The Town of West Yellowstone grew out of the need for services associated with the train service that arrived in November 1907. By the time the first train passengers arrived on June 11, 1908, several businesses were ready to serve. Unfortunately for the new residents, snows buried the Reas Pass section of railroad tracks with depths of snow that made it impossible to keep open year-round. The service ended each fall as soon as the snows dictated.
In its early history, West Yellowstone pretty much closed down for the winter. A few hardy residents remained, caring for their buildings during the height of winter. Trails were maintained through the snow from homes to the essential locations – such as the school.
The roads leading to and from West Yellowstone were generally not kept open during the winter until they were paved in the mid 1930s. This left the town’s residents to their own abilities and determination to maintain connections with the outside world during the winter – generally from November through March. Dog sleds and skis were their means to reach outside the village for the necessities – mail and whatever staples had not been stockpiled. Mail came from Henry’s Lake in Idaho – a twenty mile trip each way by sled or skis. “Non-essential” mail such as catalogs were often stockpiled for delivery after the roads were re-opened.
In 1935, the roads leading to West Yellowstone were paved and plowed open during the winter. This led to more consistent, if still difficult, auto travel through the winter. That same year, the town’s first airport was built. Although it was not maintained for winter air travel, a local pilot whose plane was equipped with skis for landing on snow, was able to deliver mail and supplies to town.
By the 1940s, locals were experimenting with building snow planes. These contraptions looked like a small plane with skis, although they never actually got off the ground. These were soon followed by snow coaches and snowmobiles, and winter access to Yellowstone was off and running. The park’s first official winter season was 1971. Snowmobiling, touring the park in snow coaches, and cross-country skiing remain popular winter recreational activities in West Yellowstone.