A bumper-to-bumper line of cars snaked up Ski Hill Road as eager skiers vied for parking spots Sunday morning before lifts started spinning at Grand Targhee Resort. Likewise, skiers and snowboarders packed mazes for a chance at untracked powder at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
A palpable frenzy gripped both resorts, with up to 18 inches reported over the previous 24 hours at Jackson Hole and 15 inches at Targhee. The Tetons are in the midst of an enduring storm cycle, with Jackson Hole seeing almost 100 inches fall at Rendezvous Bowl since Jan. 1. But not everyone was charmed by the waist-deep powder.
“It’s a bit heavy,” Targheezer Dr. Bill Belk said jokingly in the Trap Bar on Sunday. “I want champagne powder on top of smoothly groomed trails.”
This series of storms is just getting started, with another 2 to 4 feet expected this week, creating dangerous avalanche conditions in the short term while promising greater stability in the long run once the snow settles, said Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center Director Bob Comey.
“We’ve been really lucky, if you think getting a lot of snow is lucky,” Comey said Sunday afternoon.
As for avalanches, reports were few, but Comey said socked-in conditions made it tough to see any activity.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation triggered a slide on the steep, rock-laced Cow of the Woods slide path in Hoback Canyon after shooting an air blast from a remotely controlled O’Bellx exploder at about 1 p.m. Sunday. About 6 feet of snow crossed the highway, which crews cleared within 30 minutes, according to Bruce Daigle, WYDOT maintenance supervisor for the Jackson district.
WYDOT also fired gas exploders on Teton Pass at 3 a.m Sunday. Although sensors detected some movement in the snowpack, nothing crossed Highway 22.
“We didn’t have anything hit the road, which is a good thing, so it wasn’t closed too long,” Daigle said.
WYDOT crews will reassess whether to shoot the Teton Pass exploders again after seeing how much snow falls by 4 a.m. Monday. Heavy snowfall could necessitate a midday shoot, Daigle said.
“They’re talking a pretty good storm for four days,” he said, reminding skiers to avoid the Twin Slides and Glory Bowl slide paths when conditions like this make them ripe for sending avalanches across the highway.
As pulses of moisture from the Pacific Ocean continue showering snow on the Tetons, forecasters warn that avalanche conditions will remain dangerous. Comey urged skiers not to get lulled into thinking the snowpack is safer than it is.
On Sunday afternoon, winds were blowing 18 to 25 mph, and gusting up to 35 mph, on Rendezvous.
“If the wind cranks up even stronger and blows harder for longer, we’re probably going to see some pretty good avalanching,” Comey said. “While this is loading right now, you do have potential for very big avalanches that could be potentially unsurvivable. You want to be conservative until the snow stops.”
Once the snow stops and has a chance to settle, persistent deep layers that could translate into big slides could be buried deep enough to no longer cause concern.
“We need the storm cycle to play out, and then the snowpack will need time to adjust, to settle,” Comey said. “This is a good recipe, it’s just dangerous while it’s going on.”
Then, the much deeper snowpack could create a more stable foundation for the rest of the season, at least at higher elevations.
As an incentive to be patient and cautious now, Comey said, “we’re going to have a great winter, we want to be around to ski the rest of it.”
While the storm cycle delighted powder hounds, icy roads and blowing snow prompted a word of caution.
Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman Denise Germann said park roads have had numerous vehicle slideoffs over the last couple of weeks. She asked motorists to give crews clearing roads room to safely do their job.
“Don’t pass, don’t tailgate and obey [the] direction of equipment operators,” Germann said Sunday.
Weather and road conditions can change quickly, within short distances, from the park’s south boundary to Moose, and then again from Moose to Moran, and so on, she warned.