Jackson Hole, WY News

On days when avalanche danger is high, most backcountry skiers are conservative. But the few who make bad choices not only endanger themselves but risk an avalanche running onto the thousands of vehicles traveling Highway 22 over Teton Pass each day.

Skier-caused avalanches have caught vehicles at least twice in the past few winters and have closed the commuter thoroughfare many more times, stranding people away from their families or keeping them from work.

At peak avalanche conditions March 1, Bridger-Teton National Forest officials did something extraordinary. They closed the terrain surrounding Highway 22 on Teton Pass. They did so to help the Wyoming Department of Transportation safely execute avalanche control measures. People weren’t allowed to ski in the area for at least 10 hours.

Which raises the question: Why not use precautionary skier closures to prevent extended human-triggered closures for motorists? Similar to winter closures that protect wildlife, and a campaign for people to not poach the powder.

Why not close skiing on the north side of the highway every time officials deem avalanche danger too high? Or does an innocent commuter need to be maimed or killed before something finally changes?

The latest incident with an experienced backcountry skier proves that no amount of familiarity with the terrain is sufficient to prevent a poor decision.

Fortuitously, the Teton Pass Alliance formed this winter to help educate backcountry users about etiquette and to serve as a voice for pass recreationists.

Now is the time for WYDOT, the Pass Alliance and the U.S. Forest Service to agree on plans for intermittent, weather-dependent closures to all human activity along the north side of the highway on Teton Pass. There’s plenty of time to create a smart solution before next winter’s storm cycles.

The joy of a handful of skiers is not worth the potential death and ongoing economic consequences of devastating avalanches reaching the highway.

This editorial represents the opinion of the News&Guide’s editorial board: Johanna Love, Rebecca Huntington, Kevin Olson and Adam Meyer.

Recommended for you

(3) comments

Judd Grossman

Closing the parking lot on "high" or "extreme" danger days would be palatable. Another option is to close Twin Slide, Glory Bowl, and the road cuts to skiing from December 1st to March 31st. Make it a big fine if you are caught skiing those areas. There are thousands of acres of terrain to ski that doesn't impact the highway.

Jim Olson

Snow sheds....or, yes, the tunnel with a shuttle bus for skiers on the still plowed and maintained pass road while commuters use the tunnel! Simple! Think of the commerce you'd lose by closing the pass to tourist backcountry skiers! Time for the rich folks to "throw down" and get'er done!

sean henry

closing the north side is unenforceable. one car left in the lot on those days prevents wydot from bombing, do you think wydot would bomb glory with a lot full of cars supposedly skiing the south side. how do you know that person is on the south side. the answer is you don't. a closure would complicate everything because your assuming people are observing the closure.i don't here anyone reaching out to either wydot or forest during all this. only in jackson where skiers calling on closing skiing to other skiers. and i don't like the editorial board's or anyone's cavalier attitude towards closing public lands.
how about a story on the number natural closures before you claim the high ground ?

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Please turn off your CAPS LOCK.
No personal attacks. Discuss issues & opinions rather than denigrating someone with an opposing view.
No political attacks. Refrain from using negative slang when identifying political parties.
Be truthful. Don’t knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be proactive. Use the "Report" link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with us. We’d love to hear eyewitness accounts or history behind an article.
Use your real name: Anonymous commenting is not allowed.