Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Quiet Revolution

Dusting Continues
park opens to tires
.. This is not the warmest mid December on record. It's getting close.
.. Around town there may be six inches of snow on the ground. The plow piles are not too deep and there is some bare pavement on some streets and sidewalks. The neighbors are not planting tomatoes just yet. Overnight lows are in the mid teens and daytime highs nudge the low 30's on occasion.
.. Around our village winter activities are proceeding in their normal fashion as the neighbors pray for some substantial snowfall. We are getting intermittent  dustings of an inch or two when the moisture content of the air is adequate - nothing to write home about.
.. Tomorrow Yellowstone National Park will open for over-the-snow-travel and visitation. Obsolete vehicles with skis or metal tracks will have to wait for additional snow before they enter. Snowmobile traffic will be limited and dependent on this evening's snowfall - if any.
.. The ski festival was lucky to have some snow and managed to complete all events including the long races, ski camp, and biathlon courses.
.. Our first sled dog race will be on the 18th and the dogs will run no matter what the conditions. The trails through the trees are snow covered and packed. There are a few patches of mud and slush in a couple of short open stretches but the dogs can handle it. Snow is predicted for the coming week and if it all comes true there could be 6 to 8 inches of dry powder by Friday, next. We'll see.
.. There is a quiet revolution taking place with winter travel in Yellowstone National Park. This is the second year of a trial for innovative vehicles with large low pressure tires for over-the-snow-travel. Large vans and small buses are being equipped with tires up to 48" in diameter with bead lock rims and air pressures of 4 to 8 pounds.
.. Last year the trials were a success beyond any anticipated outcome. The snow covered roads were not badly rutted by the tires, as they are by other vehicles. The visitors experienced a quieter and smoother ride in the park. The vehicles are warm and well insulated, higher than others, and visibility is excellent.
.. Winter use environmental standards for noise and emissions have been met or exceeded by the trial vehicles and the current Best Available Technology, (BAT,) standards for winter use are undergoing scrutiny in light of this trial program.
.. The current BAT standards were developed over the last 15 years and depended on the previously available vehicles that were used in the winter in the park.
.. As a result of the current standards the snowmobile manufacturers have produced sleds that are cleaner and quieter per passenger mile than any of the other modes of transportation. The trial vehicles with tires may result in a better solution for winter travel than all the other vehicles currently in use.
.. There is also some talk of allowing sled dogs for limited travel in Yellowstone. And, of course, there is always a small but persistent cry for plowing and greater public access during the winter.