Teton Pass aerial

Although there are several slide paths on Teton Pass that push snow onto Highway 22, the two most active — and problematic — are Twin Slides, left, and Glory Bowl, right, on Mt. Glory’s respective south and southeast flanks.

An avalanche, believed to be skier-triggered, barreled onto Highway 22 from Twin Slides, entombing a Jeep and forcing the driver to “swim” out of the debris. A now famous picture captures the snow-choked vehicle caught in the 2016 slide near the summit of Teton Pass.

The 20-foot wall of snow closed the highway overnight, stranding commuters returning home to Teton Valley, Idaho. Drivers had to double back from the top of the pass to drive through Alpine and then over Pine Creek Summit, a more-than-90-mile detour that takes more than two hours in winter. The jeep’s driver narrowly escaped with minor injuries.

Housing costs in Jackson are so high that nearly half the workforce lives outside Teton County, commuting either over Teton Pass or through the Snake River Canyon. Commuters — some in essential industries like law enforcement or health care — are forced at times to choose between going to work and being stuck on the wrong side of the mountains at the end of the day.

Weighing whether one might get caught in an avalanche is not a usual consideration for a commute, but the thousands of workers whose livelihood depends on Highway 22, the narrow artery skirting the southern end of the Tetons, know it well.

2016 Teton Pass avalanche

The driver of this Jeep was able to climb out and was treated for minor injuries after being caught in an avalanche in the Twin Slides path just east of Teton Pass in December 2016. Given the number of backcountry users on the pass that day, investigators suspected the slide was triggered by a skier on the slope above.

Shane Braman, a special education teacher at Jackson Hole Middle School, and his girlfriend (who is also a teacher) keep an eye on pass closures because their kids go to school in Teton Valley.

“A lot of people have kids, and some people have both husband and wife who teach over there,” he said. If the pass looks likely to close, “your kids are over here, and so you’ve got to boogie back.”

This story is the first in a series about how communities like Jackson, which have roads that cut through avalanche-prone areas, keep commuters safe. News&Guide staff traveled to Snoqualmie Pass in Washington state and Rogers Pass in British Columbia to see how their snowsheds and snow bridges, among other tools, work to make avalanche forecasters lives' easier. Stay tuned for future installments in the coming weeks and read the rest of this story here.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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