The Sins Of Snowmobiles


snowmobile-stinki.jpgbaby-bomb.JPGThe two cycle snowmobile stinks, it’s loud, it pollutes the environment, it’s a phallic substitute for many inadequacies, and it is a favorite target of irrational critics.

A 1930’s snowcoach stinks, is loud, pollutes the environment, is a phallic substitute for many inadequacies, and is the darling of irrational critics of snowmobiles.


51bomb.jpgWhy is there a difference in attitude toward these two very similar machines? {Brief aside: snowcoaches were called snowmobiles in the 50′ & 60’s – the other was called a snow machine}

A matter of time and technology and perception. Over time some snowcoachs have upgraded their motive power to contemporary emissions standards. It has taken over 60 years to do this. They are a bit cleaner but not a bit quieter. They have not upgraded their braking systems, their headlights, their safety capabilities, their horns, their windshield wipers, their ventilation, or their steering. Many do not have safety glass.

snowcoach-stuck-nps.jpgPassengers have to sit sideways without the benefit of seat-belts.There is nothing to hold onto. Fumes from the engine creep into the passenger compartment. The heater seldom works. People are forced to sit nearly on top of each other.

Still, these tanks, demanding groomed roads, are the preferred alternative for winter transportation in Yellowstone National Park. This is hardly “BEST AVAILABLE TECHNOLOGY.”


snovan.jpgSnow vans and snow buses use contemporary track systems, have contemporary safety systems, yellowbus.jpgand are significantly cleaner than previous over-the-snow transportation. They too, however are so loud that the driver/’guide’ is required to use an amplified P.A. system to speak to the passengers.

nps-groomer-night.jpgYet, these supposed “modern” people movers still require groomed roads. The National Park Service picks up the tab for grooming the roads for these private, (concessionaire owned,) vehicles. These too, are the preferred alternative for winter access to Yellowstone National Park in winter.

One of the great sins of snowmobiles is that they have allowed inferior over-the-snow transportation to glide “under the radar” of environmental scrutiny.


bgjmpoa.jpgSnowmobiles have suffered from a wealth of problems. Most of the problems are the result of an industry that has been blind to public opinion and arrogant in the development of an image.

In their rush to make money they started with very dirty and loud 2-cycle engines that were cheap to produce and developed enormous amounts of power and pollutants.

snowheeli.jpgThey needed the power to foster the image of “WINTER FUN” with a throbbing machine between the rider’s legs. watersled1.jpgRecreation in the fast lane has always been the theme of industry promotions, (such as jumping, racing, ‘high marking,’ drag racing, hill climbing, speeding, snow running, water-sledding, etc.)

snotow-ox.jpgThis emphasis on the recreational & daredevil & speed aspects of a snowmobile have blinded many critics to the fact that the vehicle is also an excellent and safe mode of transportation. This stilted focus of the industry’s publicity is their own fault and they must suffer the consequences.

snoresq.jpgThe fact that focus on the machine and not the pollutants has diverted attention from the commercialization of the park is lost on critics of the machine. They enjoy spitting out the word rather than being positive about addressing the problem. The machine is not the problem – the byproducts of dirty combustion and noise are the problem. Just as the pollutants of dirty van or bus or tank engines are a problem & must also be addressed.


Another of the great sins of the snowmobile is that it has focused attention on itself and not the problem of winter access in Yellowstone. This has allowed park concessionaires to develop fleets of vans and buses that the visitor is forced to use for access to Yellowstone. The National Park Service not only fosters this change, they encourage it. The added burden on the visitor amounts to more than $100/day.

The National Park Service pretends that they have addressed the noise and combustion pollution problems by forcing visitors to use a “guide” (?), and concessionaire vehicles. Most women I’ve talked to see right through this spurious reasoning. It’s the testosterone-laden dupes of either side of the argument that avoid the issue. NPS Dupes are just as blind as Snowmobile Dupes.

Fewer snowmobiles mean less noise and pollution. That is an absolutely true statement. So too is the statement that fewer tanks mean less noise and pollution. So too, fewer vans. So too, fewer buses. That is not the point! The point is clean, safe, quiet access! Would the NPS Dupes remove all vehicles to remove all pollution? – (some would!)

nps-gas-stunt.jpgThe exhaust from summertime tour buses is horrendous but it is tolerated by the National Park Service. One should ask the anti-snowmobile ranters why these belching behemoths are allowed and encouraged.

One should also ask why publicity stunts by the National Park Service only take place in the winter months. One should further ask why the National Park Service allows a planner a-sacklin.jpgthat thinks it’s funny to joke about shooting sleds and their riders is still working in Yellowstone! (The stupidity of this planner is chronicled in: New West, Montana Magazine, & The Casper Star Tribune. The real irritant is not just his stupidity, but the fact that you and I had to pay for it because this is how he spends his time on the job – paid for by us!)

It’s really just a sham to cover up the commercialization of the park. One should really ask why the National Park Service wants more canned tours and less individual experiences. Why does the NPS let the concessionaires dictate when a person can go into the park? Why does the NPS demand that guides be used for motorized transportation and not free ranging ski hordes? Ask, you’ll not get an answer.


One of the absolute greatest sins of snowmobiles is that they have encouraged the National Park Service to be lazy. As the National Park Service continues to encourage commercialization they gain the benefit of doing less, and being able to avoid responsibility more. By allowing concessionaires to dictate tour schedules and content the individual is left to digest rancid jokes, canned information, and dictated picture opportunities.

famski.jpgThe most unforgivable snowmobile sin is that they have caused a negative discussion & approach to winter visitation in Yellowstone.

The productive and positive approach demands that emissions and safety and noise standards be implemented, (for all vehicles.) Regulations should be promulgated that establish maximum amounts of pollutants, (noise &/or emissions,) for a given day, week, month, season. The technology is available to monitor this approach, and it would provide incentives for commercial interests to be cleaner, quieter, and safer.

If the National Park Service were to implement this approach they could guarantee the protection of the resource that is Yellowstone. They could show results and improvements. They could be honest stewards of our treasures. Instead of this kind of honesty they prefer to take the lazy way out. They have their dupes ranting against machines instead of pollution. Shame on them!

famsled.jpgIt’s the pollution and the noise – not the type of machine. Winter access must be safe, clean and quiet. Winter is a fierce time of the year. It is hard on the plants and animals. It is a time for gentle visitation. It is not a time for parades of buses herding masses of visitors to the “right” place for their own good. By reducing the visitor experience to a canned tour the National Park Service is being lazy and shirking their responsibilities.

The public is not best served by a lazy National Park Service. Nor are they best served by spurious arguments. They would be better served if the National Park Service and their dupes were positive about maximizing winter access and maximizing protection of Yellowstone. Ranting about snowmobiles does neither.


The results of ranting against snowmobiles:

  • More buses.
  • More vans.
  • More tanks.
  • More “guides.”
  • More noise & pollution & congestion.
  • Yellowstone closed at night to use tax money to groom roads for private interests.
  • Less individual experiences.
  • More socializing with whining children and olfactory intrusions.
  • Abrogation of responsibility by NPS.
  • Degraded Yellowstone Experience.
  • A much lazier NPS.
  • Greater commercialization of an already commercial wonderland.
  • =======================

    Places to go to see how the National Park Service is encouraging commercialization of the winter visitor experience while pretending to address noise, safety and pollution problems.

  • Yellowstone Winter Use Technical Documents
  • Yellowstone Winter Air Quality Study, (2004 – 2005 – PDF)
  • Yellowstone Winter Air Quality Study, (2005 – 2006, draft – PDF)
  • Final Air Quality Modeling Report, (Winter Use Plan, EIS, 11/02/06 – PDF)
  • ==============================

    Note that the Final Air Quality Modeling Report does, in fact, say that the rapid advances in making snowmobiles cleaner is one way to reduce pollution in Yellowstone National Park. They point out that:

    “the largest reductions in pollutant concentrations and emissions are seen under alternatives that allow only snow coaches, greatly limit over-snow vehicle entry, or implement ‘improved’ BAT (best available technology) for snowmobiles.”

    They did not model the alternative that would plow the roads and allow only wheeled vehicles in the park. Nor did they address the cost savings to the park and the public that this would engender. Nor did they evaluate how the individual experience is impacted by being a sardine in a tank in Yellowstone. I wonder why?


    The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees reads the above reports with a bit more of a jaundiced eye. However they do point out a significant failing of the snowmobile industry. Their Air Quality Press Release correctly reports that there has been no noticeable improvement in emissions since the introduction of 4-stroke snowmobiles in 2001.

    They, sadly continue to assume that over-the-snow experiences are necessary for a rewarding experience in Yellowstone. They also continue to lobby for more canned tours – and they should know better. They pick a section of the reports that compare 4-stroke snowmobiles to cars and trucks. If that’s the standard, why not just plow the roads and use cars and trucks?

    I certainly agree with them in their call to let science determine the policies for winter use. I would only hope that they would direct science to answer the pertinent questions of why there must be an over-the-snow commercial tour solution.

    Their own Rick Smith (a member of CNPSR’s Executive Council and former acting superintendent of Yellowstone National Park,) says:

    “Few actions in the National Park System would be more popular at the moment, and few would do more to restore the morale of the Park Service and the trust of the American people than for the Administration to heed what science has been telling it, repeatedly, for six years about the harmful effects of snowmobile use in Yellowstone. It’s high time to protect Yellowstone’s unique winter environment by providing visitors with access using the modern, environmentally-friendly snowcoaches that are becoming increasingly popular.”

    Of course there are more snowcoaches, and tanks, and vans, and buses. The canned tour capitalists will always exploit short-sighted park policies. And the NPS will always encourage someone else to do their work. Buses, vans, tanks, and the other “solutions” do not provide access – they limit access. They limit it severely. Keep on advocating removing the personal experience and you will lose any appreciation for the park. A new big screen T.V. would be better. – – – – – –And Cost Less!



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