A skier triggered a huge avalanche down the southeast face of Taylor Mountain on Tuesday afternoon, covering the Coal Creek trail for 500 yards with debris up to 30 feet deep.
Skiers and members of the county search and rescue team believe nobody was carried or buried in the slide. The path is just west of Teton Pass, north of Highway 22.
Earlier in the day, an avalanche carried a snowmobiler down part of Horseshoe Bowl above Phillips Bench and north of Mount Glory. He was partially buried and dug free by companions, according to the Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center.
“As today’s avalanche events showed, the weak foundation of this year’s snowpack translates to prolonged periods of instability after new storm events,” the center’s 5 p.m. avalanche report said.
Forecasters predicted continued “lethal conditions on avalanche-prone terrain” and said slides similar to those on Tuesday should be expected Wednesday.
David Fischel, who had skied up Coal Creek earlier in the day, stopped in his tracks on his descent Tuesday afternoon. Before him was an avalanche debris pile so big it ran across the drainage and up the opposite hillside.
“It was huge, just huge,” Fischel said. “It was pretty impressive. The whole bottom of the gully was filled with debris.”
The slide filled the drainage with trees and snow. Teton County Search and Rescue searched the debris Tuesday afternoon for victims.
The avalanche center said the crown of the slide was 6 feet deep. The debris took out skiers’ tracks and some of an uphill skin track. It ran over the site where snowboarder Kevin Marriot was buried and killed following a cornice collapse in 1995.
The creek bottom is the normal exit track for skiers descending Mount Glory to the far west. The slide ran 30 feet up the opposite side of Coal Creek drainage, according to the report.
The skier who triggered the avalanche, who asked not be identified, told the News&Guide he was with two others when he
intentionally set off the slide from the south ridge of Taylor Mountain. He is an area resident who said he has more than 20 years of experience skiing the Teton Pass backcountry.
He said the slide occurred between 1 and 2 p.m.
“We were making our ski check control work before embarking on our run,” he said. “I intentionally triggered it.
“But I didn’t intend for it to be so large. I was quite surprised at the size of it.
“It took [out] four ski runs [tracks] from the night before as well as four ski runs from today,” he said. “It took eight ski runs down with it.”
The skier was minimally caught in the slide. He skied the rest of the way down to make sure no one was buried, skiing over rocks and exposed terrain along the way.
Fischel, who lives near Tetonia, Idaho, skied down Coal Creek a short time later to discover the grisly aftermath. He knows the slide could have ended differently for him and others.
“Fortunately, nobody happened to be down there when that thing slid,” Fischel said. “It would have been a fatality. I’m hoping this will be a lesson for folks who ski up there. They put people like me at risk.”
The skier who provoked the avalanche expressed relief that no one was believed buried in the slide.
“We’re very happy no one was in the channel,” he said. “I’m sorry to make one so close to the road. It’s tough, because I consider this my home hill. Unfortunately, we probably won’t be skiing up there the rest of season. It was a full-depth avalanche.”
Jay Pistono, Teton Pass Ambassador, was on the pass when he saw the dust cloud from the slide. He immediately went to the scene.
Pistono said the debris ran to within about a quarter-mile from the Coal Creek parking lot. The debris was 30 to 40 feet deep in places, he said.
Like others on the scene, Pistono was amazed no one was injured.
“It’s a matter of luck no one was there,” Pistono said. “A lot of people ski there.”
The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center was reporting “considerable” avalanche danger Tuesday. A winter storm last week brought between 4 and 6 feet of snow to the Tetons. Another round of snow dropped an additional 4 to 8 inches Monday evening and Tuesday morning.
The center said avalanche danger will continue to be considerable in the Tetons through today. It updates forecasts twice daily on its website, www.jhavalanche.org, and by phone at 307-733-2664.
Several ski tracks can be seen entering the area of a massive avalanche across the southeast face of Taylor Mountain on Tuesday afternoon. No one was injured in the slide, which snapped trees and filled the bottom of the Coal Creek drainage with debris and snow. BRADLY J. BONER / NEWS&GUIDE