Big snow brings joy, avalanches

February 7, 2019 GMT

Winter storm conditions pushed avalanche danger to “high” Tuesday when first responders were called to two backcountry rescues just outside the boundaries of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

A skier triggered a slab avalanche around 1 p.m. in Mile Long Couloir in Granite Canyon and broke his leg. The injured man had to wait it out while Grand Teton National Park rangers and Teton County Search and Rescue waited for a break in the weather to fly a helicopter to extricate him.

The 48-year-old Jackson man was taken by short haul to safety and rushed into surgery at St. John’s Medical Center.

Shortly after, around 2:45 p.m., rescuers responded to another emergency call for an injured skier in Four Pines, popular out-of-bounds terrain south of the resort. Skiers can leave the resort through designated gates and then ski and hike to the backcountry spot.

“He hit a rock, and it was a pretty significant injury,” Sheriff Matt Carr said. “Two members flew in, and we packaged the patient and took him by short haul.”

That skier, also from Jackson, was taken by ambulance to St. John’s Medical Center.

“It was high avalanche danger and travel in the backcountry was not recommended, but they chose to go out anyway,” Carr said. “It was a big day for Search and Rescue.”

The backcountry rescues came on the heels of the region’s first major winter storm this year. The weather system walloped the Tetons on Sunday night, dumping up to a foot of snow in 24 hours and snarling morning commutes. On Monday, Teton Pass remained closed until 1 p.m. and all roads north of town in Teton park shut down temporarily in the morning.

The snow continued Monday with another foot overnight, prompting another closure of Teton Pass through Tuesday morning after the Wyoming Department of Transportation triggered slides in Glory Bowl and Beaver Slide.

The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center repeatedly warned recreationists to avoid avalanche terrain with avalanche danger rated “high” above 7,500 feet all day Tuesday.

“Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended today,” the morning report read. “In favored areas of the Tetons, 2 feet of snow has fallen in the last 24 hours and 3 1/2 feet has fallen in the last three days. Additional snowfall today and southwest winds will further load new and old instabilities in the snowpack... Backcountry travelers who venture into steep terrain are very likely to trigger slab avalanches that could be large in size and are expected to run long distances.”

Stormy skies clouded avalanche spotting visibility. But on Monday and Tuesday, several slides in the region were reported to the Avalanche Center. A skier-triggered soft slab avalanche was reported skiers’ right of the S Chutes off the east side of Snow King Mountain Resort. A skier was caught and carried but was uninjured. Three natural avalanches were observed during partial clearing on the North Wilson Faces, Pyramid Zone and Mount Hunt.

WYDOT also triggered an avalanche in the Cow of the Woods slide path that left 10 feet of snow and debris across both lanes of Highway 191/189 south of Hoback Junction. A large natural avalanche with a 2-foot crown released Tuesday afternoon on the butte above Teton Science Schools’ Jackson campus. Debris ran into a school parking lot and reportedly moved vehicles.

Meanwhile, crowds swarmed Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Spokeswoman Anna Cole deemed the powder fever “pandemonium” on Monday and said Sunday was one of the busiest days the resort has seen outside a holiday period. Parking lots at Teton Village and Stilson were full Monday morning, and skiers were advised to take buses. Teton Village lots filled up again by midday Tuesday.