A massive avalanche on Taylor Mountain on the west side of Teton Pass in the Bridger-Teton National Forest is believed to have been triggered by a skier or snowboarder, officials said, but no one is thought to have been caught in it.

Exum guide Kim Havell was skiing out of Mail Cabin Creek on Wednesday, waiting for her client and scanning some ski tracks on Taylor. She was studying the tracks around 2:46 p.m. when the south face of the mountain released.

“It’s a beautifully impressive and intimidating thing,” Havell said.

She pulled her cellphone out of a lower pocket and began recording. The slide ran all the way down to Coal Creek.

Officials estimated the slide to be 96 inches deep at the crown. Concerned that a skier or snowboarder could have been caught in it, Teton County Search and Rescue took a helicopter flight over the avalanche path.

“It appears there were tracks that went in and hit the bed surface and exited the side,” Incident Commander Anthony Stevens said.

He said a witness from the Coal Creek parking lot called authorities because “they couldn’t tell if tracks came out” of the avalanche path.

Taylor avalanche on Jan. 15, 2020

Tracks down the southern face of Taylor Mountain on Jan. 15, 2020 appear to have touched off a massive avalanche. Teton County Search and Rescue flew over the scene but doesn’t believe anyone was caught in the slide. Another search is underway on the face.

“If there’s a slight chance there’s someone buried, we want them to call,” Stevens said. “It’s no big deal for us to go check it out.”

Avalanche danger was ranked “considerable” on a rare sunny day after a two-week storm cycle that dumped around 10 feet in the mountains, and Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center Director Bob Comey said the accumulation and wind set up dangerous conditions.

“You do have potential for very big avalanches that could be potentially unsurvivable,” Comey said Sunday. “You want to be conservative until the snow stops.”

Although Havell hesitated to pontificate about the “bold decision” to ski or snowboard Taylor under Wednesday’s conditions, she said the video “should speak for itself” about the consequences.

“This was pretty close to tickling the dragon,” Havell said. “On days like this, I’d prefer that everyone I love and care about errs on the side of safety, but we don’t all think alike.”

Comey thinks that if skiers give it more time, the loaded snowpack has the potential to settle.

“After the storm cycle ends and the snowpack adjusts, there’s going to be a lot of strength on top of those layers,” Comey said in Wednesday’s Snow Report, which publishes in the Sports section of the Jackson Hole News&Guide. “With enough passage of time, maybe a week, 10 days, it’s going to be set up.”

Contact Johanna Love at 732-7071 or jlove@jhnewsandguide.com.

Johanna Love steers the newsroom as editor. Her time off is occupied by kid, dog, biking, camping and art. She loves to hear from readers with story tips, kudos, criticism and questions.

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