A long January weekend in Jackson has a relatively narrow list of outdoor activities and most involve skis of one sort or another. Fully prepared for this reality, I armed myself with the full backcountry arsenal of an avalanche transceiver, probe, shovel, AT gear and snacks and headed out to Teton Pass.
But Teton Pass was a junkshow. I was punished for the none-too-early nine a.m. start with a ridiculous parking lot scene. The already limited parking on the pass has recently been reduced, resulting in a number of cars lingering in the lot waiting like vultures for earlier skiers to vacate a spot. On this particular day there was an extra bright spot- a large RV parked sideways across the middle of the lot. Staring at the RV with disgust, I was rewarded with the gratifying scene of a state trooper knocking on the RV door and a rag-tag ski kid poking his head out with a quickly evaporating smile as he eyed the man in uniform.
Eventually the troopers (there were two at this point) got the RV parked properly and four of the five circling cars were rewarded with spots. I was in car number five.
With a cursing companion, we backtracked to a midway parking lot with milder terrain and thus, less people. The small drop in elevation got us out of the cloud cover and into full, beautiful sunshine. The mild terrain was exponentially safer and while I had no regrets, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had played into “their” plan.
“They”, meaning the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT), “considered not plowing the parking lots during storm cycles to decrease the number of skiers and snowboarders heading into the backcountry on days when the avalanche danger is high.” (according to Jackson Hole News & Guide on Dec. 3, 2010) While this obviously didn’t happened, the discussion did result in a reduction of the number of total spaces plowed. But how do they make sure only the smart kids park in the remaining spots?
When I took an avalanche safety course with the epically qualified American Avalanche Institute, there was some blame placed on the extreme sport film company TGR for exciting the uneducated (in terms of backcountry safety) masses to head out on Teton Pass and start hucking themselves off cornices and snowy cliffs. This is where I depart from the US government court rulings over the last 50 years and become a bit more Darwinistic in my thinking.
If people want to throw all logic to the wind and chug that just-poured cup of coffee or ski that dangerous slope, is it our job to stop them? I like the modern interpretation of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. quote, “Your rights end where mine begin” (his exact words were “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”). I had heard the above WYDOT quote in casual conversation around the valley but realized that many failed to consider the rest of the story – which was that “WYDOT has become concerned with motorist safety on Highway 22 over the pass due to the potential of human-triggered avalanches reaching the road.”
Your rights to be stupid skiing in avalanche terrain end when your avalanche buries my car. The pass remains plowed, but if catastrophe strikes, access could be compromised. Be smart- check the avalanche report before you go out, dig snow pits and make wise terrain decisions.
Cool house of the day: It really is a Stone House (in Portugal!)