Avalanche Conditions Worsen As Snow Piles Up In Western Mountains

Feb 20, 2019

Avalanche safety beacons help your partner find you if you're swept away in an avalanche.
Credit Flickr Creative Commons/Province of British Columbia

Jackson has seen the most snowfall of any February in recent history and that's led to some dangerous avalanche conditions.

Bridger Teton Avalanche Center director Bob Comey said the latest warm storm cycle that started February 13 left a shallow load of snow sitting on top of weaker snow underneath.

"After the snow falls on the ground and is subjected to very cold temperatures it changes its crystal structure, and that snow is hard to make a snowball on, it's kind of loose," said Comey. "So when you see that in the snowpack, that's a weak layer."

These weak layers are located at lower elevations right now around Togatee Pass, the north end of the Tetons and in the Wyoming and Salt River Ranges. Comey said snowmobilers were killed twice this winter when these unstable conditions triggered avalanches. It also led to avalanches hitting cars on highways and in parking lots near Jackson.

Comey said people should only go into avalanche terrain with rescue gear and a knowledge of how to use it.

"Most importantly, they need to have good partners with them, [who] can help them with these assessments and are practiced using rescue gear and can help make good decisions about when and where to go in avalanche terrain," Comey said.

He said soon spring snow conditions will arrive. That's when the safest time to recreate on steep terrain is in the morning after a cold night, and the most dangerous time is in the afternoon when the snow gets soft and is easily triggered for avalanches.

For up-to-date conditions, go to the Bridger Teton Avalanche Center's website. To find out about avalanche conditions in the Snowy Range in southern Wyoming, visit the Colorado Avalanche Center website.