lionhead avalanche

A large snowmobile triggered avalanche in the Lionhead area northeast of Targhee Pass in the past week.

Grand Teton National Park officials want to remind backcountry users to know the dangers before they go, particularly when it comes to snow-loaded slopes.

With all that tempting fresh powder in the backcountry from the biggest snowstorm of the season, park rangers issued a reminder this week to backcountry skiers and snowboarders that avalanche danger has been elevated.

“There are so many avenues for information, specifically through the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center to get quality backcountry information to make informed decisions,” Denise Germann, public information officer for the park, said Friday. “And after some of this recent snowfall we have some unstable conditions and it is not advised for anyone to go into the backcountry in some of these particular areas. It’s a reminder to make informed decisions.”

The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center has posted the danger at most elevations as “Considerable” or “High” for much of the week. Similar warnings have been posted by other avalanche sites on the internet, such as the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center and Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

Despite the warnings, Geoffrey McAndrews, 48, of Jackson, Wyo., exited the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort boundary on his snowboard and entered the park’s backcountry with his partner on Tuesday. McAndrews triggered a 24-inch slab avalanche in the “Mile Long Couloir” in Granite Canyon which swept him off his feet and carried him about 750 vertical feet. He was not buried, but injured his leg after hitting a rock during the slide. His partner was uninjured. McAndrews was rescued by Teton County Search and Rescue via helicopter.

“Those were some very poor decisions and you can quote me on that,” said Anna Cole, communications manager at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, of the people rescued in Granite Canyon.

McAndrews and his partner were not the only recreationists to travel in avalanche terrain despite the avalanche advisory, the park reported.

“We saw about two dozen fresh tracks in Granite Canyon that day,” chief park ranger Michael Nash said. “Multiple people were taking a lot of risk by venturing out during high avalanche danger.”

Cole said the ski resort has had an “open gate backcountry policy since 1999. It’s a policy that we’re really proud of. We’re telling people that they are leaving the ski area at their own risk.”

She said the resort has reminders on key lifts that take people to backcountry gates and signage at the gates exiting the resort. The resort also offers training and guides for those interested in playing in the backcountry.

“The other tool that we really encourage people to arm themselves with is taking an Avalanche 1 course,” Cole said. “It’s a three-day course that’s pretty affordable. It’s really important if you want to become a backcountry traveler.”

The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center has reported more than 20 avalanches in the Teton Range since Monday. One natural slide happened Wednesday near Teton Pass and hit a passing truck. “There were no injuries, but the truck was slightly damaged. There was 6 to 8 feet of avalanche debris across both lanes of the road,” the report said.

Germann said snowpack has been dicey up and down the Rocky Mountains this year.

“If you look at the last couple of weeks, and since the beginning of the year, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, there’s been incidents everywhere, so I don’t think it matters where you are or what you’re doing, please make informed choices,” she said.

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