While two feet of snow in just two days seems like a dream come true, it can quickly become a nightmare.
Jackson Hole ski patrol and town, county and National Forest employees are working around the clock to promote snow safety after dense heavy snow fell throughout the region the past couple of days.
With 207 inches of snow recorded in Rendezvous Bowl and a base depth of 82 inches so far this season, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort reported 2016-17 the snowiest season to date in 40 years.
“This storm has already produced 2 feet of snow in two days, and it’s still pounding,” Jackson Hole Vice President of Operations Tim Mason stated. “Our patrol and mountain operations staff is working tirelessly each day to get the mountain open in a safe way. … Snow forecasters are calling for more snow throughout the day today, and avalanche conditions are high at all elevations.”
An avalanche on Teton Pass, which took out a car below the Twin Slides ski route and closed the pass overnight Thursday, was an early sign of the imminent danger.
The Teton County Sheriff’s Office is convinced the 5 p.m. avalanche was skier-triggered.
“We’re investigating that,” Sheriff Jim Whalen said. “Under those conditions and at that time of night, with a lot of cars heading up the pass, you should just put your skis up and think of the greater good. We’re so thankful no one got killed.”
With more snow falling at press time, avalanche danger was expected to remain high for days to come.
“We see most avalanches during and immediately after a storm,” said Bob Comey, director of the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center, “especially with snowfall rates of over an inch an hour, which we experienced during the day [on Thursday], last night, during the day today [Friday].
“The good news is that the instability associated with that is going to start to slowly heal itself within a number of days to a week as colder temperatures come in,” he said.
The bad news is that the crust layer that formed in late October and early November continues to persist on north-facing slopes at high elevations.
With so much snow the question is whether the weight of new layers will bond with enough strength to mitigate the weak layers.
“We don’t know that yet,” Comey said. “As a human I would not go anywhere near those areas, especially for snowmobilers. Deep snow equates to strength, but it also equates to big avalanches. If you do trigger an avalanche it’s going to be huge and probably unsurvivable.”
The best option, Comey said, is to carefully choose terrain with a 35-degree pitch or less in areas that don’t have a history of avalanches or evidence of an avalanche path. With constantly changing weather conditions, regularly checking JHAvalanche.org for updates will also be key to safely travel in the backcountry.
While the high country has been and continues to receive snow, town has had a mixture of rain, ice and heavy snow, resulting in challenging conditions for pedestrians, drivers and public works crews.
“We are using all members of our crew and all of our equipment to clear streets, alleys, sidewalks and boardwalks right now,” said Larry Pardee, director of public works. “Town crews are working hard to keep our streets safe for drivers and pedestrians, however, Mother Nature is not cooperating and it is a mess out there.”
To help the public works crews, the town put out a press release reminding citizens to do their part.
“Town ordinances that address sidewalk shoveling require that individual residents keep sidewalks in front of their homes clear,” the notice states. “Residents are also asked to not deposit snow onto the roadways and to keep fire hydrants clear of snow.”