The region’s first major winter storm this year walloped the Tetons on Sunday night, dumping up to a foot of snow in 24 hours and snarling the morning commute.
Teton Valley, Idaho, residents awoke to a 5 a.m. alert from the Wyoming Department of Transportation that Teton Pass was closed for at least five to eight hours. Some commuters white-knuckled over Pine Creek Pass, down to Alpine and up through Snake River Canyon, which remained open throughout the day, while others opted to work from home or take advantage of the powder day.
Five hours later, the only way out of Jackson was south. All roads in Grand Teton National Park closed around 10 a.m. That stranded those looking to catch a flight, with no access to Jackson Hole Airport, where most flights were canceled, delayed or diverted. North Highway 89 closed just north of the town of Jackson boundary, and the road into town and the park from Togwotee Pass also closed.
Northern roads reopened around 11:30 a.m. Teton County School District No. 1 seized the moment and allowed an early release for some students to get home while they could. Midday, there were 10 vehicles in the ditch along Grand Teton National Park’s stretch of Highway 26/89/191, including a semi-trailer truck.
“People definitely need to drive slow,” spokeswoman Denise Germann said.
Snowflakes slowed to a trickle when Teton Pass opened at 1 p.m. Meanwhile, crowds swarmed Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Spokesperson Anna Cole deemed the powder fever “pandemonium.”
“Whoever could play hooky, we hope they’re out there playing,” she said. “Conditions are great; it’s really filled in. It’s great skiing.”
All hands were on deck.
“When the pass shuts down, we really feel that lack of bodies in our community,” Cole said. “This is what we’re here for, to rally together and work hard.”
Early-bird skiers were rewarded for their efforts. As of 11:30 a.m., parking lots at Teton Village and Stilson were full and skiers were advised to take buses.
“We are in the middle of a huge storm cycle, and our staff is doing the best they can to keep up with the plowing and snow removal demands,” Vice President of Operations Tim Mason said. “However, there are challenging conditions today, and safety is the primary concern both on the mountain, and also getting to and from the resort.”
Outside the resort, avalanche danger was rated “high” in the morning at elevations above 9,000 feet. That rating extended to elevations above 7,500 feet by the afternoon. The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center reported up to 2 feet of new snow with 2 inches of moisture in the last 30 hours and warned recreationists to stay out of avalanche terrain due to “very dangerous avalanche conditions.”
The only avalanche recorded on the center’s website by press time was an event at 9 a.m., when WYDOT triggered an avalanche in the Cow of the Woods slidepath that ran across both lanes of Highway 191/189 south of Hoback Junction with 10 feet of debris.
— Staff contributed to this report