More people viewed the wintering elk on the National Elk Refuge by sleigh this year than ever. According to Refuge Spokesperson Lori Iverson, a total of 36,217 people took a sleigh ride this year, making it the busiest season on record. That number surpassed the previous high of 32,753 passengers, reached during the 2016/17 season and it easily exceeded last year’s mark of 28,925 riders by 25%.
The record season didn’t come without its difficulties, though, says Iverson. A partial government shutdown right before the busy Christmas season closed the Jackson Hole & Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center for over a month which serves as the ticket sales and boarding area for the rides.
Through an agreement with the Town of Jackson, the operation temporarily moved to the Home Ranch Welcome Center, increasing the travel time for passengers to be shuttled to and from the sleigh departure north of town and adding logistical challenges to the mix. Next came the storms. The Jackson Hole area also saw record-setting totals of snow and Sleigh rides were canceled or called off early six times because of poor visibility and high winds. Finally, the sleigh ride season ended two days early due to muddy conditions on the refuge.