January has been a stormy month. Approximately 110 inches of snow has fallen at the Raymer Plot in Teton Village, elevation 9,300 feet. This is reported on the avalanche forecast site by the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center. It’s a comprehensive site that shares the weather forecast, advisories, snow conditions, and avalanche information. It’s the go-to site for many locals and backcountry skiers. It’s a tool to use when looking for weather information or journeying into the backcountry.
Being a tool, it does not replace the necessity of safe backcountry travel, route finding, and digging snow pits. Unfortunately, January ended with three avalanche deaths. A young local snowboarder died near the Pyramid in the southern Tetons. Two visitors died in the backcountry near Jackson Hole Mountain Resort when they left the ski resort to seek different terrain.
Traveling in the mountains in the winter can be risky. In early winter, you can take an avalanche course to learn about snow and the changes due to wind, weather and temperature. You gain tools to interpret the snow pack. When we have storms, avalanche danger increases.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is a big resort. Terrain covers 2500 acres with 11 chairlifts, a gondola and the aerial tram. The ski area is known for steep terrain and one of the longest vertical drops, 4,140 ft. Areas outside of the resort are accessible by leaving the ski area through marked gates. You can easily reach terrain in the national forest and Grand Teton Park where measures to reduce avalanche danger are not performed by ski patrol. The signed gates do state the risk.
Visitors often go through these gates without the necessary safety equipment: avalanche transceivers, probe poles and shovels. At times that is OK but not always. Two people recently died since they were skiing where they should not have been and did not have proper equipment or knowledge of the terrain they were entering.
We come to the Tetons to be in wild nature, to be near wildlife, to play. We must follow protocol to be safe. Make wise decisions. We are half-way through our winter season. Winters with an El Nino, the warming of the Pacific Ocean, makes weather and storms unpredictable in the West. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted a big El Nino and possibly one of the largest. It seems to be holding true in the West with our recent storms. Winter is half over and we are near 100 % of average snowfall, 450 inches.
As we recreate in the backcountry, we must think safety and awareness of wildlife. We have many places to play and explore while many areas are closed for wildlife protection. A winter travel map is available at the Visitor Center on North Cache Street. Deep snow and long winters are challenging for wildlife so we must be prudent to respect them and the closures.
Let’s all make an effort to stay safe, to make conservative decisions when danger increases during stormy weather. Going into areas unprepared is foolish. I certainly hope we can finish our winter season without any more deaths. How tragic for all involved.
What’s in the woods
1/2- single digits, moose near Kelly- outside hunt areas, bald eagle, moose feeding on bitterbrush
1/6- Teton Village Road- bald eagle on power pole
1/8- Wilson, WY-great grey owl
1/10- Highway 89/191- cow moose feeding on willows
1/12- snow in forecast
1/15- Gros Ventre Road- three moose near science school
1/18- Flat Creek- belted kingfisher, male/female mallards, male/female goldeneye
1/23- Jackson- pair of eagles playing
1/24- cow moose on village road
1/25- ravens in pair bonds
1/29- winter storm
Phelps lake is a fun destination in Grand Teton Park. You can access the area from the Moose-Wilson Road near Teton Village through the LSR preserve or from the north, near Death Canyon. I usually access from the north so drive to Moose then turn left on the Moose-Wilson Road. The road is plowed to the trailhead. It’s a 5.0 mile roundtrip ski through gentle terrain and lodgepole pine forest. Avalanche danger is low to moderate. Have fun and be safe!