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Backcountry in Bighorns

2 Days of skiing in Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains: good snow, few people, cold temperatures, loads of fun!

By: Isaac Parsons + Save to a List

My brother and I had been planning this trip for the last couple of months and it had always been a thing we had talked about. One thing that made the trip a bit challenging was finding a weekend where we could both have a couple days off to make it work.

This is a view from Antelope Butte Ski area, across the valley to Moonlight Peak, where we backcountry skied. 

We decided on going to the Bighorns because it is a mountain range that is not super well known, but it is close to home and has a good amount of snow this season and has some great opportunities for skiing and camping. A complication is that I am an assistant high school basketball coach, and we have games nearly every weekend, and I had a game on the Friday night before our planned weekend, so we didn’t hit the road until nearly 10 PM that night. It was supposed to be just over 4 hour drive to get there, but it ended up being a little over 5 hours, because about 2 hours into the trip we found the roads to be packed snow and even icy, some other people found out the hard way that the roads were covered in ice. They ended up in the ditch on the other side of the interstate, we turned around and were able to pull them out of the ditch. Once we got them out of the ditch the guy gave both my brother and I big hugs and we could smell alcohol on his breathe, we then continued down the road. Eventually, we pulled into a trailhead parking lot a little after 3 AM and didn’t get to sleep in the back of the truck until almost 3:30. It was a short night, but we were cozy with plenty of extra bedding and the truck topper closing out the cold wind. 

We woke up to the sound of snowplows scraping the fresh snow off the highway nearby and the sound of a four-wheeler getting the groom ready on the Nordic trails. We weren't in a huge rush to get into the cold crisp air, but eventually had a Mountain Standard scrambler in a burrito that hit the spot before we jumped in the truck to finish off the last few miles of highway before we got to Antelope Butte.

Antelope Butte is a small ski area on Forest Service land about 60 miles west of Sheridan Wyoming. Our plan was to park on a pull-out a half mile from Antelope Butte, and then across the highway there is a skin track leading up to Moonlight Peak, and a limestone ridge that creates some beautiful bowls and lines for skiing. Once we parked, we geared up, and started skinning up the mountain side. The weather was a bit persnickety, it would be clear, then clouds would roll in, it would snow, wind would blow and then back to sunny. That continued all day, layers on, layers off. Once we made it about two thirds of the way up the route it got steeper and the snow became more variable, so it was tougher skinning. Finally made it to the top, we took in the view from the top before the clouds covered everything up again. 

View across the valley from Moonlight Peak looking east toward Antelope Butte ski area.

The descent was challenging from the very top, the snow was variable, so we would go from crusty to 2 feet of fluffy goodness, but the visibility was poor so that didn’t help either. But we did get some good turns in.  Once we got down into the trees it was better and everything was fluffy and smooth sailing down!

Back at the truck we had lunch and even napped a little since we were pretty tired from short night. We ended up moving the truck to the main ski area lot so the roads could be plowed throughout the rest of the day and night. We took our time gathering our camping gear, making sure we had enough layers, food and the right ski gear. Finally we were off, this  time we had an extra half mile onto our ascent, that was already going to be about a mile, so it wasn’t a big distance to cover, but with all our extra gear, and going uphill we were feeling it. We made sure to take plenty of breaks so we wouldn’t overheat and get sweaty, it was only about 10 degrees out, but we warmed up quickly with our uphill route. Eventually we made it to a section that leveled out in the trees so we skinned out way over and found a spot where we could have some trees for cover and to provide some firewood. The rest of the evening was spent setting up camp, getting a fire going, cooking brats, staying warm and trying to stay on our packed snow, otherwise we were falling into waist deep powder that was a pain to get out of especially when we were trying to stay warm by the fire. Once in the tent our sleeping bags were very welcoming, along with Nalgene bottles filled with boiling water. We slept cozily through the night but were woke up multiple times to the howling wind sounding like it was going to rip the tent apart!

Neither of us wanted to get out of our sleeping bags early the next morning, but when nature calls you gotta do it, and the skiing was calling to us as well! It was definitely in the single digits when we crawled out of the tent so it was slow going packing up camp. Once we did, I wanted to get one more run in before we left and went to Antelope Butte ski area for the day. The sun was shining and not a cloud in the sky so we tried to get one drone shot before we left, we got it, but the  cold was zapping the battery and my brother hadn’t run the drone before so it was challenging. We grabbed our packs and made our way down the mountain, which was quite difficult with our heavy packs and variable snow in some places.

Once we got back to the truck we took some time to warm our feet, our boots had been under the vestibule during the night but with the howling wind it blew snow under and covered our boots so they were pretty chilly when we put them on. Once we got our lift tickets we hit as much as we could at the little resort, and we gained a new appreciation for the chairlifts even though it was a slow double chair. We hit some fun blues, mogul-y blacks, and one or two green groomers. The ski area was awesome, never had to wait in line, had most runs to ourselves, and there were sweet spots to hit all over the place!

All-in-all it was a tremendous trip. We made it back to my house at a decent time, grabbed some food, set out our gear to dry and went to bed dreaming of powder runs, climbing mountains and the next adventure.  

If you want to do this same kind of skin and ski follow this trail.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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