Jay Pistono: Avalanches on Teton Pass Likely Skier-Triggered

On Thursday afternoon an avalanche off the Glory Bowl slide path deposited two to three feet of snow on the highway. The slide was roughly 150 feet wide. Nearly 30 minutes later, another avalanche off a…

by | Jan 10, 2020 | Avalanches, News, Recreation

On Thursday afternoon an avalanche off the Glory Bowl slide path deposited two to three feet of snow on the highway. The slide was roughly 150 feet wide. Nearly 30 minutes later, another avalanche off a nearby ski run known as Twin Slides also came down. No one was buried in the avalanches, but one motorist drove into the avalanche debris. Riley Doyle was uninjured and told the Wyoming Department of Transportation he believes his box delivery truck was fine too, according to a press release WYDOT issued Thursday.

The first avalanche prompted Wyoming Department of Transportation to shut down the highway. Then officials began working to move motorists away from dangerous slide path areas. They also worked to confirm skiers and snowboarders were not buried in the slides.

Through Friends of Pathways, Jay Pistono is the Teton Pass ambassador. That means he is often stationed on top of Teton Pass interfacing with recreationists and working with WYDOT and the Forest Service to test snow stability. He says it’s always difficult for officials to confirm that such slides are skier-triggered but “there were both ski and snowboard tracks in the vicinity,” Pistono said.

“Our tendency is to think that those were probably skier-triggered, but without total certainty.”

The avalanche rating on Thursday was considerable at elevations above 7,500 feet, according to the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center’s daily report. Pistono stressed that regardless of the avalanche rating on any given day, skiing near slide paths above the highway is often a risky endeavor. “If there’s any potential for avalanche activity, it doesn’t matter what the rating is,” he said.

And even though those runs are easily accessible given their proximity to the Glory bootpack, that doesn’t mean they should be a skier’s first, second or even third choice. “You have to think long and hard in your own mind about what it is that makes it necessary for you to want to go in those runs,” Pistono said.

In recent years, public dialogue on this issue has been loud and vociferous. People are upset that some skiers and snowboarders are taking risks and threatening the lives of motorists below. While there has yet to be a motorist fatality, there was a close call in December 2016, when Horacio Garcia and his vehicle were swept by a 20-foot skier-triggered avalanche off Twin Slides. It prompted a Teton County Search and Rescue mission and forced an overnight closure of the highway. Hundreds of commuters and START Bus passengers found themselves stranded. Garcia’s car was totaled and two years after that slide, he was still complaining of back pain.

Pistono shudders when discussing that fiasco. “For us to have caused an incident that was that close to causing a fatality should go into all of our decision-making,” Pistono said.

Ski-triggered slides on Teton Pass, Pistono said, have also affected other people’s lives “in ways we don’t really know about.” They have disrupted parents picking their kids up from school and workers driving to and from their jobs.

“We can’t rely on luck anymore,” he said. “We’ve caused too many avalanches.”

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About Robyn Vincent

Robyn launched KHOL's news department. She has worked as a reporter and editor in Wyoming for the last decade and her work has aired on NPR stations throughout the West. When she's not sweating deadlines, Robyn sustains her nomadic heart by traveling the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow @TheNomadicHeart

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