Mary's Nipple Challenge

Jason Walleser, of Idaho Falls, starts up the boot pack to Mary’s Nipple near Grand Targhee in 2015. An avalanche just outside the Scotty’s gate, which is adjacent to Mary’s Nipple, caught three people Tuesday.

Three skiers survived a large slab avalanche Tuesday in the backcountry near Grand Targhee Resort in which one of the athletes was able to rescue the other two — including one who was fully buried.

“One was buried except for an arm, and another was partially buried,” Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center Director Bob Comey said. “The one member that was not as buried dug out the other two.”

The three skiers were skinning at the base of the cliff known as the Hollywood Rocks, which is adjacent to the couloir that connects to the Scotty’s backcountry gate on Targhee’s eastern boundary.

The slide on a northeast aspect was reported to the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center as having a 36-inch crown and failing on faceted snow near the base of the snowpack.

“Fog limited observations of the size of the slide,” the report says.

Comey said the area had slid once already this year, and the weak layer featured the basal facets that have plagued the snowpack for much of this winter.

Snow in the area was shallower than in other parts of the Teton snowpack because of the previous slide, and also because areas at the base of cliffs can be warmed by radiant heat from the rocks.

Comey said one member of the party had an InReach, a satellite communication device that allows users to send text messages even when they don’t have cellphone reception.

“They were able to communicate and tell people what was going on,” he said.

At the skiers’ request, Grand Targhee ski patrollers responded to the slide, watching from above as the skiers exited the bowl in case they triggered another avalanche. Once the skiers were safely out of the area, patrollers inspected the slide path.

Another slide was reported Tuesday in the Broken Branch area, a steep chute in the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort backcountry. That slide was triggered in a south-facing couloir by the fifth person who skied the line. The reporting party said the first four skiers did the same thing the fifth one did, but the slide didn’t rip out for them.

No one was caught in the Broken Branch slide, which released from above a rocky constriction halfway down the chute. The reporting skiers said they skied the rest of the chute through the debris field and performed a beacon check to make sure no one was below them.

“The slab was 3 feet deep or so and seemed to have broke on a crust layer from before the recent storm cycle,” the report says.

The Avalanche Center rated the avalanche danger Tuesday morning as “considerable.” That means, “Dangerous avalanche conditions exist. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making are essential,” according to the North American Public Avalanche Danger Rating Scale. The danger rating was the same Wednesday.

A winter weather advisory is in effect for the Tetons until 6 p.m. Thursday. Storms coming from the Pacific Northwest are predicted to deliver up to a foot of snow in the mountains over Wednesday and Thursday. With a new load on existing weaknesses in the snowpack, avalanche danger is unlikely to decrease in the next few days.

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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