By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Yellowstone National Park is open for over-snow travel for the season, allowing travel by those who may want to see the park in the solitude of winter instead of the busy summer season.
All entrances to the park opened for the winter season Dec. 14, meaning staff has been busy with grooming trails, stocking gift shops and opening restaurants at the Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs.
Rick Hoeninghausen, director of marketing and sales for Xanterra, Yellowstone’s concessionaire, said people who visit the park in the winter are often looking for a different experience than they can get in the summer.
“We’re at 4 million-plus visits in the course of a year,” he said. “Winter time, it’s closer to 100,000, plus or minus. So that gives you an idea of the difference between winter and summer. And I think that’s the appeal for some people.”
Visitors often have much of the park to themselves in the winter, Hoeninghausen said.
“There’s a chance for a little more of an experience if you’re out on a trail on skis or snowshoes and it’s quiet,” he said. “There’s a lot less people here.”
Much of the attraction stems from the appearance of the park itself in the winter, Hoeninghausen said.
“It’s gorgeous in the winter,” he said. “You’ve got that clear, blue Wyoming sky, there’s no moisture, the snow is just sparkling. Geyser basins are like nothing else. In the winter time, they’re special. They’re magical places.”
Despite its isolation, a winter break in Yellowstone should not be considered a hardship, Hoeninghausen said.
“There’s a perception in the world that it’s too rugged, it could be too severe for folks,” he said. “We have these snowcoaches that are very comfortable and heated and warm with big windows and big tires. And then (visitors) realize ‘I’m traveling in basically a mini-bus and I’m staying in a nice hotel, eating in a nice restaurant. Everything else is the same, it’s just colder outside.”
Accommodations are especially luxurious at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, where a major renovation was completed this year that put bathrooms in every room, replacing the communal bathrooms that were part of the hotel until recently.