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No snow? Cooke City still has fun things to do

Cooke City on Friday
Posted at 5:32 PM, Feb 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-02 19:32:59-05

COOKE CITY — The unusually warm temperatures Montana experienced at the end of January have left Cooke City, a snowmobiling hot spot, without much snow. The lack of visitors has caused a ripple effect on the town's economy, but residents are urging travelers to stop by and see all that the area has to offer.

Typically, Cooke City is a snowmobiler's paradise.

"We use snowmobiles to go skiing. We use snowmobiles just to go play on them,” said Ben Zavora, the former owner of Beartooth Powder Guides, on Friday. "I love snow. That’s why I moved here."

Ben Zavora
Ben Zavora

Residents and visitors often spend their time out in the elements.

“I think access to the mountains. I love the outdoors and skiing, fishing, hiking, whatever," Zavora said. "The Yellowstone Park is pretty darn cool. We don’t have to get in a car and drive very far or we don’t drive at all."

The snow draws in quite a crowd.

"Every time you get snow, there’s an uptick in business,” Zavora said.

This winter has been a bit of a different story.

"During a good snow year or normal snow year, right now my hotel would be full. I would have all 33 rooms out right now," said April Bennett, the general manager of the Super 8 in Cooke City, on Friday. “Right now, I have 10. My occupancy for December was 4%."

Cooke City on Friday
Cooke City on Friday

Another Cooke City hotel, Alpine Motel, has also seen a decline in business.

"The weather has definitely affected reservations. Not just for my hotel but throughout town as well,” said Chad Meador, the general manager of Alpine Motel, on Friday.

According to the National Weather Service, a stretch of very warm days impacted the region, with most locations seeing multiple days with highs of at least 60 degrees.

"We usually average 200+ inches of snow," Bennett said. "I believe right now on the mountain, last time I checked, we had around 42."

April Bennett
April Bennett

Cooke City residents say this is out of the ordinary for weather trends this time of the year.

"My boss, Bob Smith, he owns the Super 8. He has actually been here since the ‘80s, and he said this is the worst winter he has ever experienced,” Bennett said. “The roads outside are completely clear. There’s no ice, there’s no snow. Just straight asphalt and road and no snow."

The Cooke City Super 8 on Friday
April Bennett

Meador had a similar conversation with a long-time resident.

"I spoke with a gentleman who's lived here 60 years the other day. And he says, in his 60 years, he’s never seen anything like this,” Meador said.

The Alpine Lodge Motel currently has 23 vacancies. Meador said the upcoming week also has a lack of reservations.

"If people aren’t coming and staying, they’re not eating in restaurants, they’re not buying anything from the convenience stores or gift shops. So it affects the entire community,” Meador said.

But for those who are passionate enough, such as Zavora, there are still options for getting out and putting fresh tracks in the snow.

"Living here and being a guide, I know where to find the goods. So I haven’t had too many bad days out,” Zavora said. "I haven’t had too many bad days out. I mean, it’s lean right now, like especially lower elevation. But once you get up high, like above 9,000 feet, it’s been pretty good.”

Zavora now owns the Cooke City Sinclair, where snowmobiles can be rented out. He is also a guide for Beartooth Powder Guides, although he sold the business to a new owner.

“They’re brand new machines. They’re 2024 Skidoo Adrenaline Edges, and they’re $360 a day. Includes a helmet and goggles. You gotta have avalanche gear if you go out here, so we rent that too if you need it. Some people don’t," Zavora said. "And then we rent it with ski racks because a lot of people are using snowmobiles to access skiing around here. And so you can rent a snowmobile to get higher up in the mountains without walking."

So whether you’re visiting for the snow or the park, the town is eager to welcome visitors.

"The skiing I hear is really good. We have restaurants open for food. While a lot of the park is closed, the wildlife is still there,” Bennett said. "So while yes, you may not have as much snow as you would hope for, there’s still a lot of really great things to do and see up here in Cooke City."

They hope for more snow over the next couple of weeks.

"We’re supposed to get snow this weekend. We have more snow than most people in Montana right now," Zavora said. "So if you want to get on snow, it’s not that bad. People should come check it out."

To learn more about Beartooth Powder Guides, click here.

To make a reservation at the Alpine Motel, click here.

To make a reservation at the Super 8, click here.