Whiplash? Hardly

  The article noting the seesawing plans for snowmobile use in Yellowstone Park repeats a common refrain that I have seen in many news articles about this issue: the suggestion that we should feel sorry for the buyers and users of snowmobiles because the rules changed (HCN, 1/19/04: Yellowstone snowmobilers suffer whiplash). I wish news writers would give equal time to stating that it has been common knowledge for at least 40 years that two-cycle engines leave a noxious trail of oil behind them.

Whether one blames this environmental disgrace on buyers or manufacturers or rental companies or whatever, it has been willful denial for decades that has delayed the development of a clean engine. Those owners and companies have been very happy to make big profits on a growing industry without any investment in stewardship or responsible modernization.

"The Clean Snowmobile Challenge" was started in the late ’90s, when industry people claimed a clean alternative was not practical. In the very first year, a small team of college kids made the winning snowmobile with a clean-burning four-cycle engine. The industry would rather spend money on ads, and the owners would rather spend money on $30,000-dollar SUVs to tow their custom trailers and store their electrically heated snowsuits.

The popular snowmobile sport of "high marking" is an exact analogy of what has gone on in the industry: Pick an avalanche chute and try to see how far up the steep slope one can roar with the machine. Flatlanders will surely feel aghast to see what happens when an avalanche lets loose, but anyone paying attention has to know: A lot of obviously poor choices went into the disaster.

George Winters
Darrington, Washington

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