Yellowstone in Winter: Or How I Broke my Leg...

By Marc Burton, Encore Fellow

Many of you that have recently stopped by the EV offices have noticed me hobbling around on crutches (I’ve now graduated to a single cane). As there is a story behind every cast, I thought I’d officially tell mine. In late January a group of 5 friends and I made a winter trip to West Yellowstone to experience first hand the wonders of that ecosystem. As the Park is “officially” closed for the winter, the only access is by guided tour, with snow-machines being the preferred method of travel. We’d contracted out with a local company for 2 days) of touring, covering anywhere from 100-150 miles each day before returning at night to our cabin in West Yellowstone. 

Bright and early Friday morning we arrived at the outfitters and they proceeded to gear us up head to toe in snowsuits and helmets. After a 10-minute introduction to your snow machine and a review by the guide of the rules and regulations for riding in Yellowstone you’re off and on your way. I should mention that the machines are low emission and designed for park use, quiet, comfortable (heated seats, warm air on hands and feet) and very user friendly. One need not be an experienced rider to feel comfortable. 

The weather was actually pretty good given that we were in Northern Montana in January, 20 degrees with light snow with good visibility.  Within 15 minutes of entering the park we started to see scattered herds of Bison, and shortly after we had our first encounter. A goup of about 15 Bison were heading towards us on the trail so we pulled our machines over to the side and shut off the engines to let them pass. The lead animal typically sets the track for the group and it was awesome to see them passing within a few yards of us. Standing adjacent to my snow machine I was actively taking pictures when, for whatever reason, the 8th or 9th Bison in line decided that he didn’t like where I was standing or what I was wearing, so he dropped his head, snorted, and came after me.  Needless to say my flight reaction was instantaneous and I jumped/pivoted /lunged backward, landing awkwardly in a heap on a slope that angled down towards the river at our backs. The Bison, having removed the threat (me) and established his dominance,  stopped his charge but by that time the damage was done.

Regaining my feet I knew I’d done something to my lower leg as the pain was not good, and I couldn’t put much weight on my left side, but I was hoping it was a sprain, and that things might loosen up given a little time. Hopping back to my machine and riding for 5 minutes answered that question……. it was going to need some attention. Luckily my group of friends included a doctor, a nurse and a chiropracter (now how’s that for traveling right?). Between us we had duck tape, one ace wrap, ibuprofin and vicodin so I was in good hands. We did a pretty good field wrap on the ankle and lower leg and I was able to continue riding and complete the loop.

That night, I iced and elevated and was able to do another loop the following day thanks mostly to the comfort of the snow machine, and the beauty of the surroundings, which took my mind off of any discomfort I was feeling. All in all we saw literally hundreds of Bison, scattered herds of elk, moose, eagle, muskrat and thankfully, my first wolf in the wild. The serenity of the park in winter, sans the crowds, was truly awe-inspiring and I would encourage each and every one of you to put it on your to-do list. As to the conclusion of my personal story, I flew back from Yellowstone on Monday and had my visit to Kaiser on Tuesday.  X-rays confirmed a broken fibula that’s resulted in this nifty black hard-cast which goes up to my knee.  If I’m good the Doc says it can come off in early March,…but he did make it expressly clear that I’m restricted from any Bison interaction between now and then. Oh darn!