Recent heavy snow has brought dicey conditions both within and outside of ski area boundaries.
Two slides let loose inbounds at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on Thursday. Nobody was injured. On the same day, another avalanche reached the road in the Snake River canyon, and the Wyoming Department of Transportation closed two major arteries — Highway 22 over Teton Pass and Highway 191 in the Hoback Canyon — for avalanche mitigation work.
“We’re dealing with a pretty heavily loaded snowpack with a lot of wind and precipitation, and we’d just ask people to use extreme caution in the backcountry,” said Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr, who oversees Teton County Search and Rescue.
In major storm cycles like the one Jackson Hole has seen in recent days — a Wednesday night storm dropped 18 inches of snow with 1.44 inches of water in Rendezvous Bowl — rescuers’ ability to get to people is limited.
“These are no-fly conditions, so response times are back to the good ol’ days,” Carr told the Jackson Hole Daily.
The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center elevated Thursday morning’s avalanche hazard to “high” across upper elevations at all three of its forecast areas for the first time this season.
“Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended today,” the Teton a.m. forecast read. “Two days of significant loading have created very dangerous avalanche conditions.”
The elevated risk level came after a few days with no reported backcountry avalanches. But by the end of the day Thursday, a significant amount of relatively wet snow, followed by rain, had fallen in the valley. There were a few slides in the Snake River Canyon, with one crossing the road.
Two small, inbounds avalanches were reported at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort: one in the Laramie Cliffs area and one near the resort’s Expert Chutes. The Laramie Cliffs area is permanently closed, resort spokesman Eric Seymour said. The Expert Chutes were open, and the slide came from the cliffs above. Seymour said both slides released naturally.
“No skiers or snowboarders were involved,” Seymour said in a prepared statement, “and the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol has closed the Aerial Tram, Sublette and Thunder in the interest of skier safety.”
Mike Rheam, the avalanche center’s lead forecaster, said snow fell fast enough to override ski patrol’s morning mitigation.
“New, avalanche danger after that mitigation work was rebuilding so fast and becoming sensitive and active that they had to close it down,” he said. “New snow in extremely strong winds is causing rapid loading, and that’s true in and outside of the resort.”
The two snow slides reported at the resort were relatively small.
Ski patrollers who saw the action gave them a one out of five on both the relative-size scale and destructive-size scale.
Per The Avalanche Review, a winter publication from the American Avalanche Association, an “R1” rating means a slide was very small relative to its path. A “D1” rating means a slide was relatively harmless to people.
More details about the inbounds slides were not available by press time Thursday, but ski patrol tends to publish information about what lets loose inbounds on the avalanche center’s website.
Patrollers at the resort were expected to start running the Gazex, an avalanche control device, at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. And the resort anticipated delays Friday, a repeat of the day before when lifts started spinning around 9:30 a.m.
— Evan Robinson-Johnson contributed to this report.