How Yellowstone Plows Its Way Out of Winter

Have you ever wondered how Yellowstone National Park gets its roads open in the spring after a heavy winter? It depends on the mechanics.

Each spring, from March to mid-April, road crews man rotary plows and bulldozers to clear routes in time for spring and summer visitors. Even before then, crews are on the road keeping things smooth for snowmobiles, snowcoaches, and the eventual plowing brigade.

Besides these mechanics, clearing Yellowstone’s roads of snow depends on people like Robert Evanoff, a Yellowstone mechanic charged with keeping Yellowstone’s rig fleet chugging. Evanoff works year-round on heavy equipment—including the garbage trucks—but winter is when things kick into high gear.

According to KXLH/MTN News, crews and mechanics work constantly over the spring to ensure the roads open as scheduled. “We live out of [our trucks] for eight weeks,” Evanoff told reporters.

Yellowstone poses unique challenges to road crews. For one, the changes in elevation pose challenges. Yellowstone’s roads open on a staggered schedule, starting with the more level, lower elevation routes (Mammoth to Old Faithful, West Entrance to Madison) and moving up to the mountain passes (Sylvan, Craig, Dunraven). Dunraven poses a special challenge, sometimes opening late and sometimes having to close early due to sudden snow.

Two, there’s the risk of avalanche; Evanoff discussed crews carrying shovels, probe poles, and rescue beacons in case someone gets buried in the snow. Then there’s the bitter mountain cold. According to KXLH, Evanoff remembers one time it took him all day to replace a hydraulic pump in a snowblower cause his fingers kept going cold. He did it in shifts, working on the pump a few minutes, then going to his truck to warm up for a few minutes.

Then there are challenges posed by keeping roads accessible to snowmobiles and other winter vehicles in winter. From KXLH:

Evanoff painted the picture, “We spend three months of the year packing the roads down.”

Doing so helps make the going easier for slowcoaches and snowmobiles in the winter months. But it creates a hard pack of snow and ice that you can’t just drive a snowplow through. Evanoff says, “That snow gets really, really hard.”

Crews literally have to bust up the packed snow and ice, and that busts up the equipment.

“We’re welders at that point,” says Evanoff, “Because the front rotary reels, just break.”

And those big rigs face obstacles most snow plow operators don’t even think of.

“One of our rotaries caught a tree, the bottom of a broken tree,” said Evanhoff.

The tree trunk was swept onto the road by an avalanche, then buried under feet of snow, making it impossible for the equipment operators to spot in advance. It did a lot of damage.

“We welded five hours on that,” explained Evanoff.

Then, there’s the springtime weather.

“You’re in a blizzard, and things are broke and you just gotta suck it up and go do it,” Evanoff said.

Overall, Evanoff said the chance to work in America’s first national park makes these setbacks and risks more than worth it. According to KXLH, Evanoff recounted seeing a grizzly bear last week feeding on a bison carcass before it fell asleep next to its find.

Evanoff also discussed the pride he and the crews work put into their work. “We try not to waste the taxpayers’ money,” Evanoff told KXLH. Just don’t call him or any other mechanic/plow member an “unsung hero.”

“I hate that unsung hero thing,” Evanoff told KXLH. “We just come and do our job”

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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