Bonnie Fuller-Kask has been taking busloads of Minnesotan teens to ski in West Yellowstone, Montana every year for 21 years now, and this has never, ever happened.
By Friday, the Duluth Nordic ski coach had successfully watched over 95 skiers for their weeklong trip on the slopes. That’s when she got a weather update. They were about to get pummeled with about a foot-and-a-half of snow. Great for skiing – bad for driving.
“When the drivers first said we couldn’t leave, as a trip leader, I was very anxious,” she said. Not because any of her flock were especially miffed about an extra day romping in the snow with their best friends. No, the kids – who come from all over northern Minnesota year after year to take this trip -- were over the moon about it. But she didn’t exactly have an extra night at the hotel booked, or the cash to pay for it.
Luckily, the West Yellowstone Kelly Inn has been her establishment of choice for those 21 years, and they knew she ran a tight ship. They graciously offered to comp them a night so they could try to make the journey home the next day.
The strategy, Fuller-Kask says, was to follow the storm home from West Yellowstone to Minnesota. It would be easier said than done.
“The roads were pretty rough,” she says. But the drivers creeped along until they reached Duluth, where parents were instructed to rendezvous with their kids. There was just one problem: Duluth was snowed in, too.
On Sunday morning, a blizzard slapped the city with 50 mile-per-hour winds and whiteout conditions. Two feet of snow were expected by the time the nasty weather system pulled through, says Bring Me the News. And that’s exactly what the three buses of skiers were headed into.
They quickly abandoned plans to drop the kids off at one of the high schools. There was no telling which roads in the city were plowed and which would be an impassable mess, and they didn’t ford their way through a thousand miles just to get stuck in a drift on Superior Street.
Instead, they headed for the one place they knew the plows would have already hit: the bus headquarters at the end of Woodland Avenue. They called parents with the change of plans only to discover a good many of them couldn’t get out of their driveways. Some quick thinking and car-pooling managed to get everyone home safe – or close enough.
“Many of us got dropped a few blocks from our houses,” Fuller-Kask says. But after a journey like theirs, the last few blocks were nothing.
After all the drama, the rigamarole, and the Plan Bs that turned into Plan Cs and Ds, there was a cherry on top of this whole scenario. The happy but exhausted skiers from Duluth didn’t need to worry about school the next day. Class had been canceled. Fuller-Kask says they found out a few hours outside of town and the entire bus erupted into cheers.
In spite of their snowy misadventure, Fuller-Kask says she doesn’t plan on changing how she runs these annual trips. This was a “one-in-a-million” kind of experience, she says – the kind of story you look back on years later as “the year when.” She doesn’t expect to see another excursion like it. And besides:
“The kids had a great time,” she says.