A skier-triggered avalanche on Twin Slides during the heart of the morning commute produced “a humbling experience” for the skier who caused it.
Just after 7:30 a.m. an avalanche that initiated near the Gazex exploder near the top of Twin Slides went the full length of the slide path and deposited several feet of debris on the road, Wyoming Department of Transportation foreman Bruce Daigle said.
The debris “was probably 6 or 7 feet on the ends, and the middle was 3 to 4 feet high,” he said.
Though the slide wasn’t huge, it stopped the morning commute in its tracks and forced a closure that lasted the majority of the day before being lifted around 5 p.m.
After such a slide, WYDOT generally performs additional avalanche mitigation work, but with a cadre of skiers already recreating on the slopes of Mount Glory, the agency was delayed several hours as it accounted for each person that was in the area.
“When we punched a hole through the debris, we got the drivers at the top of the pass through,” Daigle said. But most commuters intending to use the pass were stuck at home or forced to drive over Pine Creek Pass.
Late Friday, the man who triggered the slide, Jeff Brines, posted a report detailing the slide on the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center’s website. Brines wrote that he stopped at a rocky bench about two-thirds of the way up the bootpack to the west of Twin Slides and skied into the slide path to find a way back down into his intended route, the trees along the bootpack. While performing a kick turn, he said, he heard snowing moving next to him.
The initial pocket slid about 100 feet and stopped, he said, but it remotely triggered the starting zone of the bowl. The resultant avalanche had a 16-inch crown and ran to the road.
“This was a wildly humbling experience, and one I will heed with great respect for the rest of my life,” Brines wrote. “Despite my intent to stay close to the bootpack, in more anchored and lower-angled terrain, I still put myself, and more importantly, others in harm’s way.”
With the pass already closed and a historic February in the books, WYDOT took the opportunity to use some tactics it hasn’t had to use yet this year. Officials worry that with so much new snow and weight, an avalanche that occurs while the road is open could step down to the basal persistent weak layers of facets and surface hoar that underlie the entire snowpack.
Technicians dropped three 40-pound charges from a helicopter onto Glory Bowl and one onto Twin Slides in hopes that the feet of recent snow might release. None of the charges triggered a slide, leaving the snowpack basically intact. That failure to release poses a problem for those responsible for maintaining safety on the pass.
“The tendency might be for people to look at it as ‘they beat the piss out of it, it must be safe,’ ” Teton Pass ambassador Jay Pistono said. “Some folks will use that as a built-in insurance policy.”
Pistono echoed a concerns raised by WYDOT foreman Bruce Daigle and Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center Director Bob Comey when he noted that the lack of slides during mitigation work says nothing about what might happen tomorrow. Too much sunlight or higher temperatures could mean that much smaller triggers than a large explosive could cause those same slopes to fail.
“You could put a 95-pound skier out there, and it could go tomorrow,” he said.