Crews run into snow 22 feet deep on average at Sylvan Pass-

Yellowstone plow crews encounter deep snow at Sylvan. By Martin Kidston. Billings  Gazette Wyoming Bureau.

The north and the west entrances are currently open to the public.

About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

30 Responses to YNP snowplows encounter deepest snow in 13 years

  1. Peter Kiermeir says:

    One of the famous Billings Gazette commenters brings it to the point, as friendly and cosmopolitan as ever: “Just let the snow melt. Keep the tourist home where they belong anyway”.

    • Daniel Berg says:

      One of the best days I’ve had at Yellowstone was this winter. In early January on a day it was about -10 below my fiance and I tooled around and watched elk, buffalo, coyotes, and saw the Blacktail Pack lounging around what was most likely a kill sight somewhere obscured from view on the Blacktail Plateau. There were very few people in the park. There was one fellow from Silvergate who apparently watches for wolves almost everyday, a couple of biologists, a small handfull of wolf watchers, and a photographer or two. There was a beautiful sunset.

      I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to the park during the summer except to bring my future children there for a visit.

      • Phil says:

        Daniel: Yes, you are right, but my primary point was on economics. I do not put tourism in the same category of building a second home. I am against anyone who holds two homes with one being a disruptive development to habitats, but as I mentioned, I was not posting in means of this. I was relating tourism to those individuals who come to Yellowstone, see its beauty, then make the trip back home. What I agree with is tourism being an educational tool to the public on what is left of natural land and species in this country, and as you put it “advocating for”. Without education, how are you going to protest new development that will affect habitats and ways of life for species? How are people going to respectfully protect species? What is a better tool of education, listening or reading it off a book, or seeing it in person? Man, people who live in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana live in such a beautiful landmark, so let the rest of the country see its beauty. I grew up near the big city (Detroit) where wilderness and wildlife is virtually non-existant, but I am lucky enough now to reside in a lesser human populated region of the state. I do not mind people camping, hiking or biking in this area enjoying what I enjoy everyday. With the over-development of such and such that is destroying the beauty of nature, I (and many others)may never get the chance to enjoy what little wildnerness we have left.

    • Phil says:

      Yes, keep the tourists home where they belong, and they will keep their money in their wallets. I truly hope this commenter was kidding. In my opinion, I do not believe states like Idaho, Wyoming and Montana would be able to survive if it were not for the rest of the people living in this country, and even to some degree people living in other countries.

      It is not just the NRM region, here in the midwest we have had a tremendous amount of snowfall this past winter, and early on in the spring we have had tons of rain, and when it does not rain the wind gusts have been at 50-65 mph. Not unusual to have snow, rain and wind, but is unusual at the high levels we have had.

      • Savebears says:

        Awful assumptive, aren’t you Phil. In Montana, we would survive just fine.

      • TC says:

        Wow Phil. I think we’d survive in Wyoming just fine.

        For whom do you think Wyoming is being raped and pillaged for natural gas, oil, coal, uranium, trona, wind, and other extractive commodities or energy sources? For Wyoming residents? Nope. For “you” (the “rest of the people living in this country” and “even to some degree people living in other countries”, like China, Japan, and elsewhere). You have a nasty little habit of never really thinking issues through to their logical end. You champion wildlife from afar, not having to fight the local energy development and conservation battles daily that don’t involve charismatic species like wolves or grizzly bears, but affect more mundane keystone or indicator species like greater sage-grouse, pronghorn, mule deer, white-tailed and black-tailed prairie dogs, mountain plovers, etc.

      • WM says:


        I think TC is on to something there. The West would be just fine without resource extractive industries that leave scars upon the land, and bad water quality (I can give you examples of dead or near dead rivers after the mining activities). Lots of corporations in the East represented in these enterprises.

        Then there are all thos damn tourists clogging the roadways, and who spend much of their money at chain motels and and National Park concessaires (food service, lodges, gas) owned by corporate interests largely in the East, and leave their refuse along the roadways.

        And, need I mention those damn Midwest and Eastern backpackers and tourists that have flocked into and degraded special places like the Winds. I want more griz in the Winds, if for no other reason than to keep the tourist population lower.

      • Daniel Berg says:


        What’s your opinion on stricter access rules for hikers/backpackers into high use areas like the Winds?

        I’m not in touch with how busy some of those areas have become. I know locally I avoid Alpine Lakes Wilderness in favor of Glacier Peaks Wilderness and North Cascades National Park via Stehekin due to the crowds when I want to stay closer to home. Even in parts of those areas one can feel a little cramped during the summer peak. it almost seems like I have to drive at least 7 hours to get into country where know there will be few people around. In Washington State, it has caused me to explore more areas like the Salmo-Priest and Wenaha-Tucannon.

      • WM says:


        I am afraid the genie is out of the bottle. Magazines like Backpacker, the internet generally including club websites, facebook, and Google Earth have made it too damn easy for anyone who wants access to get it. People post their “best hikes” and their pics and GPS coordinates (I am not a big fan of all this crap), so that it takes no effort to find the best places or how to get there.

        Any kind of “reservation system” makes it all the more likely a good spot will be written up, and find its way into some article of places “backpackers” from anywhere just have to visit. Alpine Lakes is a prime example.

        When I first started going to the Winds (and a couple of other places I won’t mention for the very reason of the paragaraph above) many, many years ago from either side, trailheads had none to only two to three cars at them. Now there are parking lots that hold fifty or more cars at the end of a twenty mile gravel road. I’d love it if the FS would let the roads and trails all go to hell, and make people actually work to get to the best places.

        You can weed out alot of woosies if they have to make a butt deep stream crossing or two, or scramble their way over a bunch of deadfall.

        Short of those recommendations, I think the best places are doomed. The worst thing that could happen is start a reservation system or name a place “National Recreation Area.”

      • Daniel Berg says:

        Feel free to let me in on your spots, WM. It would be very noble of you to pass that type of wisdom to a young and eager outdoor enthusiast such as myself. 😉

      • Phil says:

        SB: I doubt Montana would survive just fine without the rest of the country purchasing goods from the state or traveling as tourists. The top two money-makers in Montana are tourism and agricultural farming. Please tell me how the state could survive with regards to these two categories without the rest of the county contributing to them?

      • Phil says:

        Sorry SB, TC and WM, forgot to post this.
        I am not saying that all citizens in Monana, Wyoming and Idaho love the tourists, but if you eliminated tourism, agriculture (that is distributed all across the country), then you basically eliminate billions in revenue for the states.

        TC: I am not talking about natural gas, oil, coal, uranium, etc, I am talking about the agricultural farming and tourism, which is what the statement pointed to. I totally agree in that disrupting these natural resources have a negative aspect to the states, but they are not my points. I have a nasty habit? Apparently you are speaking out your ass TC, because you have not read my comment and related it to the topic at hand. “You champion wildlife afar…” Again; that has NOTHING to do with the states dependence on tourism and agriculture, that is more for the development category. Kick rocks and throw dirts, because I have been a strong advocate on less development that disrupts habitats for species.

        WM: So, basically it’s your land and no one else can enjoy it, right? People who would never have the chance to enjoy the beauty of nature and species of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho should stay out of the states because selfish people like yourself want it all to themselves? Man, you, SB and TC are sounding like these anti-wolf hunters now.

      • Daniel Berg says:


        Let’s put the economic issue aside for a moment. We could spend so much time hypothesizing about how Montana would do economically in a multitude of different situations…..

        Are you not concerned about the potential environmental impact of unlimited tourism to certain areas? Tourism, or the desire for increased tourism has caused a lot of development to occur in places like Montana. How many second homes were built after that first wonderful trip taken into the Rockies by a monied individual? How many resorts? Tourism puts a lot of pressure on some pretty sensitive areas in mountain ranges. The tourism industry does plenty of lobbying over issues that are sometimes less than environmentally friendly.

        Local residents in these areas would have a perspective on that that others might not so readily notice. Not knowing anything about the commenter in the Billings Gazette, it’s completely possible that he’s venting his frustration over these very types of issues.

        I understand that tourism can be helpful to wilderness areas because it cause them to advocate for their protection, and increase awareness of environmental issues in general, I just sometimes wonder what the equilibrium is for access vs environmental protection.

      • Daniel Berg says:

        I’m curious to see what effect a prolonged period of $4.50/gallon gas will have on tourism in NRM states (Obviously there is also a corresponding increase in the cost of airfare). There are economists who believe that a lot of people have already absorbed the thought of $4/gallon gas into their budgets and won’t change habits much more than they already have, but I’m not so sure?

  2. Daniel Berg says:

    It sounds like almost everyone in the northwest and NRM received above average snowfall. I can’t remember hearing about it to quite this extent in my life.

    The Cascades in Washington State just got obliterated in March and April during this year. At Crystal Mountain they received 570 inches of total snowfall on the upper mountain (6-7,000 ft). There were avalanches in early April that snapped 100 year old trees like they were toothpicks. It was not a big deal to ski in two feet of fresh powder this season.

    They won’t even provide estimated opening dates for North Cascades highway or Chinook Pass. Neither one will likely be open for Memorial Day weekend:

  3. DB says:

    Interesting comment from the Billings commentor: “Keep the tourist home where they belong.”

    Would he prefer turning all that which appeals to the tourist over to the oil and gas industry and let the cattle and mining interests finish off what’s left? Make industrial transportation routes of wild and scenic river corridors? Continue to subsidize a “seaport” in Lewiston, Idaho with dams and dredging that all but wiped out wild anadromous fisheries?

    I’m reminded of the Montana tourism ad which appeared in several national magazines showing mountains, pristine rivers and touting the presence of bison and wolves. There may be some down sides to tourism, but it seems that saving those features of the landscapes which attract tourists is better than the alternatives.

    • Savebears says:


      It really depends, on who you are where you come from and what your goals are, I am not saying I agree, but there are many in Montana that are tired of the “you couldn’t survive without us” mentality that is shown, they feel like the red headed step child..

    • Immer Treue says:

      This is an attitude that is not unique to Montana.

  4. Cody Coyote says:

    I would add to this year’s deep snow on Sylvan Pass anecdote that a few decades ago it was routinely deeper.

    Then again , there were some rare years when we were able to drive over Sylvan Pass on Christmas Day due to LACK of snow ( and nobody at the gate to say we couldn’t ).

    Here’s an oddity for you about Sylvan/East Gate. In the 1950’s, nobody lived there over the winter. We had unmitigated snowmobile access , without safety issues or undue death and calamity. Then it was just one Ranger and his spouse or S.O. living there . The only person that ever died on Sylvan Pass in the winter was that Ranger…he ran his sno-mo off the road in the fog.

    In the 1990’s when Yellowstone started restricting winter travel over Sylvan due to largely imaginary avalanche safety concerns, the East Gate got a few more yearround residents and new lodgings were built. We call it Fort Sylvan these days

    These days, Sylvan Pass is hardly deemed safe or open for most of the winter, but many more NPS personnel live there over the winter. It’s a 365 mile drive to Park Headquarters at Mammoth via Montana in winter. They have to snowmobile 3 miles down to where Wyoming DOT quits plowing the highway to reach their parked vehicles, at Pahaska. Why is that ? Well, if Yellowstone won’t keep Sylvan Pass open for personal snowmobile travel without requiring licensed commercial guides , and closing it for ” avalanche danger” every time a snowflake lands on a Ranger’s upturned nose , there is no reason for Wyoming to accomodate them by plowing that last three miles of orphan highway. Tit for tat.

    Of course, those Rangers and NPS staff get ” administrative access” to Sylvan for snowmobile use, but the public does not. It apparently takes 7-8 Rangers and technicians to do avalanche control on Sylvan, make the decisions, monitor, etc. The Sylvan Pass road is all brand new widened highway , much safer than before in winter , rerouted around some of the avalanche zones even. They spent $ 28 million rebuilding the Sylvan Pass Road just in time to close it to the public for 7 months of the year, mostly. It certainly can’t be for lack of personnel and Rangers to regulate the traffic and take gate money. How odd that the only p;lace you can drive a snowmobile in Yellowstone is on the established highways—only. And the new Sylvan Road is well suited for that thru and thru. Those Rangers and other NPS employees are doing it all the time, but the public is largely shut out or extremely disincentivized against it.

    Back in the late 50’s and early 60’s, when we had real winters and huge snowpacks, getting a snowmobile over and back on Sylvan Pass was never an issue and rarely life threatening or unsafe to experienced operators.

    Yellowstone’s administrators have never had a realistic outlook on the realities of snowmobiling, as it applies to the Park or anywhere else, for that matter. The whole Sylvan Pass winter use issue is a red herring that illustrates too well how capricious Yellowstone’s managers can be. They value the wrong values. Their arbitrary values, not the people’s pragmatic proven values…that Yellowstone’s east gate is accessible and no more risky than summer travel. The impacts to wildlife and the ‘disruption of solitude’ issues are overblown , and wholly hypocritical in the context of the rest of Yellowstone being wide open in winter, and sno-mo traffic allowed only on the highway routes.

    There is no love lost between the Yellowstone administrators and the Cody-Park County Wyoming folks. Both sides are full of themselves.

    • skyrim says:

      Cody, You would know more than I about specific related issues here, but I firmly believe that the greatly increasing threat of legal costs defending tort lawsuits has to be a factor here. We didn’t have the growing threat of personal injury suits in the 50s and 60s that we do now. Nor did we have to deal with the increasing number of winter recreational machines. Personally, I’d like to see Yellowstone totally closed in the winter. Give the place a rest. But I also know that there are strong opinions on the other side of the issue.

      • Savebears says:

        Myself personally would love to see the park closed in the winter and am in favor of closing it down completely for a couple of years to allow a meaningful recovery of the area, the park is being loved to death and with increasing visitors numbers it will get nothing but worse in the future..

      • Daniel Berg says:

        They should shut it down in the winter if a lot would be gained from it.

    • Cody Coyote says:

      Briefly, NPS should either open Sylvan Pass fully in the winter, or close it altogether.

      The current half-arsed plan of somewhat opening it for a very VERY limited number of snowmachines , erratcially , with lots of restrictions is probably the worst solution of all. Doesn’t work for anyone, especially NPS.

      The problems with Sylvan Pass are not geological nor meteorlogical, but bureaucratic , IMHO

    • REChizmar says:

      You gotta be kidding me?? … give me the numbers that support your statement; moreover, do you even know what must be proven in a court of law to prove liability against a govt. entity? you sound like one of those people who hates that people can be held accountable for their careless or reckless conduct … of course until it is you or a loved one who is/are arm catastrophically harmed, maimed or killed by negligent or reckless conduct … oh, and I’m sure we remember how great the 50’s and 60’s were in the legal context … you know, with all that white/black equality, auto safety, no epa, pre-66 no esa, advertising/marketing of cigarettes, Leave it to Beaver, etc.

      • skyrim says:

        I said “I firmly believe that the greatly increasing threat of legal costs defending tort lawsuits has to be a factor here. We didn’t have the growing threat of personal injury suits in the 50s and 60s that we do now.” I stand by those comments.
        Lighten up Counselor. No one is on trial here.


April 2011


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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