If Leslie Goodyear had been driving just a bit faster up Teton Pass, she would have been the second car caught in the avalanche Thursday evening that piled 20 feet of snow on Highway 22 and closed the road overnight.
She saw a giant cloud of snow that instead of blowing past grew larger and thicker, and then lights were spinning through the cloud.
“The cloud was definitely a giant river of snow, then it turned into a wall and I slammed into it,” Goodyear said Thursday night. “One second sooner it would have been liquid.”
Goodyear jumped out of her truck to help the man whose Jeep was hit by the avalanche near Twin Slides ski route. The vehicle was knocked on its side and came to rest on the edge of the precipice.
The man, whose name wasn’t released, was OK after the slide, said Teton County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Matt Carr. Deputies didn’t believe any other vehicles were caught in the massive slide that released at about 4:50 p.m. and buried more than 100 yards of the road. First responders and Teton County Search and Rescue volunteers were probing the mass before WYDOT equipment operators could begin clearing snow off the road.
“We’re pretty confident no one is caught in there,” Carr said.
Search and Rescue members and avalanche rescue dogs were still searching as of 7 p.m.
It was thought road-clearing would take most of the night, and WYDOT planned to re-evaluate conditions today before reopening the pass, said Stephanie Harsha, public relations specialist for WYDOT District 3.
Officials believe a skier triggered the slide, Carr said.
“Based upon witness information, we do believe it was skier triggered,” he said.
When the man whose vehicle was hit by the avalanche swam his way out of his Jeep, Goodyear said, she asked him to hop in her truck to warm up. He then told her the tale.
“He told me the windshield had broken out, and ‘I was punching through it to get air. I got claustrophobic and it closed in around me,’ ” Goodyear said he told her.
She drove the man to Wilson, where his family met him.
“The poor guy was pretty shaken up, but he was a pretty cool customer considering,” Goodyear said.
Goodyear had been driving home to Victor, Idaho. Though she grew up in Jackson Hole and has been driving Teton Pass her whole life, the experience shook her up.
“It makes me want to start driving with a transceiver in my car,” she said.
When she heard that the avalanche appeared to have been triggered by a skier, Goodyear said that whoever was responsible had some apologizing to do.
“If that really was skier-triggered, they owe that guy a new car and a bottle of Macallan,” she said.