Yellowstone Phases in New Snowmobiling Guidelines

hYellowstone National Park is phasing in their plan to allow more snowmobiles on peak winter travel days, in a compromise aimed at ending years of disagreements over snow traffic limits in the park. Balancing lower traffic throughout the winter with increased traffic on busy holidays will allow up to 480 sleds to enjoy the neat, snowy park roads at specific times. It’s a three year phase-in plan being managed by the National Park Service.

The plan also requires snowmobiles to meet stricter environmental standards by 2017. Winter use of Yellowstone has been the subject of ongoing litigation for 15 years, with environmental groups seeking strict limits or complete bans on snowmobile traffic. The new environmental standards make the park quieter and cleaner, with a goal of keeping the visitor experience high. It’s a plan aimed at balancing environmental concerns with more recreational opportunities.

Under the new guidelines, snowmobile and snow coach traffic will be closely monitored, and ultimately an average of 342 snowmobiles per day will be allowed to travel in groups through the park. Sightseeing trips through the park in snow coaches have a limit of 60 coaches – each coach carries about a dozen visitors. Over-snow vehicles are required to stay on snow-covered roads. Commercial guides are required, and all snow travel is highly regulated.

The new snowmobile plan sets limits that are lower than those from a decade ago, but many feel they still provide a good opportunity for winter tourism as it goes into effect this 2014-2015 winter season.

One contentious issue still remains: objections about the risk, cost, and environmental effects of using a Howitzer cannon to remove the snow on avalanche-prone Sylvan Pass, a mile long stretch of road just inside the parks’ eastern entrance at a lofty 8500 feet of elevation. Some feel that use of explosives in a national park is inappropriate, and that clearing the area in this manner is unnecessary since it will only benefit a small number of people each winter. With the phase-in of increased snowmobile and snow coach travel, the National Park Service sees the snow removal on Sylvan Pass as an important safety issue.