Bundle up and get ready for the experience of a lifetime.
Winter is a time when it’s most tempting to bundle up and stay indoors. Light a crackling fire (or slide the lever to start the fake one), grab the remote and hunker in for a few solid months of Netflix bingeing.
And while there’s nothing wrong with that plan, there’s something different on offer – winter adventure! Throughout Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific’s region, there are many options for once-in-a-lifetime adventures in places you won’t soon forget.
So, grab those extra winter layers and join us as we head into the great outdoors. First stop, Montana and Wyoming.
The magic begins in Yellowstone National Park. It’s tough to name just one reason this place is so special, but let’s start with the fact that each visitor who steps foot in America’s first national park is walking on the world’s largest supervolcano. When will it blow, who can say for sure?
Maybe the magic lives in the park’s animals, concentrated in a valley that’s been dubbed the Wolf Watching Capital of the World. At 2.2 million acres, Yellowstone is larger than both Delaware and Rhode Island combined. And with no cell service, the park creates a distraction-free opportunity to view the Rocky Mountains and mighty Yellowstone River.
Whatever the unnamable magic, guide David Reeves is passionate about sharing it with park visitors. Reeves has offered tours, backpacking trips, photography workshops, and winter expeditions in Yellowstone National Park since 2007. He works for Yellowstone Tour Guides, a company founded in 2001 by Jim Holstein.
Holstein believes Yellowstone is best experienced in small groups, preferably without scads of tourists marching along boardwalks taking selfies with geothermal features and (hopefully) unflappable bison. Holstein focuses on Yellowstone alone – no franchising his company into other national parks.
“Unlike many other backpacking companies, we offer local guides who only guide in Yellowstone,” Holstein says. “Our guides have hiked most of the park’s 1,200-mile trail system. We know the trails, the best campsites, and we help you plan a trek for your interests and needs.”
It’s that belief in quality over quantity that quickly builds trust with customers. It’s also the prowess of passionate guides that leads to unforgettable visits.
Reeves is one of those guides. He’s a walking encyclopedia of information. During tours, he talks about everything from the unique biology, mating habits, diet, bugle, and ivory canine teeth of an elk, to the four different kinds of geothermal features in Yellowstone – fumaroles, mud pots, hot springs, and geysers. He can point out the Crazy Mountain Range, on the way through Paradise Valley, and share folklore about how the peaks were named for a woman who lost her family and her mind.
Reeves is one of the fastest rising professional photographers in the park. His work has been published nationally and featured in galleries throughout Big Sky. He uses every guiding trip as an opportunity to share his photography skills with Yellowstone Tour Guide clients.
Reeves’ favorite days are during the coldest winter months, guiding snow coach, snowmobile, ski, and photography tours through the park. The multi-day photography adventures offer tourists a chance to see wolves, bobcats, ermine, moose, elk, coyotes, bison, bighorn sheep, and other creatures iconic to the Great American West.
For visitors to book a trip with Yellowstone Tour Guides, Reeves says they first need to trust that company. Experienced guides help build that trust. But before meeting a guide, visitors look online. And that is where they find that Yellowstone Tour Guides is a BBB Accredited Business with an A-rating. For visitors who come from all over the world, finding a BBB-approved business is a sigh of relief.
Yellowstone Tour Guides isn’t alone in its belief that trust matters, especially in the recreation industry. Just across the state line into southeast Idaho and the town of Island Park, another business is building trust to help customers create winter memories.
Steve Dutcher says visitors travel from around the world to Island Park for its incredible snowmobiling opportunities. Dutcher is the controller for High Mountain Adventures, owned by his father-in-law, Kris Wright. Dutcher and Wright are proud to be part of the family legacy of BBB accreditation. Wright also owns Action Motor Sports in Idaho Falls, which has been accredited for nearly 25 years.
Dutcher says Island Park is, “a mecca for world-class snowmobiling.” He adds, “there are 500 miles of groomed trails. There are not a lot of places in the nation that have something like that.”
High Mountain Adventures is a convenient way for folks to enjoy the outdoors on a snowmobile. From new to experienced riders, Dutcher says his team has the sleds and gear to ensure everyone is happy.
“When they get back from a day of snowmobiling, they say, ‘This is amazing!’”
Whether cruising a beginner trail or climbing a big mountain, Dutcher says customers can trust the snowmobile they rent and trust the company that rented it to them. “It can be very intimidating and feel scary at first,” Dutcher says. “But the snowmobiles are very safe. We’re located right on the trail system, so you can roll in in street clothes, and we’ll outfit you completely, give you a map, or take you with a group and guide.”
In the nine years Dutcher has run High Mountain Adventures with his father-in-law, he says they’ve proudly built a base of loyal customers. Those customers know they can count on Dutcher because his family has built their businesses around BBB’s pillars of trust and ethics.
After a stop at in Island Park, head northwest approximately 2,500 miles to Fairbanks, Alaska, where you’ll find your next winter adventure.
Whether you fancy a picnic at the Arctic Circle, a dog sled excursion with champion bloodline Alaskan huskies, ice fishing after dark, or aurora borealis viewing from a wood-heated cabin, Lynne LaFever is the woman to call.
“If you have an idea of what you want to do in Alaska in your head, I will try to make it happen.”
LaFever has owned and operated A+ Dogsled Excursions and Tours for three years. She has been BBB Accredited since 2017 and lived in Alaska since 1997. For LaFever, owning a tour company is relatively new. BBB accreditation offers her a way to build trust with her customers, long before they step foot in the Last Frontier.
And building trust is important. Her winter adventures are offered during blisteringly cold months when daylight is scant. Most people are simply unprepared for how cold it gets on a dogsled adventure. When her customers return, the first thing they tell LaFever is, “I’m so glad you made me wear those gloves.”
The rest of her excursions are equally exciting. A dash of adventure-loving spirit and a strong helping of gumption are almost necessary.
“The ice fishing is an all-day kind of thing,” LaFever says. “I teach you how to drill your own hole, put up a fishing tent and we spend [the] day hoping fish will bite. But you get lunch regardless. We keep you warm enough to know you’re OK, but cold enough to know you’re in Alaska.”
For her Arctic Circle tours, LaFever wanted to offer more than a long drive for a short photo opportunity. “I put together a dinner at the circle,” she explains. “It’s better than seeing the sign, taking a pic and leaving. You get to eat dinner there. Not a lot of people can say they’ve eaten a meal at the Arctic Circle.”
Winter is surely the season for adventure. Whether you fancy a ride behind a pack of sled dogs, atop a snowmobile, or cozily ensconced in a snow coach, we urge you to get out and explore winter’s magic. Fall in love with a new landscape, write your own book of memories in the great outdoors. We’ve found the businesses you can trust; you just need to gear up and get out.