Early Season Off-Piste Decision Making

Early season off-piste backcountry skiing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Abundant snowfall the last week of October into early November has had Teton Powder skiers excited for the upcoming season.  Evidence  of this could be seen on Teton Pass and at Grand Targhee Resort.  Early season skiing can be alot of fun as the excitement to change gears into a different sport.  However,  there are a few things to think about in this early season scenario  before you click in:

North facing vs. South facing:  The warm weather that precluded the week long storm melted most snow off of the south faces. Most skiers would then look to ski the deeper pack of the north face.  But beware:  due to the fact that the north facing terrain did not melt out, one can assume that the snow there was weakening due to near surface faceting and depth hoar development as well as cavity hoar around rocks, trees and other obstacles.   Now, put two feet of new snow on this existing layer, and the potential for an early season avalanche is possible.    Evidence of layers in the snowpack were observed at the Commissary Yurt on 11/01. Look closely and you can see some definitive layers in the new snow.

Commissary Ridge Yurt

Don’t assume because you are skiing at the Resort before  it opens that the slopes will be safe.  We have witnessed avalanches on NitWits above the traverse into the Headwall above Chief Jo bowl at Grand Targhee.   Early season at the Resorts should not be treated any differently than a backcountry situation.

Lastly, remember hazards exist: not so buried rocks, logs, roots, underbrush can all grab a tip and your season could be over before it starts.  Be safe out there and have fun, but don’t let your guard down on the early season snowpack.


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