Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Clearing a Sylvan Pass avalanche (Park Service photo)

National Park Service officials want to spend roughly $300,000 a year on avalanche control at Yellowstone Park’s Sylvan Pass.

Sounds reasonable, right? After all, the Park Service needs to protect the public, and wants to do so by shooting howitzer shells at snow-laden avalanche chutes.

Consider, though, that only about 500 visitors — snowmobilers —  attempt to cross Sylvan Pass in winter. The pass lies along spine of the Absaroka Range in the relatively undeveloped eastern section of the park, and is closed to passenger vehicle traffic from Nov. 1 to April 30 due to heavy snowfall. It is highly prone to avalanches.

Critics of the Park Service avalanche-control plan point out that the anticipated $300,000 expense amounts to approximately $600 per visitor. They argue that it isn’t cost-effective, especially at a time when parks are so apparently underfunded.

Seems to me that Park Service officials are running scared — scared of potential liability. The precedent of allowing snowmobilers through the pass has been set. Should one get killed by an avalanche, his or her relatives could conceivably win a lawsuit by arguing that Park Service officials should have addressed the avalanche hazard.

A sign of the times, I suppose…