February snowfall just shy of record

By Jim Stanford on February 28, 2014

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Jess McMillan gets a faceful during this month’s near-record snowfall.

With 7 inches of new snow measured this morning in Rendezvous Bowl, February 2014 will go down as the second-snowiest February since record keeping began at the Jackson Hole Ski Area in 1975.

This month has seen 133 inches of snow fall in the Tetons, trailing only the infamous February 1986, when the Headwall slid to Teton Village and a ski patroller died during avalanche control work.

“This is a very close second to an unbelievable year, an unbelievable February,” Bridger-Teton avalanche forecaster Bob Comey says.

The precise amount of snowfall that fell in Rendezvous Bowl in February 1986 will never be known, as the upper mountain was closed for eight days because of avalanche danger. The 129 inches listed on the avalanche center’s website is an estimate, Comey says.

An additional inch of moisture fell in February 1986, and the mid-mountain study plot received 122 inches of snowfall, compared to this month’s 117.

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looking back on 1988 Yellowstone fires

By Jim Stanford on August 25, 2013

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A bull elk surveys a burned area.

Twenty-five years ago this week, the Yellowstone fires hit their peak. Nearly 800,000 acres, or 36 percent of the park, burned that summer in a series of blazes, some caused by humans and others by storms. Winds of up to 80 mph fanned the flames, creating a conflagration beyond control.

Aug. 20, 1988, was dubbed “Black Saturday,” when the fires doubled in size, consuming more acres than all other fires in the park’s history combined.

Last year, when the Little Horsethief Fire burned up the back of Snow King and east Jackson was under an evacuation advisory, residents got a taste of fear. But watching those flames lick at the ridge above Cache Creek pales in comparison to firsthand accounts of the Yellowstone blazes.

The late Theo Meiners landed on one of the firefighting support crews in the summer of 1988 and kept a journal of his experiences. Focus Productions published excerpts in Jackson Hole Skier magazine that winter and has re-posted them for the 25th anniversary. The short essay is worth a read.

Of the Mink Creek Fire in the Teton Wilderness, Meiners wrote:

By mid-July winds had whipped this conflagration into gargantuan proportions; a column of smoke rose to over 30,000 feet, visible from Salt Lake City. The Black Rock Ranger Station became a base camp city of 1,200 firefighters. There was every kind of helicopter imaginable. Cargo planes and bombers were everywhere. The FAA even sent out flight controllers. This was war.

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ski stoke of yesteryear

By Jim Stanford on October 24, 2012

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Bunny hill rope tow on Snow King, circa 1950s.

The season’s first significant snowfall triggered the usual flurry of status updates and text messages. Undoubtedly, most in this ski-crazy community are excited for the coming winter. Another day or two of snow, and the race will be on to make first tracks.

Long before Teton Gravity Research premieres, the early ski pioneers in Jackson Hole were just as enthusiastic. They recorded the joy of winter’s arrival in journals slightly more poetic than today’s spraying.

While researching a story on historic winters for the upcoming Jackson Hole magazine, I came across a few of these accounts. Here’s an excerpt from Doris Platts’ book Wilson, Wyoming: Hoorah!, written by the late Virginia Huidekoper in her column “The Corral” for the Jackson’s Hole Courier on Nov. 15, 1945:

The skiing season was officially opened … by a mixed group of eager Idahoans and Wyomingites who gathered on Teton Pass and gave vent to pent-up desires which had accumulated during the dry months. Three feet of powdered satin on Telemark Hill gave semblance to a winter battlefield by evening. Criss-crossed and pock-marked, the slope was initiated in true fashion by weak-kneed christies and first-of-the-season egg beaters.

In spite of near-blizzard conditions, the initial ski outing was hailed as a good beginning to what looks like a long and promising winter.

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ski area sign removed from village

By Jim Stanford on June 29, 2012

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The old sign after the season’s first snowfall, October 2007.

A few weeks ago I stopped in at Teton Village and noticed a change. The “Jackson Hole Ski Resort” sign had been removed from the old entrance road.

Call me a stodgy traditionalist, but I always use the old road to enter the village. And there was something welcoming about that wooden sign, a throwback to another era when ski resorts were guests on public land.

After some investigating, I found that the sign was removed at the behest of the Forest Service, whose new supervisor, Jacque Buchanan, reportedly felt it was out of date. “It was not good representation of the forest,” Bridger-Teton spokeswoman Mary Cernicek said. “It was in a pretty poor state.”

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Summit to share history, wildlife of Snake

By Jim Stanford on May 30, 2012

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The summit is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the TSS campus off Highway 22.

For a community that venerates its mountaineering heritage, surprisingly little attention is given to the history of running the Snake River.

That will change Saturday at Summit on the Snake, when longtime guide and outfitter Wayne Johnson gives a presentation on early attempts to navigate the Snake, including the first descent of the entire river by adventurer Amos Burg in 1925.

Put on by the Snake River Fund and now in its 14th year, the summit is a daylong educational symposium dedicated to the wildlife, history and ecology of the Snake. Speakers will give presentations on Yellowstone Lake and Flat Creek, risk management and in-depth looks at beavers and raptors. A complete schedule is posted on the Snake River Fund website.

The event is open to casual river enthusiasts but is especially valuable for fishing, whitewater and scenic float guides, who can pass on knowledge to their clients. Cost is $30, which includes light breakfast and lunch. There will be a raffle for river gear and other prizes. Afterward, The Mountain Pulse is throwing a Guides ‘n’ Gapers party at The Bird.

Breakfast and registration begin at 8 a.m. Speakers start at 9. Register at the door or by calling the fund at 307-734-6773.

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