Tread lightly: Backcountry becoming more unstable

Significant crown noted in New Years. (JH Avalanche)

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Backcountry winter activities are getting more and more dicey every day. With new snow down for Christmas and more wet, heavy stuff in the forecast for later this week, things could get worse before they get better.

A hundred events have been recorded in the area since the day before Christmas. Most were intentionally triggered at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort but more than a dozen slides were in the backcountry, elsewhere.

Slide in Albright drainage. (JH Avalanche)

Yesterday was very active with the latest event recorded at 9pm in the first gully north of the main Albright drainage. A group of five skiers witnessed a crown break stretched from the south side across a 300-plus-foot apex.

“Trigger was either remote skier or natural,” an eyewitness logged. “The first party of four to descend traversed south to the ridge, south of the main ascent ridge. Our group of five followed about five minutes behind and descended the main ascent ridge. We noted the slide at first from about 8,700′ at which point the initial party of four was in the meadow. They claimed that the slide occurred after they had reached the bottom. If our party of five triggered it, we did so remotely from quite a distance.”

Avalanche activity on KB Ridge. (JH Avalanche)

Other skiers saw evidence of a long crown—about 200 yards across and two feet deep—on the southeast aspect of lower KB Ridge. It was about 1pm on December 26. “Obvious older crowns and debris were evident in the wolf trap area and hidden couloir of the claw,” they noted.

Just a half hour earlier, around 12:30pm, a party of skiers passed safely above a rock band across an east gully between Albright and Wimpy’s, only to watch a break trigger 15 minutes later.

Wimpy’s central gully. (JH Avalanche)

Skinners heading up Shadow Peak in the morning on December 24 quit and turned back after noticing numerous fractures and remote slide events on 30- to 40-degree angled slopes. The runs were short, maybe 15-20 yards long, and not too deep, but it was unstable enough that the skiers said they bailed on the trip at about 9,500 feet and headed back down the skin track.

Mail Cabin- Near split from lone pine/windy ridge. (JH Avalanche)

Other slide events have been noted in CokeBottle, New Years, Mail Cabin skin track, southeast face of Pyramid, northside of Death Canyon, Jake the Snake, east face of Maverick, 25 Short, and Taylor Mountain—all within the past three days.

Snowpack becoming more unstable toward end of this week

Persistent slab avalanches are the biggest threat in the backcountry, currently. The 7am forecast this morning for the Teton Area calls for CONSIDERABLE danger above 7,500 feet this morning and this afternoon.

The advisory begins ominously: “Your terrain selection choices could end your life today,” the report states. “At the mid and upper elevations many slopes are unstable and waiting for human triggers. These slabs are failing on persistent weak layers and could be triggered remotely, possible by another party. The full understanding of the severity and nature of this hazard is essential to your survival.”

Wyoming has not gone a calendar year without an avalanche fatality since 1993. As we head into January, statistically the deadliest month in Wyoming, it’s been ‘so far so good,’ but a warming trend with additional snow forecasted for the next few days could add heavier new snow atop a weak crust layer that has already been failing at mid- and upper-elevations.

Know before you go. Get informed and go with someone experienced. And above all, don’t be above turning back when it doesn’t feel right. That ‘bad’ feeling has saved many a skier and ‘biler to live another day.

Taylor Mountain slide. (JH Avalanche)more
Taylor Mountain slide. (JH Avalanche)more
CokeBottle slide. (JH Avalanche)more
25 Short side. (JH Avalanche)more

For the latest Weather / Snow Fall and Avalanche conditions check out the Jackson Hole Snow Report Dashboard.