The month of December began and winter arrived. The 60 degree November temperatures felt like a distant past. The month started with a punch and the winter weather closed roads, caused avalanches, accumulated feet of snow and made happy skiers and winter recreationists.
You can see by my record below in the “what’s in the woods” section that stormy weather dominated the month. We shoveled, shoveled and shoveled. The temperatures danced between the 20’s to below zero. Mother Nature also shared some rain. All in all, a wet month and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort reports the best base in 40 years! Over 25 inches of snow fell in the town of Jackson. All said, avalanche danger is high making the backcountry potentially unsafe so proper route finding is a must. Let’s manifest a safe winter with no needless deaths.
Watching the wildlife move through the deep snow makes me grateful to have a shovel. The snow is chest high. You can understand why deer prefer south and east facing slopes. Snow melts more on these aspects and wind scour exposes more vegetation. Watching the deer, you can see their effort as they plow through the snow. One following the other to conserve energy. They come near town. They search for gentler terrain to conserve needed calories. There is a long winter ahead.
Thousands of elk have moved onto the National Elk Refuge. The series of storms drive them to lower elevations and they know about the feed grounds. Their historical winter territory is greatly reduced due to our homes and impact on the southern end of Jackson Hole. The elk survive on about 25% of their historical winter range. Rain produced a good crust with varying temperatures so pawing at the ground to reach grasses has become a test of will. Supplemental feeding on the feed grounds is set to begin in January. Studies show that we have to many elk in Jackson Hole but how to balance?
Deer and elk near town will ultimately bring in the predators. Wolves have been seen on the refuge and Mountain Lions will travel Snow King, the local ski hill. When the prey comes, they follow. With all this new snow, the animals will get stressed and the game of predator/prey begins. On December 1, winter closures begin to protect wildlife habitat so it is prudent to respect the closures to help their survival.
Most importantly would be the closures on the Teton Peaks where a herd of approximately 100 Big Horn Sheep try to survive. They survive the winter above 10,000 feet basically waiting for spring. We live where they used to winter and their fear of humans keep them high on the peaks. They might get a bite of lichen but not much forage up at those elevations. The wildlife biologists in Grand Teton Park are greatly concerned about this small population.
Winer began on the Solstice, December 21, and it looks like Old Man Winter is going to be around for a while.
What’s in the woods
12/4- winter storm
12/5- 17 inches fresh snow
12/5- highway 89/191 north of town-elk on highway, migrating to refuge/ coyote crosses road
12/9- trumpeter swans flying over the town of Jackson
12/12- snow, snow and more snow
12/13- male downy woodpecker at my feeder in town
12/14- another winter storm predicted
12/17- minus 9, 200 inches of snow at 9500 feet!
12/18- frigid temperatures
12/20- winter storm
12/23- trumpeter swans on creek in spring gulch
12/26- mule deer in the neighborhood
12/27- Bald eagle flying over Snake River near highway 22 bridge
12/27- winter storm predicted
This is a year to be prudent on route finding and safety. Avalanche danger greatly increases during storms so make a safe plan and stick to it. As the tram operators say at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort- “if you don’t know, don’t go.” We have many great resources to help plan activities and safe travel. JHavalanche.org is a great web site for snow and avalanche conditions. JHnordic.com is a great site for tour suggestions for cross-country, snowshoe or fat bike. It’s a marvelous resource with grooming reports, trail suggestions with ability level and distance, local news and much more. Lots of options now that winter has settled into Jackson Hole. Be safe and have fun!