Friday storm closes Teton Pass

January 13, 2018 GMT

The largest storm to hit the Tetons so far this winter wreaked havoc on commuters, closing Teton Pass for 12 hours, and caused dangerous avalanche conditions for backcountry users.

Wyoming Department of Transportation Maintenance Foreman Bruce Daigle said a large slide triggered by WYDOT early Friday on Mount Glory released snow through the Glory Slide path that piled nearly 12 feet deep and 200 feet wide onto Highway 22.

WYDOT used two rotary plows, a loader and a plow truck to get the mess cleaned up, Daigle said. Traffic in both directions reopened at 3 p.m. Friday.

Twin Slides also released and dumped debris 5 or 6 feet deep onto the highway, 80 feet wide and all the way across the road and down to the meadow below.

Although the Wyoming Department of Transportation had scheduled a 3 a.m. closure of Highway 22 over the pass, officials closed it earlier, at 12:30 a.m., due to winter conditions.

Lt. Matt Brackin of the Wyoming Highway Patrol said the closure of the pass was to give WYDOT crews time to clean up the debris, but he said his agency often keeps the highway closed until it is safe for travelers.

“Occasionally we will close the pass ourselves,” Brackin said Friday. “WYDOT made that call today.”

Control work also released snow on the Cow in the Woods and Calf in the Woods slide paths in Hoback Canyon. A 5-pound charge set off a 2-foot-deep slide on the Beaver Slide on the west side of Teton Pass. Neither closed roads.

Avalanche danger throughout the Teton region backcountry was rated high Friday, and Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center Director Bob Comey said he wasn’t sure what Saturday’s forecast would be.

“We haven’t determined that yet,” he said Friday afternoon, “but it’s probably going to decrease some.”

Whether the risk rating stays at “high” or drops to “considerable,” there is still the potential to trigger some very large avalanches, Comey said. The peak hazard was during the storm Thursday night and into Friday morning. Over the next few days, however, the snowpack ought to start to settle and stabilize.

“This will end up being a good thing and help bring some stability,” Comey said. “But it’s going to be dangerous for at least several days.”

Dangerous avalanche conditions were widespread Friday, per the avalanche hazard advisory: “Heavy snowfall and strong winds have resulted in conditions where natural avalanches are likely and humans venturing into avalanche terrain are very likely to trigger slides,” it read.

“These avalanches could involve new wind slabs and be small to large in size,” the advisory said, “or they could be very large, involving deeper persistent instabilities within the snowpack. Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended today.”

For the most recent avalanche hazard rating visit JHAvalanche.org.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort reported a temperature of 16 degrees at the summit of Rendezvous Mountain at 5 a.m. Friday, with an average wind speed of 26 mph and gusts of up to 65 mph. The resort recorded 16 inches of new snow in Rendezvous Bowl. At mid-mountain 10 inches were recorded.

Since the storm began Wednesday, the resort has reported 30 inches of snow on the upper mountain, with more falling throughout Friday. Snow depths on the upper mountain were recorded at 79 inches Friday morning.

“That’s bringing our snow totals to 219 inches for the season,” resort spokeswoman Anna Cole said. “We received 5 inches on the valley floor at the base level, which is where we desperately needed the snow.”

The resort delayed its usual 9 a.m. opening Friday morning, welcoming skiers onto the mountain a little after 10 a.m., once ski patrol finished doing avalanche control work.

Snow King Mountain Resort reported 14 inches over the previous 24 hours Friday, with a season total of 39 inches at its base and 40 inches at the summit. All three of its lifts have opened, including the Summit chair that accesses the upper half of the mountain, with 23 of 32 runs open.

The storm has mostly passed, though a chance of snow showers lingers through the weekend, and sunny days are expected to arrive by the end of the weekend.

— Emily Mieure and Johanna Love contributed to this report.