Snow depths are deeper at this point in time than they have been in recent years, according to SNOTEL data. At West Yellowstone, while 9 inches was on the ground December 6, 2009, and just 3 inches on that date in 2008, this year the total was 17 inches.
Inside Yellowstone, snow depths ranged from 18 inches at Madison Junction to 37 inches at Grant Village.
The snowy weather, which continued Friday with 4-6 inches expected in Yellowstone, has bookings for snowcoach trips into the park running strong, according to Randy Roberson, whose Yellowstone Vacations company offers snowcoach and snowmobile tours of the park. (Disclosure: Yellowstone Vacations is a Traveler sponsor.)
"I believe the factors that have been cited as having helped boost Yellowstone’s popularity as a travel destination throughout 2010 are lifting our winter bookings, too," Mr. Roberson said. "Americans are visiting national parks in part to stretch their vacation dollars during the down economy. A greater range of citizens are seeking the peacefulness and 'authenticity' of national parks may be partly in response to so much disheartening news and rancor in the world. There continues to be a 'Ken Burns Effect.' Many people who watched the series seem interested in connecting with the inspiration of “America’s best idea.”
Yellowstone continues to operate its winter season under a temporary management plan while work continues on yet another environmental impact statement into how best to manage the parks in winter. Under that temporary plan, up to 318 commercially guided, "Best Available Technology" snowmobiles, and up to 78 commercially guided snowcoaches are allowed daily into Yellowstone. A draft of the latest EIS is expected sometime next spring.
The roads that link West Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Yellowstone’s South Entrance with Old Faithful and Canyon are set to open to snowmobiles and snowcoaches at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Motorized over-snow travel on the East Entrance road and Sylvan Pass is scheduled to begin a week later, at 8 a.m. Wednesday, December 22.
The park’s list of permitted snowmobile and snowcoach operators is available online at http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/wintbusn.htm. No commercial operator submitted a proposal to provide snowcoach tours from the park’s East entrance this season.
At Old Faithful, the Geyser Grill, the Bear Den Gift Shop, and the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center will open for the season on Wednesday, December 15. The Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins and the dining room will open on Saturday, December 18.
The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, dining room, and gift shop will open for the season on Tuesday, December 21. The Yellowstone General Store, the medical clinic, campground, post office, 24-hour gasoline pumps, and the Albright Visitor Center at Mammoth Hot Springs are open all year.
Open to wheeled vehicle travel all year is the park’s North Entrance and the road from Gardiner, Montana, through Mammoth Hot Springs on to Cooke City, Montana, outside the park’s Northeast Entrance. At Tower Junction, gasoline is also available at a 24-hour, pay-at-the pump facility.
In Grand Teton, the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center (12 miles north of Jackson, Wyoming) is open year-round and winter hours run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The Discovery Center will be closed on December 25, to observe the Christmas holiday.
A Single Day Pass is available to winter visitors at the Moose, Moran and Granite Canyon entrance stations. This winter-season permit allows a one-day entry into Grand Teton at a cost of $5 per vehicle. The single day pass is valid only in Grand Teton and cannot be used for entry into Yellowstone. Winter visitors may choose to purchase one of the following other options for entry:
* $25 Seven-day Pass valid for single vehicle entry into Grand Teton and Yellowstone
* $50 Grand Teton/Yellowstone Annual Pass valid for one year entry into both parks
* $80 Interagency Annual Pass valid for one year entry to all federal land management fee areas
Ranger-led snowshoe hikes begin Sunday, December 26, at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center. This 2-hour activity is offered every day at 1:30 p.m., and previous experience is not necessary. Snowshoes are provided for a requested donation of $5 for adults and $2 for children, 8 years or older. Reservations are required and can be made at 307-739-3399.
Backcountry users and mountaineers planning to stay overnight in the backcountry must get a non-fee permit before their trip at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center. Permits are not required for day users. To obtain weather forecasts and avalanche hazard information, stop at the Discovery Center, visit the backcountry website www.jhavalanche.org , or call the avalanche hotline at 307-733-2664.
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular winter activities in the park. Most trails are skier tracked, but not groomed. The Teton Park Road (TPR) is a designated winter trail, open to non-motorized use in winter. The TPR gets intermittently groomed for cross-country touring and skate skiing from the Taggart Lake parking area to Signal Mountain. Grooming operations began this past Thursday. Severe winter storms or park emergencies may preempt the trail grooming schedule on occasion. Important reminder: Snowshoers should walk adjacent to the groomed ski trail, as snowshoes ruin the grooved track set for skiers’ use.
Skiers and snowshoers are not restricted to established trails in either park; however, for protection of wildlife, they are required to observe closure areas from
December 15 to April 1. To obtain trail maps, closure locations, or winter
information for Grand Teton, go to the park’s website at http://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/maps.htm or visit the Discovery Center in Moose, Wyoming. Winter wildlife closure areas include:
* Snake River floodplain from Moran to Menor's Ferry near Moose
* Buffalo Fork River floodplain within the park
* Kelly Hill and Uhl Hill
* Static Peak and Prospectors Mountain
* Mount Hunt areas (see the park's cross-country ski brochure for descriptions)
Dog sleds are not allowed on the Teton Park Road or on Grassy Lake Road in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway (JDR Parkway).
Snowmobilers, up to 25 per day, may use the frozen surface of Jackson Lake for the purposes of ice fishing only. A Wyoming State fishing license and appropriate fishing gear must be in possession.
On Jackson Lake, snowmobiles must meet National Park Service air and sound emissions requirements for Best Available Technology (BAT). Before operating a snowmobile in Grand Teton, review the regulations and approved BAT machines online at http://www.nps.gov/yell/parkmgmt/current_batlist.htm, or stop by the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Moose, Wyoming.
Up to 25 snowmobiles per day may also use the Grassy Lake Road in the JDR Parkway for recreation. The BAT machine requirement does not apply to snowmobile use on the Grassy Lake Road between Flagg Ranch Resort and the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.