from locations throughout Wyoming, a family from Bismarck and another from Fargo, North Dakota that came just for a Kids’ weekend. We even had families from Utah, Idaho, and Montana (Helena and Missoula) that returned for a second Kids’ weekend this winter There were also families who traveling through Montana who heard about the Kids’ program and came down for several days and others were already vacationing at Jackson, Wyoming and came over, or simply came down for the day from Big Sky. These families came from Indiana, Florida, Georgia, New York, Minnesota, Washington, Australia, and Alberta. It was exciting to see intergenerational travelers, one of critical future market segments, with grandparents and grandkids together. One set of grandparents from Idaho Falls, Idaho brought three children and five grandchildren for the weekend. Later, we received this comment on our Facebook page: “ I want to say thanks also. We had so much fun at this activity largely due to all those working behind the scenes. We had three grandkids sledding, skating and enjoying the S’mores also. I think they had just as much fun as we did :)”
There were many “ah-ha” moments throughout the winter. For the February Kids’ weekend, we worked with the North American Ice Fishing Circuit to promote a Kid’s Ice Fishing Camp. Jack Baker, NAIFC Director, made this comment after the activity: “Saturday Kids Ice Camp was everything we all want an Ice Camp for Kids to be... 144 kids and 250 parents.... standing room only... again parents and towns people alike thanked us for holding the Kids Camp... Families came from over 4 hours away, got hotel rooms for the night so their kids could come and see what ice fishing was all about. This alone made the trip worth it. The sport of ice fishing got a huge shot in the arm.”
Charlotte Mooney, owner of a local sled dog racing team and touring company Klondike Dreams, brought in her team and equipment. Kids had a chance to learn about sled dog racing and touring equipment, meet and pet a sled dog, and then take a short ride in the sled (no cost). A mother from Belgrade drove down to West Yellowstone with her two young children just for this activity, then stayed overnight for S’mores and to try out ice skating, and attended a kid’s workshop at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center the next day. As they were leaving, her daughter told me that she would be back again next winter to try more “fun winter stuff.” The Saturday S’mores event became not just a locals favorite, but for visitors as well. It’s just one activity but an example of what makes Kids’N’Snow work so well. The Town of West Yellowstone and the volunteers build a kid’s sledding hill, maintain the rink, and keep everything plowed. The WestMart hardware store across stocks over 100 pairs of skates that they bring over to let anyone use for free that night. Local grocery stores and food vendors supply all the food and paper products, while the Boy Scouts cut wood this fall for the bonfires.
Each month a different group of volunteers, from the West Yellowstone office staff to the Girl Scouts, took turns laying out the fixin’s, while other volunteers tend fires, pass out skates, and help watch the sledding hill. Local businesses supply the cash needed for insurance, advertising, and music. The S’m0res Saturday nights (one for each Kids’ weekends) had over 1,550 attendee’s. We have a family from Utah that books their winter reservations based on the March S’mores date. We have had families from Belgrade, Twin Bridges, and Missoula come down just for an old fashioned S’mores night. West Yellowstone snowcoach operators got behind the “snowcoach sampler” activity. Families could take a snowcoach from the west entrance into the park oversnow about 8-14 miles (depending on stops) and then return -for no cost, other than the cost of a single day’s snowcoach pass . By the end of the program, over 200 kids and parents, and grandparents, had the unique opportunity to visit Yellowstone this winter. A mother of three from Bozeman tweeted throughout the trip with comments such as, “We're on the snowcoach now; we've seen bald eagles, bison and Bobcat tracks! Thank you so much for providing this awesome adventure for the kids!” After four years, the program has expanded to 1000+ participants spanning more than ten states and several countries over the four weekends each winter. In 2012, the program received the “Tourism Event of the Year” from the Montana Office of Tourism and in 2014, we were awarded an AZA Nature Grant, recognizing us as an AZA Nature Play Site.
Whether it is learning to ski or just making a first snow angel, our mission is to help kids discover a true delight in winter activities while developing healthy life-long habits. If you are interested in future Kids'N'Snow programs, please send us an email at email@example.com and we will send you updates on new Kids'N'Snow event dates and kid-friendly activities in West Yellowstone.