Backcountry skiing on the Bighorn Trail in West Yellowstone.
(See a larger version of this photo.)
West Yellowstone is the gateway to the western side of Yellowstone National Park. Cross Country Skier magazine has chronicled the Nordic skiing offerings of West Yellowstone on several occasions, including the Rendezvous Ski Trails, backcountry touring into the park and the Yellowstone Ski Festival. While cross country skiing is the big game in town in November, as West Yellowstone is a perennial early season snow destination, once the big snows come, so do snowmobiles and that dynamic changes considerably.
However, it is important to note that things are changing in West Yellowstone. The impact of strict restrictions on the number and type of snowmobiles allowed in Yellowstone National Park has been felt by the local community. Last year the total number of snowmobiles allowed into the park per day was 720. Despite conservationist hopes that this number would be significantly reduced, a recent National Park Service decision will allow 540 beginning in 2008-09.
The fact remains, however, that even with the 720 maximum, it is reported that only about 250 per day were going into the park. The new rules require all snowmobiles to use four cycle technology and all groups must be accompanied by a guide. This, it appears, has been a self-limiting condition, as many people don’t want to go with a guide and don’t want to only ride at 35 miles per hour.
It is widely accepted that the reduced numbers of snowmobiles have been for the better. Noise and air quality are improving and there is less off-trail travel and harassment of animals. Still, many would like to see Yellowstone return to a completely quiet winter sanctuary.
There have also been political changes within the West Yellowstone city government with several local Nordic ski enthusiasts stepping into the political arena. These include Drew Barney, race director for the Yellowstone Rendezvous, who was elected mayor, and Jamie Greene, director of the Yellowstone Ski Festival, who is operations manager for the city.
The town is realizing the positive impact of skiing and doing more to capitalize on it to make up for economic losses from reduced snowmobile traffic.
See more information on the recent NPS decision.
West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 458
West Yellowstone, MT 59758