WEST YELLOWSTONE - Yellowstone National Park opened for the winter season Thursday morning. This is one of the best early snow years in recent memory, which has businesses adjacent to the park celebrating.
“It really just brings a heartbeat to the town,” said Brad Benson, general manager of High Mark Rentals in West Yellowstone.
Rachel Spence, of Free Heel and Wheel, agreed.
"As soon as the gates open, people come in," she said.
At the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce, President and CEO Katrina Wiese said they were thankful for the early snowfall.
"Great snow. Really early snow. You know, we always have our ski fest that weekend of Thanksgiving, so we’re always hoping for snow and this year we got a lot of it early on,” she said.
And that’s pumping up bookings for rooms, snowmobiles, and skis.
“It’s happening. I mean we have just an awesome amount right now. It’s really good skiing. The trails have been groomed since early November,” said Rachel Spence of Free Heel and Wheel.
With the opening of the park, access to the heart of Yellowstone is available to winter visitors who are eager to see the famous thermal areas in the unique and beautiful winter setting.
“This is the earliest that we’ve switched over to over-snow vehicles in quite a number of years," Yellowstone National Park Ranger Rich Jehle said. "We’ve been on snowmobiles in the park for employees, for a couple of weeks.”
“People are coming into town, not only for the park, but it draws them into the town for the park and then a few days later they’ll come outside the park and enjoy that as well," said Benson.
Everyone in town seems excited for the opening, even the folks at a shop that can barely capitalize on the winter season.
“Winter’s the time that we get to catch up on life,” said Steve Hoovler, the co-owner of Big Sky Anglers.
After all, there’s not a lot of fly fishing during these months. But having the park open does make a difference.
“We see more people coming through town, we see more people coming through the front door. That’s a welcome change, it’s fun to see people in town,” said Hoovler.
While the park will be fully open to over-snow vehicles in the south and the road to Cooke City will be open in the north, the summer flooding is still casting a shadow.
The Mammoth Hotel will not be open for the winter because of flood damage to the Mammoth sewage system. As is normal for the winter, services are limited inside the park, with most facilities closed. No campgrounds are open for the winter. And, while you may see more wildlife, keep your distance.
Back at the Chamber of Commerce, Katrina Wiese is optimistic.
“I think we’re going to have a really strong winter," she said. "You know, we have amazing things, our events are coming back strong.”
With at least three feet of snow in the past two weeks, this is one of the snowiest winter openings in recent years.