Category Archives: Adventures & Quests

Family Adventure: Yellowstone N.P.

Reading Time: 9 minutes

We had always talked about doing “Christmas at Yellowstone.”  It was sort of a bucket list trip. So we decided that now was as good of time as any – packed up my mom, the kids, and the two of us and went for it.

Here’s a rough outline of our agenda with a sampling of the 3,000+ photos we took!

Note: This post was a long time in the making.  Our trip took place Dec. 16 – 24, 2017.

Day 1 – December 16

This was mostly a travel day and fairly uneventful.  

Welcome to Jackson

We flew into Jackson, WY and rented a car.  Grabbed a quick bite to eat at Snake River Brewery. And hit the road to drive up to West Yellowstone, MT.

There is a pretty decent mountain pass between Jackson and West Yellowstone (Teton Pass Highway).  And Google routed us backroads to save us I am guessing 38 seconds at the risk of being lost in the wilderness if we encountered car troubles. Although, we did see the largest mule deer that we’ve ever seen.

Route from Jackson to West Yellowstone

We used the Kelly Inn as our base camp in West Yellowstone, and it got the job done.  

Day 2 – December 17

The second day was about getting into the park as we were staying the next couple of nights in the park at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.

We decided to spend a little extra and use the trip in as a private geyser tour (totally worth every dollar).  We used Backcountry Adventures as our tour guide for all our tours.

The snowmobile tours are pretty popular.  That really wasn’t an option for us with my mom and daughter.  But there are some advantages to the snowcoach – mainly you’re not driving.  Also, you have more sets of eyes to see things that I think you’d just motor past on a snowmobile.

Madison River

We saw some awesome sights on the way into the park.

Bison herd
Trumpeter Swans – Parents and Juvenile
Coyote

When your guide is impressed by the sights, you know you’ve just seen something cool.

Fox with Carryout
When the guide is impressed, you should be too!
Yeah, kid. This is amazing.
Paint Pots

The cold temperatures really highlight the thermal features.  

Bison in the Mist – could be my favorite photo of the trip…
Grand Prismatic Spring

Flocking occurs when the steam refreezes where it lands

Flocked Trees & Shrubs

We stayed at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.  Our trip coincided with the first week the park was open for its winter season and that seemed to work to our advantage as visitor traffic was pretty light for our whole trip.

Day 3 – December 18

We decided to do a day excursion from the Old Faithful area over to the West Thumb Geyser Basin on the shores of Yellowstone Lake.  The trip took us across the Continental Divide via a snowcoach.

Snowcoach

One of the interesting parts of visiting in winter is that the snow and cold temperatures really highlights the multitude of thermal features – that you probably wouldn’t notice in warmer months.  All those unfrozen spots in the lake are the result of hidden thermal features.

Yellowstone Lake
Kepler Cascades

After returning to the Snow Lodge back at the Old Faithful area, Mrs. SFTE and I rented some cross country skis from the Bear Den Ski Shop and she proceeded to pound me into the ground.

Mrs. SFTE says “Eat my dust!”
Nordic Trails

We attempted to make it out to the Lone Star Geyser, but ran out of daylight.

PistonBully grooming the roads.

Day 4 – December 19

This was our last day at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.  We scheduled a group shuttle back out to the West Entrance around mid-day, but that gave us some time to explore the Upper Geyser Basin in the morning.

When I tell folks about the trip, this was one of the most amazing parts (to me at least).  I think we were about the only people out in the Geyser Basin this morning. Compare that to pictures during other seasons.

Old Faithful all to ourselves!
Old Faithful
Old Faithful and Old Faithful Inn
Transportation back to West Yellowstone
Wild West Pizzeria & Saloon – Eat Here!

Day 5 – December 20

The fifth day was a trip to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

The canyon (Canyon Village area) is in the north central part of the park.  It was actually easier to get there from West Yellowstone, than from the Old Faithful area.  That’s why we chose to leave the park the day before. And the Kelly Inn was a little more economical than the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.

However, even from West Yellowstone, this was a full day trip.  We chose to do a private tour again and we had Mr. Pierre as our tour guide again.

Upper Falls
Enjoying the snowcoach decision vs. snowmobile.
Bald Eagle
Beryl Spring – This might have been my favorite feature.

Our tour guide was awesome!

Mr. Pierre (our tour guide)

This was a good day (every day on this trip was a good day).  It was a lot of windshield time. If you made me choose one thing to take out of our trip, it probably would be this day.

Day 6 – December 21

The sixth day was a travel day back to Jackson from West Yellowstone. But we stopped by the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center before we left town.  

The drive back to Jackson was beautiful.

Stopped by the Teton Science School for a private tour.  Check out their amazing programs!

And had a nice evening in Jackson.

Day 7 – December 22

We started off the seventh day with a half day wildlife tour guided by Bear Witness Safari.  Highly recommended.

Moose
Through the spotting scope.
Bighorn Sheep
Through the spotting scope.
And visiting up close.

And did a tour of the National Elk Refuge.  The weather had been pretty warm without much snow, so despite a heroic effort of our sled driver, we only saw a few elk.  In fact there was so little snow, the sled was actually a wagon.

 Can you find the elk in this picture?  There’s at least three.

Day 8 – December 23

The eighth day of our trip was open.  We stopped by Jackson Hole and drove over to Grand Teton National Park.

A good snow fort is hard to beat.

Day 9 – December 24

The ninth day was our return trip back to Ohio.

Summary

We’ve all said that we would do this exact trip again.  

The only thing I think I would change is spend a few more days at the Snow Lodge in Yellowstone.  Originally, I was thinking that you might run out of things to do here. Far from it. I could easily spend several more days here and would plan on some snowshoeing or nordic skiing trips out to some of the geysers a bit further out.

https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/utah/solamere-loop--3

Family Mission: Solamere Loop Trail

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Another family mission in the Park City area.

We did most of the Solamere Loop Trail – although we traversed across the ridge line to the other “peak” versus taking the trail around the south side.

Took about 2 hours with a couple of snack stops.  Nice views of Park City, Deer Valley, the Jordanelle Reservoir and surrounding area.  Not a long trail, but the elevation gain made it rewarding.

Adventure: Yosemite N.P.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We took advantage of my business trip in late July to the Los Angeles area to take a family trip to Yosemite National Park (https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm).  While not necessarily the closest option, Mrs. SFTE had never been and I was there only once for about a day back when I lived in San Francisco.  So we decided to go for it.

Given that we had limited time and the trip was multi-purpose, I think we did a pretty solid job of seeing a solid portion of the park.

Day 1

We left the Los Angeles area around noon and had a pretty hefty drive up to the park. 

We stayed in the cabins at Camp Curry (formerly Half Dome Village).  No, not real camping, but convenient, since we didn’t really have gear.

Home sweet home!

Day 2

We have some friends that worked in the park for a while, so we asked them about areas that would provide a good feel for the park given our limited time but also help avoid the heat and the crowds.

They sent us up to Toulomne Meadows.  I’d highly recommend making the trek up there.

Lembert Dome

We did a few hikes here.

Lembert Dome – awesome hike!

We at lunch by some cascades on the Dana Fork.

Cascades on Dana Fork

We did a scramble up a dome near Olmstead Point.

And then finished with a hike through the Wawona Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Wawona Grove

Day 3

We decided to take on Yosemite Valley.  First up was the Mist Trail – all the way to Nevada Falls.  The above average snowpack meant the water flow was still impressive.

Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, Mt. Broderick & Half Dome

We got an early start, but to avoid the crowds coming up the trail, we descended via the John Muir Trail.

Super proud of Little SFTE.  She handled the hike like a champ.

Top of Nevada Falls

Once we got back to the valley, we walked over to the visitor’s center and grabbed a pizza and ate it by the river.  There was also a river bath – but no pictures were taken.

Valley Floor

Day 4

Unfortunately, we had to head back to Los Angeles to catch our flight.  On the way out of the park, we checked out El Capitan.

Climb on, kid!

El Capitan

And, we stopped by the Mariposa Grove.  As expected, it was super crowded, but still worth a visit.

Mariposa Grove

Summary

It is difficult to describe the scale of the majesty of the park.  All I can really say is that you need to go see it for yourself. I just kept muttering “this is freakin’ amazing” at every turn. 

There’s not much we would do differently.  We’d like to come back and spend more time up in Toulomne Meadows and try to camp up there.

Colorado Ski Trip

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“This is no longer a vacation, it’s a quest.” – Clark Griswold

Copper Mountain, CO

Our neighbors invited us to go skiing in Colorado over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend.  We hadn’t gotten out west to ski since 2016, when we did a week at Keystone.

It was a great trip.  Since we were traveling with friends, we did some things differently than if we had been planning the trip ourselves, but that generally turned out to be a good experience.

Downtown Frisco, CO

Frisco.  We didn’t stay at a resort, but instead stayed in Frisco.  This is a cool little ski town. We had more space, for less cost, and didn’t miss being at the resort.

Copper Mountain. We skied Copper Mountain, which we had never done.  Our friends had a connection on some discounted passes.  Really enjoyed the resort. Nice terrain with low key, family friendly vibe.

Airbnb.  This one will make me sound out of touch, but we had never used Airbnb.  Easy. No issues. Place was awesome.

Turo. We used Turo to rent a passenger van at a great rate.  There were no family trucksters available. Rate was great, but there were a few things less than convenient.  Pickup and drop off were in the general parking areas. Found the requirement to wash the vehicle yourself (or incur an additional charge) a bit inconvenient.  Found the requirement to vacuum out the vehicle entirely impractical, unless you dropped off all your gear at the airport and then went back out to find a car wash somewhere (Denver’s airport is not exactly close to anything).

Southwest. We flew Southwest.  I hadn’t flown Southwest since 2007, when I flew the airline on a business trip from St. Louis to Cleveland (I think) and was seated in this middle seat of a rearward facing row.  This trip was much more pleasant than the prior. With kiddos, you get some preference in boarding priority. And, ski gear flies free (one bag = ski bag + boot bag).

Day 1 – Friday.

First flight out put us on the ground in Colorado early.  After some delays getting through the tunnel, we managed to get checked in early and headed over to Copper for a few hours of skiing.  They had gotten about 3” overnight and 6” throughout the day, so conditions were fantastic.

We hit up Peppino’s Pizza since we hadn’t stopped for groceries yet and I would recommend it.

.

.

.

.

Day 2 – Saturday.

Pancakes, Pancakes…

Our rental place was super well stocked.  They even had an electric griddle. Pancakes play an important part in our lives.

.

.

.

.

Learning Experience

Breakfast and then off to ski.  Great day, although my daughter did learn some valuable lessons about tree wells.

.

.

.

.

.

Day 3 – Sunday.

Good day.  A bit crowded due to the holiday weekend.  We found the Rendezvous Lift and the Wheeler Creek and Union Park runs, which were a lot of fun and kept us out of some of the longer lift lanes at the base.

The resort had put in a couple of new lifts but they were not operating at 100%, and combined with the crowds, were causing some longer lines.

Copper Mountain Resort, CO

Day 4 – Monday.

Yep, more skiing.

.

.

.

Day 5 – Tuesday.

Trails in Frisco, CO

Our flight was later in the afternoon, but decided not to try to ski.  We did a short hike up to Rainbow Lake, which was accessible from some trails basically out the backdoor of our rental place.

Rainbow Lake
Red Rocks

We checked out and grabbed breakfast at Bread + Salt.  Highly recommended.

On our drive back down to Denver, we stopped by Red Rocks and Lookout Mountain.

So, all in all, great trip.  Add four more days of skiing to our season count.  We’re planning to be back in Colorado in mid-March.

.


Be Back In March

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Credits:

This article was helpful in making a few panorama’s when Google Photos failed me.

Holiday Valley Ski Trip

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Given that I started a new role less than five months ago, my holiday schedule was up in the air a bit as the year came to a close.  Also, the end of the year is always a bit hectic with budgeting – and this was the first budgeting cycle for this board and management team.  Plus, there are a number of other initiatives underway (more on some of those later).

So we opted for a relatively low stress and flexible holiday plan.  

We had made our first trip as a family up to Holiday Valley at the end of last season for a long weekend.  We were living outside of Cleveland at that time so the drive was under three hours. Even from Columbus it is fairly manageable – under five hours – and almost all highway with little in the way of city traffic.

Driving also makes it much easier to pack gear, food, and for this trip – presents.

Overall, we’ve found the resort to be low-key and family friendly.  The skiing is definitely east coast – but I would argue respectable.  Skiable area is 290 acres including 58 runs and 13 lifts. The longest run, Mardi Gras, comes in at a mile.  Total vertical is 750 feet – again east coast metrics – but on par with Seven Springs or Snowshoe. A plus is that Holiday Valley is in the lake effect snowbelt, so average snowfall comes in at 180 inches.  

Last year, we drove in on the backside of a storm that dropped about 12 inches that made for really great skiing.  And, I have friends who have said they have had full on powder days here. Also, being east coast, they have 95% snow making coverage.

Our favorite trail is Tannebaum, which takes you through a really beautiful pine glade.

Yes, got the golden chair lift.

We stayed in the same condos, Snow Pines, that we did last year.  Nothing fancy for sure, but ski in / ski out and reasonably priced.  Discounted ski passes come with the lodging. We averaged just over $50 per day per adult.  Our daughter skis free.

The town, Ellicottville, has a nice ski town vibe.  The Ellicottville Brewery is definitely worth checking out and I’d recommend their signature Blueberry beer (yes, that is a blueberry floating in our beer).  Growler fills are reasonable too (~$12) so pack that too.

So, nice little break at the end of a pretty long block of work starting back in August.  It was great to disengage a bit – in a way that sticking around town would not have made possible.  But the trip was pretty low-key, so avoided some of the “I need a vacation from my vacation” syndrome that can happen on more involved trips. The saw should be pretty sharp at the start of the New Year.

Most importantly, we got four ski days in to start off our ski season.  We’re looking for 25+ days this season…that’s something to keep the motivation levels up..