JACKSON, Wyo. — If you ride the pass then you probably know Jay Pistono.
Pistono has served as a Teton Pass Ambassador since 2005, a position he seemingly created. “When I came here in the 70s, if you look at it back then you never would have imagined it needed organization,” Pistono said.
The idea of an ambassador “refereeing” on the top of The Pass, a major access point for backcountry skiers and snowboarders, began as a concept explained Pistono. “It started with me picking up after dogs.”
“At that time it was a total free for all it looked inevitable that it was going to either have to get closed down or someone was going to have to take over,” Pistono said.
“The whole thing started because a Forest Service employee saw me up there and made the suggestion that I could get paid,” Pistono said. “One thing led to another and it turned into a legit position.”
“Since that thing 17 years ago we are dealing with even more tough issues for a variety of reasons, the athleticism, the gear, more people are skiing avalanche-prone slopes that wouldn’t have been skied as frequently in the past,” explained Pistono.
“The place is there to raise the human spirit,” -Jay Pistono
Last winter was the first winter that Teton Backcountry Alliance (TBCA) ran the Volunteer Backcountry Ambassador program. Seven volunteers were selected to help promote TBCA’s mission of public safety, community, stewardship, and sustainable access. All seven volunteers are returning for the 2021-2022 season but TBCA is looking for a few more volunteers for the 2021-2022 season. The application deadline is Monday, Nov. 15.
Pistono discussed the importance of human presence on The Pass, beyond just signage. Ambassadors help educate users about parking, leashing dogs, safe foot traffic, trail edict and other safety suggestions; but they are not in a position of policing. “If we are all on the same page that message gets out there,” Pistono said, “We’re not the bosses of what’s going on up there, we just want the place to stay accessible.”
“Right when the whole COVID thing kicked in, we were the only access point, we were getting just tons and tons of folks showing up. Our signage is pretty good, but it doesn’t spell it out, we just noticed a lot of people heading up the glory bootpack.”
Pistono shared a story about a family that was under the impression that Glory was avalanche controlled for skiers. “They bomb for vehicle safety, it doesn’t have anything to do with keeping the skiers safe,” Pistono explained to them. They looked like a talented group that spends time at a resort, he said, but they didn’t have any backcountry gear. “We can’t tell them where to go but we can point things out, low-angle terrain, historically safe areas.” Ultimately the group turned back.
“The Pass gets a lot of snow, a lot of vehicles, and a lot of skiers,” Pistono said. That combination of variables can make for dangerous conditions with 14 different slide paths. “If you are going to go up and ski Twin or Glory you have to be 100% sure they aren’t going to go” Pistono said.
While Pistono says, “It will always be a work in progress,” he really strives to drive home the point that it’s about safety for you as a rider, the skiers below you, and the cars on the road.
“If we can get everyone on board it’ll just be that much better all around. Everyone can be a steward up there. Everyone can be an ambassador.”