Jumping state highways on skis prompted a meeting — to discuss the legality of such a stunt — between the Wyoming Highway Patrol and Teton County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Is it reckless endangerment or completely legal? The answer isn’t black and white.
Lt. Matt Brackin and Prosecuting Attorney Erin Weisman decided to tackle that question last week after the ski film “The Warmest Moments” popped up online and showed skiers doing aerial stunts over Highway 22 on Teton Pass.
“Obviously we don’t condone that activity,” Brackin said. “There is potential for reckless disregard from a skier’s standpoint and even reckless endangerment if they damaged something while they’re doing the stunts.”
“Road gaps,” as industry folks call them, aren’t new to daredevil freeskiers who build big jumps in order to clear major highways in mountainous areas.
“If we see a road gap we are going to discourage it,” Brackin said. “These guys are willing to accept the danger, but the people on the highway are not.”
Brackin said filmmakers who want to use state highways for shoots are encouraged to apply for a special event permit through the Wyoming Department of Transportation.
“There is an opportunity to do this legally,” he said.
Permits are approved all the time for car commercials and movies, WYDOT District 3 Traffic Engineer Darin Kaufman said.
“I have a stack of applications I go through on a weekly basis,” Kaufman said. “GMC was here recently. And Jeep.”
The permits are free, he said, and he approves or denies them on a case-by-case basis.
“Whether we would allow it in this case I don’t know,” he said. “We have done similar commercial shoots for other companies.”
Kaufman considers traffic impacts before approving permits, he said. He approved a permit for the movie “Rampage,” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“The Warmest Moments” is gaining popularity on YouTube and Reddit and shows skiers flipping and twisting over Teton Pass.
The description says it was filmed last winter. Photographer Garret Weintrob said several freelance photographers and videographers filmed the road gap scene.
Weisman has seen the movie.
“From my position, we would not want to condone the type of ski jumping that’s seen in the videos I watched,” Weisman said. “When you are launching yourself on skis over an active highway, that could certainly be deemed as reckless disregard. When you are putting others at risk that’s an issue that could put you in liability or come back to haunt you in criminal court.”
When such issues come up, Weisman has two state statutes to rely on: reckless endangerment and skier safety, both misdemeanors.
But when it comes to actually prosecuting skiers for various backcountry behaviors on Teton Pass, she said every case is going to be different.
“We have a huge population who uses that area as their playground,” Weisman said. “Skiers need to be careful and know their own abilities.”
Similar stunts have been captured on the Beartooth Highway near Yellowstone National Park, Donner Pass in California and a section of highway near Mount Baker Ski Area in Washington.
Possibilities of reckless endangerment charges are more often brought up when skiers cause avalanches on Teton Pass, Lt. Brackin said. Skier-caused avalanches are more common than road gaps, he said.
“People jumping over the pass is very similar to what we’re trying to accomplish with avalanche issues,” Brackin said. “But it’s a crapshoot. If something bad were to happen, there are potential consequences.”