Yellowstone Park retires Bombardier snow coaches; end of an historic era

At the end of February, another historic chapter in Yellowstone Park closed when Xanterra Resorts – the part concessionaire that runs facilities in the park under contract with the National Park Service – retired their fleet of 21 1960-era Bombardier snow coaches. The ancient fleet were sold on the US Government web site; I saw one for sale, sans engine and drive-train, for as little as $2,500!

Our Bombardier coach, and another, at the Madison Junction area.

These old snow vehicles, equipped with tank treads and skis on the front, could carry up to 10 passengers and were used to shuttle visitors in and out of the park in the winter months when the roads are closed. My wife and I both worked in Yellowstone three summers in the late ’60s – and occasionally saw these machines in the park maintenance yard. They were invented by Canadian Joseph–Armand Bombardier in the 1930s; his company would go on to create Ski-Doo snowmobiles.

We took a lovely three day trip into the park, from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful, and spent three days and nights in the Old Faithful Snow Lodge a few winters ago. While the Bombardiers weren’t the most comfortable mode of travel, they were reliable and had an historic charm. We will never forget our morning departure, headed back to West Yellowstone at about 6:30 AM. Elk (and Buffalo) like to walk on, and sleep on, the park’s snowpacked roads rather than wading through 2 to 4 foot deep snows. Our coach had to maneuver, horn honking, through a herd of drowsy elk spread two-blocks down the Old Faithful exit road. Once navigating the 80-some herd of majestic animals, we clattered the final 30 miles to West Yellowstone.

New Ford van, equipped with winter tracks, lacks the historic charm of the old Bombardiers!

When we visited Mammoth Hot Springs on Yellowstone’s north side in early February of this year, we saw the new Ford vans, equipped with snow tracks, replacing the historic fleet. They’re quieter, newer and meet environmental strictures – but lacked that ambiance the old 1960’s coaches exuded. The modern coaches are either Ford and GM vans, admittedly with creature comforts, their wheels pulled off and over-the-snow treads added as replacements.

The old Bombardier machines made you feel like a pioneering tourist, entering the park long before it achieved today’s success in attracting tourists from all over the world, approaching four million strong each year.

This photo shows two Bombardiers in winter of 1955 beside Old Faithful Geyser

Hence, end of an era. But, add a winter trip into Yellowstone to your “travel bucket list” – still memorable no matter how you get there!

How to get there: We drove to both the Mammoth Hot Springs and West Yellowstone park entrances by car (from Stockton, 1,070 and 900 miles, respectively), a two-day winter drive. And, take chains!
What to bring: Plenty of warm clothing, gloves and footwear and cross-country skis or snowshoes if one wants to get off the “beaten path” of the park’s boardwalks.  Binoculars and your camera, of course!

Buffalo at Midway Geyser Basin greet winter Yellowstone visitors.

For more information if you are planning a visit: North park entrance (Mammoth Hot Springs) and South park entrance (Flagg Ranch) lodging and snow coach service, and Old Faithful Snow Lodge stays, contact Zanterra, www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com, (307) 344.7901. For snow coach service into the park, from the West Yellowstone entrance, the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce lists private snow coach providers, (406) 646.7701.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

 

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