Yellowstone in Winter, Bombardier, snowcoach

Yellowstone Visitation Down in Winter 2010-2011

A total of 88,804 visitors made their way to Yellowstone this past winter. The vast majority arrive in two different ways: via car/bus/RV at the North Entrance or via snowcoach and snowmobile from all four entrances, usually headed for the Old Faithful area.

That number is down some 5.36 percent from Winter 2009-2010, and down some 11 percent from Winter 2007-2008. Here are the numbers:


                 Winter  Winter  Winter  Winter
                 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08
                 ------- ------- ------- -------

All Recreational
Visitors          88,804  93,838  86,784  99,975

Auto, Bus and RV
North Entrance)   47,930  54,426  47,259  50,175

By Snowmobile
and Snowcoach     45,465  42,616  42,380  53,764

Visitors          22,691  22,228  23,417  31,420

Visitors          22,774  20,388  18,963  22,344

An interesting part of the numbers: snowmobile usage remained relatively flat for the third straight year. Yellowstone operates under a winter-use plan that limits snowmobile usage to a daily limit of 318 commercially guided, four-stroke sleds. At the end of the day, the daily average of 194 snowmobiles per day did not come close to reaching that limit, nor did the peak-day number of 289. One could make the argument that the winter-use rules are inhibiting snowmobile usage in Yellowstone and the area, and there’s probably some truth to that: when you add together the costs of a four-stroke sled (either renting or buying) with the cost of a mandatory commercial guide, you’re talking some serious bucks. But certainly a major factor is the general decline of the general snowmobile industry: Forty years ago a half-million snowmobiles were sold in the United States, but last year only 48,599 snowmobiles were sold in the United States, according to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association.

Meanwhile, snowcoach usage was again up. They’re used by the folks who want to hit Old Faithful for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, or just tourists who want to wander the geyser fields in winter. Yellowstone National Park and concessionaire Xanterra have put a lot of work into attracting those tourists, and the hard work seems to be paying off.


                 Winter  Winter  Winter  Winter
                 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08
                 ------- ------- ------- -------
Daily Avg.          194     187     205     294

Peak Day            289     293     426     557

Daily Avg.           40      32      29      35

Peak Day             68      59      54      60

The next issue will be how these numbers will impact the next round of plotting a Winter Use Plan for Yellowstone, always a contentious process. On the surface, one could make the argument that extending the current Winter Use Plan might not be the worst of ideas: air quality at the West entrance and Old Faithful is considerably improved with the emphasis on four-stroke machines, and we just cannot see a scenario where that requirement is dropped. The same goes with the guides: locals argue they’re a burden (they are), but there are plenty of Rangers in the region who remember the tendency of snowmobilers going off-trail before the imposition of the guides.

Of course, we’d like to see the road between West Yellowstone and Old Faithful plowed for at least part of the winter; that would be the thing that would increase winter usage with the least impact. Barring that, the numbers make the best argument for extending the current Winter Use Plan indefinitely.

Image courtesy of the National Park Service.

RELATED STORIES: Debate Over Winter Use Plan Over: Snowmobile Lobby is Winner

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