Jackson Hole, WY News

This February — possibly the snowiest month in Hole history — has been a blessing and a curse for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and may signal a “new era” for the mountain.

Parking lots at Teton Village and Stilson have filled by early morning several times, once-a-year lines are rapidly becoming commonplace and the resort took an unprecedented step to close its backcountry gates — all amid a series of record-breaking storms in recent weeks (see page 9).

“It’s strained our community at the same time it brings people to our community,” said Anna Cole, a resort spokesperson. “So it’s that confluence of events that makes these storms so amazing and also taxing.”

The resort decided to restrict backcountry travel Tuesday morning, at the height of storms that have dumped more than 4 feet of snow in the Tetons over the past three days and prompted an avalanche danger rating of “high” at all elevations. Experts expect another 3 to 4 feet in coming days.

Cole said the resort has closed some gates in the past but never all backcountry access. The resort announced later on Tuesday that the gates would remain closed today.

“We’re really hopeful that after tomorrow this storm will subside a bit,” Cole said, “and we’ll be able to open those.”

The rationale is not only to protect skiers from avalanches, though. After consulting with Grand Teton National Park, Bridger-Teton National Forest and Teton County Search and Rescue, resort officials agreed that with plenty of emergencies to go around already it would be prudent to limit the likelihood of having to divert resources to backcountry rescue.

The massive snowfall has slammed the resort in other ways, though it’s unclear how much recent crowding can be attributed to powder and how much to the popular whipping post: Ikon.

The newest collective pass gets a bad rap, in Jackson Hole and at premier resorts around the West.

It pits itinerant passholders against local skiers, many of whom long ago switched from mumbling behind the offending visitors’ backs to complaining aloud in their presence. Its critics have even created at least two Instagram accounts to gripe and poke fun at the “Ikoneers,” who are generally chided as less talented than locals.

The resort reported earlier this month that Ikon accounted for 14 percent of skier days so far this season. Because of blackout days and the early-season dearth of passholders, however, that percentage is surely much higher at times.

Whatever portion of blame belongs to Ikon and to powder, everyone agrees the Teton Village throngs constitute “a new era for the mountain resort,” as Cole put it.

Spencer Rank, who’s lived in Jackson two decades and skis 80-plus days each year, answered his phone from the tram line and described “the new normal.”

“Let’s see,” he said. “One, two, three … I’m on the edge of three cars. Might get cut off, then I’ll be on the fourth.”

But that’s nothing compared to Monday, when the train of skiers backed up to the Bridger Center. Videos showed skiers hopping off the Teewinot lift and immediately entering a line that funneled into the Apres Vous lift. A post on the Instagram profile IkonOfTheDay showed the scene.

“Ikont even make jokes about this,” the caption read. “This is completely insane.”

Rank noted out-of-control lines aren’t completely unheard of, especially during weekend powder. But this season the crowds don’t seem confined to any specific time or snowfall.

“Last week when it was frigid and hardpack, it was still a four-tram wait and the lots were full,” he said. “The powder days I understand, but when it’s average conditions in the middle of the week …”

He paid $1,000 for a parking pass to Teton Village, but several times he’s had to turn around at Teton Village after failing to find a spot. Once his wife, Cara, had to drop him off because Stilson was full, too.

“It used to be fun to think about going skiing,” he said. “Now when I get in my car it’s just more anxiety than anything.”

Cole said resort officials are looking for ways to cope with the huge influx of visitors.

They coordinate with the sheriff’s office to direct traffic, and they’re working with the Teton Village Association to send shuttles to Stilson every 15 minutes from 7:30 to 9 a.m. every day starting next week. These are mostly for employees, to leave room on START buses for skiers, but anyone can ride the shuttles. She said they also plan to work with the association to encourage carpooling.

And once things settle down for the season, she said, they’ll start considering how to adjust their strategy to what may be the new normal.

“We’re in the day-to-day right now,” she said, “but once we get out of this, we will be looking at that longer-term plan and how we can be more prepared for next winter.”

It’s unclear when things will settle down. February tends to bring excellent snow and many skiers, so Rank said he’d consider next month — historically a slower period — as the real test.

“If it’s still busy like this on the 15th of March,” he said, “I’ll lose my mind.”

Then he hung up. He had to get on the fourth tram.

Contact Cody Cottier at 732-5911, town@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGtown.

Cody Cottier covers town and state government. He grew up with a view of the Olympic Mountains, and after graduating Washington State University he traded it for a view of the Tetons. Odds are the mountains are where you’ll find him when not on deadline.

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(13) comments

allison levy

Oh poor "locals". Wahhh. "I had to wait 4 tram cars...my wife had to drop me off..". Please watch the news every now and then and take a look at real problems outside of your " I'm so rad to live the JH lifestyle". Give me a break. Move to Idaho and ski Bogus Basin.

Ken Chison

Blame your social media appetites more than anything. People are so obsessed with posting their pics all over social media that they don't realize the damage. A blue bird day with 3 feet of powder on Instagram gets slot of people thinking. Add in the fact that the economy is booming, like never before, and a drive or flight to JH is in the works. I no longer ski, but I do feel your pain. All the snowmobiling areas I access are exactly the same way. Packed with out of staters and evidently deep pockets. The secrets about Whom ng are out, no thanks to social media and the tourism people. What we see as crowded is normal to these people. If I had my way, I would build the wall. But it would be around our great state.

rich quinlan

Well the elitists are mad as wet hens , a ski resort with record snow draws record crowds , whod a thunk it. Maybe they need to install some extra whine stations along the slopes. The "community" is reaping the business benefits crying all the way to the bank.

TERRENCE MILAN

They're crying all the way to the bank. If not you, they will sell the ticket to someone else. Seeing what the rents are like around here, I doubt that anyone in Jackson so much as works up a tear when accused of being greedy. You see more compassion on Wall Street.

Thomas Barry

I want every single member of what must be an enormous marketing staff at jhmr to look at themselves in a mirror today and proclaim how proud they are for their contribution to cratering one of the most extraordinary experiences for elite skiers in this country. Your efforts have turned the wonderful anticipation of an epic ski day into a stress filled, traffic clogged, massive buzz kill more akin to an urban job environment. Your efforts have turned venerable jackson hole into nothing more than an extension of the urban attitude experience exhibited at the salt lake city and denver resorts. I hope each and every one of you are proud of the overwhelming negative impact your efforts have had on this resort and on this community.

Tom Desmond

Funny reading most of these post. I assume none of these cry babies have a college business degree. i thought the idea of running a business is to make money not to lose it to satisfy a bunch of people on unemployment. Can somebody tell me what business school teaches this practice. just think of all the $$$ JHMR is bringing into the local economy and you folks are bitching?? i lived there years ago and it was all the free loaders that i couldn't stand. knew a guy who had a job that he skied free for 6 days but on saturday went to idaho falls to pick up skiers. Every saturday he whined like a baby because he couldn't ski. Poor little baby

Trev Schumacher

It's laugh out loud funny that locals are so set on their opinion that they forget that JHMR is a business

Terry Milan

Looks like you used your degree well.

allison levy

This can also be said of real estate agents in JH.

jim spotswood

Congratulations, Jackson: You played yourself. This is what happens when you let greed guide your decision making. You could have kept quiet about the great little town that Jackson used to be, but no: you screamed from the rooftops: "Look at me, look at me!!! Look at how RAD I am!!!" You promoted JH to the hilt, made movies about how great the skiing is, and every other person who lives there became a realtor and sold out their own town. You couldn't keep your loud, greedy, egomaniacal mouth shut and now you are reaping what you have sewn.

Max Mogren

Unchecked greed and egotism indeed. You hit the nail on the head, Jim. Sadly, this scenario seems to play out at every exploitable opportunity in America.

allison levy

Well said.

Trev Schumacher

I get where locals are coming from but you have to realize JHMR is a business and marketing/promotion is a natural part of that.

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