Frequent winter visitors to Teton Pass and surrounding areas will eventually bump into a smiling skier with a bright orange jacket with an embroidered logo reading “Teton Pass Ambassador.”
The Teton Backcountry Alliance has recruited seven skilled volunteers to help with the load that for many years fell on the shoulders of Jay Pistono. Pistono and recently, Mike Penterson, work for the Bridger-Teton National Forest to promote safety, a sense of community and sustainable access for visitors in the wintertime. Now, the Bridger-Teton will have seven more helpers.
“With the winter of COVID and the dramatic increase of backcountry use and the helluva winter we’re having, all of which are related to each other, we thought it would be good to have more boots on the ground,” said Teton Backcountry Alliance director Gary Kofinas. “People who can basically be there for folks. We have a lot of out-of-towners. If you’ve gone over Teton Pass recently, you’ll see there’s a lot of licenses that are not nearby folks.”
The idea of backcountry ambassadors has been used successfully at other popular areas experiencing crowding in places such as Colorado and California. This program is a formal arraignment with the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Kofinas said ambassadors help visitors orient themselves and check to make sure people know what they’re getting themselves into and answer questions.
“They help by saying, ‘Hey, I see you’re from out of town, do you know where you’re going? Do you have the proper equipment? You realize it’s a high avalanche day?’ Not necessarily tell people where to go, you can’t do that, but just to be there as an information source,” he said.
Kofinas said they can also help a little with the perennial issue of parking.
"They are not parking attendants but they are helpful with that whole line up of cars on top of people waiting. It can be a little disorganized,” he said.
The ambassadors plan to be seen at the top of the pass, in the overflow lot, in the Phillips parking lot or at the Old Pass Road parking area, “or just out skiing.”
Kofinas said to bring the new ambassadors up to speed, they shadowed Pistono for a day or two.
“We want them to be friendly and nonconfrontational,” he said. “Hopefully people will give them a smile.”
The new ambassadors are Ariel Kazunas, of Jackson, Wyo.; Brian Siegfried, Jackson; Anthony Campolattaro, Wilson, Wyo.; Natalee Stimpson, Victor; Randy Roberts, Wilson; Daniel Nagy, Driggs; and Anna Gibson, Teton Village, Wyo.