Beartooth Pass closed; Sylvan Pass to open during winter season

Roads and their status are the big news in Yellowstone National Park today, as avalanches force the temporary closure of the Beartooth Highway, while a compromise on winter access to the Park via Cody and the Sylvan Pass seems to please all parties involved.

First, the news about the Beartooth, which is now closed for the second time in less than a week. The scenic Beartooth Highway links Red Lodge with Cooke City and the Northeast Entrance, but it’s been hit hard by the weather this season. The latest closing was caused by two slides avalanche on the Montana side of Beartooth Pass near mile marker 51 . The Beartooth Highway will remain closed from the lower gate south of Red Lodge to the Wyoming State Line until Montana Department of Transportation crews are able to assess and repair the latest damage.  It is unknown when the road will reopen to travel.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get to the Park from Red Lodge; it just means you need to follow the detour signs and take Montana Highways 308 and 72, and Wyoming Highways 120 and 296 — which is a scenic drive in its own right, albeit nothing like the Beartooth.

Meanwhile, a compromise was reached on winter access to the Park via the East Entrance and the Sylvan Pass. Park officials wanted to close down access completely because of declining tourism numbers and the danger posed by potential avalanches in the area, but the compromise is to keep the Pass open for a slightly shorter amount of time, and not the entire winter season, which has been the practice. In addition, Wyoming officials will work on raising money for equipment requested by the Park Service for keeping the Sylvan Pass open during the winter season.

In return, the Park will continue the practice of using a helicopter and howitzer to preemptively cause avalanches, which can then be cleared.

The compromise is still in proposal form and must be approved by Mike Snyder, regional director for the Park Service in Denver.

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