The Ongoing Battle Over Teton Pass

The Ongoing Battle Over Teton Pass

The need for backcountry skiing regulations on Jackson Hole’s Teton Pass has long been a hot topic, to say the least (that town loves a good fight). Among other problems (like parking and dog poop), Teton Pass has two popular avalanche-prone zones—Glory Bowl and Twin Slides—that sit above the road, making skier- and rider-triggered avalanches hazardous to commuters. In December of 2016, a skier-triggered slide buried a car, stirring up local concern that the Wyoming Department of Transportation would restrict access to the area.

This past April, the Teton Backcountry Alliance, which was formed in 2018 to protect skiing on the pass, surveyed locals about these issues and possible solutions. The consensus from the results, which were tallied in September, was that folks would be willing to pay a fee for parking, expand the Teton Pass ambassador program—designed to increase awareness about the issues—and be open to closures of Twin Slides and Glory Bowl during high avalanche danger, but would not be willing to endorse a full-season closure.

The issue came up again at the annual Wyoming Snow and Avalanche Workshop, which drew 450 registrants this past October. Amidst arguments for self-regulation and arguments for mandated closures, it seemed a solution is far from near. And, if the issue doesn’t get sorted soon, there was talk of potential litigation against skiers and riders that would set a new precedent in backcountry zones everywhere.

In an Oct. 30 article, the Jackson Hole News and Guide reported:

Leah Corrigan, who founded the Recreation Law Center and advises recreators on legal liability, confirmed that it's difficult to hold skiers accountable, especially by meeting the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof required for criminal prosecution. But, she said, “it’s not far-fetched” that they could be held accountable under civil law.

Depending on the circumstances, Corrigan said an avalanche-related case could be filed in federal court. The outcome of such a trial could ripple across the American West.

“We really are in a unique and — as a litigator, to me — terrifying position in Teton County,” she said.

Stay tuned for updates as this situation develops.

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