Mountain Mumbles

“I want to enter winter with proclamations about how great it’s going to be and how the mountains bring out the best in everyone,” Whitling writes this week about skiing returning to the Teton Pass. “But it’s not, and they don’t.”

According to social media, it’s been snowing in the Tetons.

Sure, it’s just a dusting in most places, but intrepid folks have already made turns at Targhee and off the tram. Maybe we’ll get lucky and enjoy a few weeks of warm Indian summer before winter settles in, but we’re already well on our way. ’Tis the season to wax — both lyrical about the lines you’re planning to ski, and literally on your dried-out skis.

It’s a season of wonder and excitement; my checker at the grocery store had a maniacal glint in her eye when I mentioned skiing, and my dog has been nesting in a pile of puffy down in anticipation of cold days to come. Everyone is excited, there are no injuries or avalanches yet to put a damper on the joy of the season to come. That’s why I’m here to be a wet blanket.

Last March I wrote this line in a column: “Our current ski culture on Teton Pass is toxic, it is unsustainable, it is selfish, and if we want to keep using that resource we need to make sweeping changes. Anything short is merely a Band-Aid on a sucking chest wound.”

It’s hard to feel like that now. The prospect of skiing is so pure and joyful. I want to enter winter with proclamations about how great it’s going to be and how the mountains bring out the best in everyone. But it’s not, and they don’t. Skiers are going to make terrible decisions that endanger themselves and hundreds of commuters this winter. Then they are going to make excuses for those decisions and rant about their “rights.”

The Teton Backcountry Alliance recently published its findings from a survey of pass users that looked at the problems and potential solutions we face there. The findings were mostly predictable. Users reported that they would support some voluntary closures, that we need solutions for the parking situation and that we should have more education and pass ambassadors.

That’s all awesome. But honestly, I’m not sure it’s enough. As skiers we are still shying away from fixing the fundamental problems with our attitudes that lead to user conflicts on the pass.

We need to do more, and that needs to start at an individual level. Saying that somebody should do something about the parking lot doesn’t do jack. Saying that an anonymous “they” should be better educated doesn’t get us anywhere. Saying that another “they” should close the pass on days when only idiots are skiing over the highway anyway reveals a lack of understanding of human nature.

What are you going to do about skier entitlement on Teton Pass? Last spring I laid out some rules I personally will be following. Here they are with some small updates:

I will not:

• Park at the top of the pass on any day the avalanche danger is “high” (even if I’m just going out the south side to wander around).

• Ski anything that overlooks the road on any day the hazard is “considerable” or higher.

• Walk back up on the road, ever. I will skin on top of the plow pile.

• Bring my dog on any tour that requires travel along the road.

• Build jumps over the highway (duh, the fact that this even needs mentioning is ridiculous).

• Treat skiing on the pass as a right.

I will:

• Carpool every time I ski on the pass.

• Thank my plow drivers.

• Hold myself and my partners accountable.

• Be thankful for the privilege of skiing Teton Pass.

To expand on a couple of those points: People will complain about skinning up the snowbank because they didn’t bring skins. I don’t want to be ski partners with anyone who skis Teton Pass midwinter without skins in their pack. You need the ability to travel uphill in places there isn’t a bootpack. Anything less makes you a liability.

I don’t care how ballsy your own risk management index is. We should not ever ski anything that could slide onto the road (or the Coal Creek runout, for that matter) on “considerable” days. It’s a really easy call that doesn’t hurt you and could make life a lot better for the more than 11,000 commuter vehicles that road sees every day.

Finally, that last point: Skiing Teton Pass is a privilege, not a right. Stop treating it like one. When you ski Glory you are parking in a pullout, not a ski resort parking lot. You are crossing an active highway. You are hiking under and around expensive government-owned avalanche mitigation equipment, and you are skiing above the most important section of road in the region. So don’t complain when you don’t get to go play at the playground because the Wyoming Department of Transportation is doing avalanche work. Don’t paint yourself as some badass rebel when you ignore voluntary closures and tear down the ambassador’s snow fences. You’re just an idiot endangering a whole bunch of people.

I’m really excited for ski season. We’re all going to hike cool stuff and get snow in our faces. Let’s start preparing ourselves to do that responsibly, instead of waiting for the first skier-triggered slide that shuts down the pass.

Cy Whitling writes every other week on living and playing in the mountains. Contact him via columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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