Honesty In Snowmobile Debate


snomobl-oa.jpgI truly believe that we’re finally seeing some honesty in the snowmobile debate. And it comes, from research, in the park – and is reported by Brodie Farquhar in NewWest. AND, yes, it will be hard for snowcoach advocates to swallow.

As the note reports:

“Although on average snowmobiles were audible for more time than snowcoaches, snowcoaches in general had higher sound levels, especially at higher speeds. The reduced sound and audibility in the report is largely explained by fewer snowmobiles in the park, the guided group requirements and the change from two to four-stroke engine technology.”

snoch-01.jpgThis then, finally, addresses noise. Not machines. This is a step forward and I’m glad to see it. The reduction of snowmobile numbers, however, and increase in snowcoach numbers will not solve the pollution and noise problems.

This is a classical problem in constraint. It is not possible to reduce the total by manipulating the contributors. In fact, with the current thinking, noise and emissions will probably increase as commercial interests expand their snowcoach fleets.

Yet, the normally reliable Helena Independent Record minimizes the noise made by snowcoaches. This is not an oversight. It is the continuing focus on preferred motorized transportation – not noise or emission pollution.

This is a subtle and insidious attempt to dictate the kind of commercial motorized experience that the visitor enjoys. It has nothing to do with the real problems. And, I’ll bet my Heddon Black Beauty that the Testosterone Bloggers take a similar stance.

snoch-02.jpgSnowcoaches come in several varieties and all of them are touted as the solution to the “snowmobile problem.” The truth of the matter is something far different. In their quest to rid the park of snowmobiles the Testosterone Bloggers have lumped together many bad actors and called it good. Shame on them.

snoch-03.jpgThis is not a semantic problem, it is a real perceptual problem. The perception that a “snowcoach” is better than a “snowmobile” probably started with the first major articles and news reports that brought the noise and pollution problem to the attention of the general public.

A brief diversion, if you’re interested in the semantic aspects, you will note that the antique varieties are usually spelled ‘snowcoaches,’ and the modern iterations ‘snow coaches.’ Use Google or Ask to verify your findings.

snoch-04.jpgSeveral CNN reports, (summary HERE,) ignored the vehicular noise & pollution caused by snowcoaches and concentrated on snowmobiles. These articles and news casts started the misperception that the only noise and pollution problems in winter-time Yellowstone were the fault of snowmobiles. This misperception has persisted because it’s easier to rant at a snowmobile than to take measures for all vehicles.

snoch-new-00.jpgThe National Park Service has not helped the matter with their introduction of their own version, (with the help of Ford Motor Company.)

There is a growing problem with the commercialisation of Yellowstone on all fronts. By advocating the confinement of visitors to buses, and dictating their experience through the agenda of guides and the constrains of time there is a “canned” experience that is stifling. This does not address the noise and pollution problem; but it does raise the oft-quoted phrase “best available technology.”

snoch-05.jpgThe criterion of best available technology has been applied to the snowmobiles in an effort to reduce noise and pollution. It should also be applied to the snowcoaches. And, safety issues should be addressed: they have not been!

snoch-06.jpgNow that Brodie and New West have opened the door to rational discussion by the mainstream participants it’s time to address the full spectrum of winter-time access.

The criteria of noise, pollution, safety, and ecological load must all be addressed in a comprehensive winter use plan. Ignoring all elements and focusing on just one merely perpetuates the NPS attitude of ad-hoc management rather than comprehensive planning.

xcountryski-oa.jpgWinter is a time of stress for the plants and animals in Yellowstone. Many ecological problems are also caused by skiers tromping on fragile thermophilic environments, yet this is rarely addressed. A guide with each ski group would reduce this negative impact.

Back country camping in winter is undertake by many visitors who enjoy an illegal dip in hot springs. A guide with each back country group would reduce this negative impact.

wintrcmpfire.JPGOf course adding a guide to each of these diverse groups would increase the environmental load, commercialisation, and would not solve the problems. A guide with snowmobiles is not the answer either, but is advocated as a way to do so – spurious reasoning at best!

I firmly believe that solutions and accommodations are possible so that safe, clean, quiet visitation in winter-time Yellowstone can be accomplished. I believe that standards for noise and pollution should be established and vigorously enforced.

If snow coaches meet the standards and snowmobiles do not, then do not let in the snowmobiles. If snowmobiles meet the standards and snowcoaches do not meet the standards then do not let in the the snowcoaches. Guided groups, ranting against a class of machines, ignoring impacts, and piecemeal management are all diversions. Please NPS – be comprehensive, rational, and fair.


Clean, safe, quiet, access is possible for all. There are solutions that have not been considered.

Please consider them.

– Plow roads, limit visitation, increase enforcement, alternate routes, etc.

– Imigination pays great dividends: The NPS NEEDS SOME!

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