After 1872, the first winter visitors to Yellowstone were not here as tourist, but as hunters. Prior to 1883, general hunting was allowed and even though commercial hunting was illegal, it was wide-spread. In winter, commercial hunters could ski close enough to elk that it was possible to kill dozens in a day.
Early skis were often called snowshoes or Norwegians. They were as long as ten or twelve feet and extremely heavy. Unlike the two ski poles used today, only one long pole was used.
In 1886, The U.S. Army began a period of over thirty years protecting Yellowstone. A series of outpost were built and soldiers began routinely patrolling in winter. Later, after the National Park Service was formed, park rangers stayed in “snowshoe cabins,” that were built throughout the park.
In 1948, the first motorized over-snow vehicles, called snowplanes, visited the Old Faithful area. In 1955, two businessmen from West Yellowstone, Montana brought the first snowcoaches into the park. Those were bombardiers, much like these coaches that are used in the park today.
In 1963, the first personal snowmobiles entered the park. In 1972 the park began grooming roads and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge began operating for a short winter season, followed by the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in 1982.
By the late 1990’s, over 150,000 people were entering Yellowstone each winter, many on 2-stroke snowmobiles. To help battle air and noise pollution, the National Park Service began limiting the number of snowmobiles and snowcoaches in 2003. Today, only snowmobiles with the best available technology are allowed and those must be with a authorized guide.
If you are interested in learning more about winter-use, visit our web-site at www.nps.gov/yell. Surely, as our society learns more about how humans impact our world, our management practices will continue evolving to better protect our wild places.