Avalanche center: Jackson Hole ski patroller triggered slide
December 30, 2008
CHEYENNE, Wyo. ” The Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center says a ski patroller triggered an avalanche that damaged a restaurant at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Officials with the resort at Teton Village initially said Monday’s avalanche came rumbling down the mountainside without any sort of human cause.
The avalanche piled up around a building with three restaurants at the top of a gondola lift. The snow broke through doors and plowed through tables and chairs inside the building. Outside, the avalanche trapped five members of the resort’s ski patrol, all of whom were dug out quickly and without injury.
The avalanche happened two days after an avalanche killed Wilson skier David Nodine, 31, at the resort.
Bob Comey, director of the Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center, said Tuesday that a ski patroller went up the mountain and deliberately dropped a small explosive to release Monday’s avalanche. Such measures are a routine way of reducing the avalanche hazard at ski resorts.
“They were in the process of doing snow control at the resort and they had many avalanches out there that morning explosively triggered,” Comey said.
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He said the possibility that the avalanche could hit the restaurant was considered beforehand.
“This is something that was discussed and was anticipated. It was not unexpected at all,” Comey said.
The avalanche center releases regular reports on avalanche danger throughout western Wyoming. Comey said the center works closely with local ski patrol to circulate information about avalanche conditions.
Monday’s avalanche danger was especially high after more than five feet of snow fell in the Tetons over the previous week. Comey said the Headwall area where the avalanche occurred is among 300 avalanche areas at the resort and isn’t an unusually hazardous one.
“It’s an ongoing process to assess and mitigate the hazard,” he said.
He said resort workers use a variety of explosives to trigger avalanches ” from small, 1-pound charges to 50-pound explosives and heavy rounds fired by a howitzer. He said the idea is to constantly knock down small and medium-sized avalanches to prevent the buildup of enough snow for a catastrophic avalanche.
Resort spokeswoman Lisa Watson said the resort’s initial report of a naturally occurring avalanche was incorrect. She said the charge was thrown by the last member of a group of ski patrollers who had gone up the mountain to check for avalanche danger.
“He made the decision whether or not to throw more bombs,” she said. “He chose to, and so he threw it, went to a safe place, and then that’s what released the one that triggered toward the restaurant.”
She said the upper slopes remained closed Tuesday amid more work to reduce avalanche danger.