Keeping It Kind in the Tetons: Teton Backcountry Alliance

Teton Backcountry Alliance (TBCA) Rescue, and KHOL radio to produce a works to promote backcountry skiing and splitboarding education and safety in the Teton area, and to promote a conservation ethos in the Teton backcountry community.

Photo by Andy Cochrane and Courtesy of Teton Backcountry Alliance

This write-up was originally featured in our Spring 2023 Trail Break issue.

Founded in 2017 by a group of avid backcountry skiers from Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Teton Valley, Idaho, TBCA has grown from its initial all-volunteer steering committee to also include two part-time winter seasonal employees, a cadre of trained volunteers who serve as Winter Backcountry Ambassadors, and an advisory board. Together, this crew of passionate skiers ensures that the backcountry ski community actively participates in land management and access conversations, and decision-making processes in the Teton region.

TBCA works closely with Winter Wildlands Alliance on conservation issues of note to Teton-area skiers, such as preventing the expansion of Grand Targhee Resort into backcountry terrain, and protecting the Teton bighorn sheep herd. TBCA helped to host several community workshops to develop community-based recommendations for protecting sheep while preserving opportunities for backcountry skiing, and also supported production of the short film about Teton bighorns, Denizens of the Steep, which was featured in last season’s Backcountry Film Festival. TBCA and WWA continue to work with the Teton Bighorn Sheep Working Group to raise awareness about Teton bighorn sheep.

Photo by Andy Cochrane and Courtesy of Teton Backcountry Alliance

Throughout the snow season, TBCA cooperates with the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center, Teton Search and Rescue, and KHOL radio to produce a weekly Backcountry Snow and Safety Report. And, after purchasing a beacon park for the west side of Teton Pass last year (with support from WWA), TBCA partnered with a local guide service to host a series of Snow Safety Clinics. These clinics provide affordable and accessible opportunities for individuals to brush up on their beacon search and rescue skills.

TBCA also continues to grow its successful Backcountry Ambassador program. This program plays a critical role in preserving backcountry access on Teton Pass. Each winter, selected volunteers work as Backcountry Ambassadors at key areas in the Teton Pass corridor to provide information about responsible recreation (including parking) and snow conditions to users, and to help maintain winter infrastructure where needed. These Backcountry Ambassadors work with and complement the efforts of longtime Teton Pass Ambassador, Jay Pistono, who has been talking with skiers on Teton Pass since the Bridger-Teton National Forest created the seasonal position in 2006.

Teton Pass is an extremely popular backcountry skiing destination, but it’s also a critical transportation link between Jackson Hole and Teton Valley. Thousands of commuters (and tourists) travel the pass each day. A skier-triggered avalanche can wreak havoc by closing the road, or worse, injuring or killing those driving under the pass’s many slide paths. Thankfully the worst-case scenario has never happened, but minimizing the risk of avalanches on Teton Pass (skier-caused or otherwise) is a top priority for the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT).

Skier parking is another concern; parking on the pass is limited and if cars spill out of the designated lots it impedes the flow (and safety) of traffic. Likewise, skiers walking up the highway and loose dogs running into traffic pose other traffic and safety concerns. As backcountry skier numbers on Teton Pass have grown, WYDOT has become increasingly nervous, and even threatened to shut down recreational parking at the top of the pass (the parking area is technically a brake check pullout). The Teton Pass Ambassador and Volunteer Ambassadors help to allay WYDOT’s concerns by educating skiers about safety and responsibility. TBCA is also working to reduce parking and traffic concerns by running a skier shuttle three weekends this winter. As backcountry use continues to grow, this work is more important than ever.