Snowpack event sees record turnout amid hazardous avalanche conditions

About 100 Jacksonites gathered to talk about the dangerous backcountry conditions, which could be here to stay for the winter season.
Attendees fill the chairs and stand in the back in Headwall Sports for a discussion of the region's snowpack Wednesday night. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

by | Jan 18, 2024 | Avalanches

About 100 Jacksonites gathered in Headwall Sports between racks of clothes to talk about snow conditions Wednesday night.

The region is experiencing some of the worst avalanche conditions it’s seen in years, as a heavy blanket of snow came after a dry December. Multiple people have been buried in slides, including one fatality last weekend.

The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center also issued an avalanche warning Wednesday night for all the mountain ranges of Western Wyoming that states, “Human-triggered avalanches large enough to bury people are very likely to occur on most aspects and elevations in the backcountry,”

One of the center’s forecaster, Noah McCorkel, told the crowd that we’re going to need a lot more snow to bury that weak layer — but it could still reactivate throughout the season.

“Unfortunately, it’s something you’re kinda stuck with for a while, maybe until all the water is in the river,” he said at the event presented by the avalanche center, Backcountry Zero, Teton County Search and Rescue.

Residents listen to presenters at the State of the Snowpack event. Headwall Sports gives attendees free beer and pizza, but ran out fast this week. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

The State of the Snowpack events happen throughout the winter, but this week’s turnout was the biggest the shop had ever seen, according to owner Sean Doherty.

“I think there is a big correlation [between] our attendance and the conditions, and that means that people in the community are understanding what’s going on,” Doherty said.

McCorkel said that the warm-up coming this weekend doesn’t bode well for the snowpack’s stability, and could make conditions even worse.

Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center Forecaster Noah McCorkel points to a recent avalanche path on Taylor Mountain on Teton Pass. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

One attendee asked, “Is there anything safe to ride?”

“Yes,” McCorkel said. “Low angle terrain that’s below 30 degrees and not connected to steep terrain.”

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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.

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