There’s likely one Christmas gift West Yellowstone business owners want more than anything else this year: a snowstorm.
Yellowstone National Park opened for the winter season last week, but it hasn’t snowed enough there to allow for snowcoach or snowmobile travel – the bread and butter of many businesses in the small town west of the park.
Many have adapted by taking the snow tracks off their snowcoaches and replacing them with wheels to continue offering tours. Nonetheless, the lack of snow has been hard on local businesses.
“Do your snow dance, will you?” Bill Howell, owner of Yellowstone Arctic Yamaha, said in a phone interview Monday.
Howell’s business only offers tours on snowmobiles. Unlike snowcoaches, snowmobiles cannot be altered to run on pavement.
Some of Howell’s customers have rescheduled their trips or changed plans to snowmobile outside the park. Others are canceling.
“Business isn’t going real well, but we’ve got the door open,” Howell said.
He said next week will be critical because it’s one of the busiest of the year. If enough snow doesn’t accumulate, it wouldn’t be good.
Fortunately, snow is in the forecast.
Matt Jackson, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said West Yellowstone could get 2 to 4 inches of snow between Tuesday and Wednesday. Temperatures will remain cool through Christmas, he said, so any snow will likely stay around.
Al Nash, a spokesman for the park, said anywhere from several inches of snow to more than a foot may be needed in the park before it can open to snowmobiles and snowcoaches.
“It’s dependent upon when the snow comes and what the conditions are,” he said. “It’s not just getting snow, but getting snow that will stay on the roads and pack well.”
Scott Carsley, owner of Yellowstone Alpen Guides, usually offers tours via traditional bombardier snowcoaches. His coaches can’t be converted for use on pavement, so instead, customers have been riding in vans and Suburbans.
“There’s been a lot of disappointment,” he said, adding that he’s been giving customers discounts since they can’t go into the park the way they planned.
“We feel like farmers—we’re dependent on the weather,” he said. “But we don’t get bailouts.”
Clyde Seely, owner of the Three Bear Lodge and See Yellowstone Tours, said the park has been in contact with businesses each day, updating them on conditions.
Until enough snow falls, Seely is continuing tours by using snowcoaches with rubber tracks or wheels instead of metal tracks.
Many snowcoaches are actually Suburbans or buses modified for snow travel.
“This is rather unique,” he said of the lack of snow. “There are some pretty good stretches (in the park) of bare pavement.”
When there is enough snow, he said he’d immediately convert his vehicles.
“We’re a hardy bunch, and we make do with whatever changes we’re dealt,” he said.
He added that customers are still loving their Yellowstone trips. Monday morning, he talked about how the fog had cleared to show frost on all the trees.
“It was beautiful,” he said. “You just can’t fault Yellowstone no matter what time of year it is.”