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On Jan. 7, a backcountry avalanche near Scotty’s Gate caught three skiers, one of whom was able to dig out his companions. The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center has held the avalanche danger at “considerable” for most of the month as new snow and high winds impact a snowpack with persistent weak layers.

A slide that happened last week may feel like ancient history, but still can serve as a teachable moment about this winter’s snowpack.

Late in the morning of Jan. 7, a party of three skiers were caught in a slide under a cliff band next to the Scotty’s Gate bootpack, just outside the Grand Targhee Resort boundary. One member of the party was able to extricate himself, then found and dug out his two companions.

According to their account, which they submitted to the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center, the large slab avalanche was triggered by a person skinning uphill to return to the resort via Scotty’s Gate. The crown was estimated to be between 600 and 750 feet long and three feet deep.

In the week leading up to the incident, the region had received around 45 inches of new snow that fell on surface hoar and crusts. Jan. 7 saw nine inches of new snow reported at the resort, along with high winds and warming temperatures.

Grand Targhee ski patrol director Joe Calder said that morning had been a pretty busy one for patrol, and that his team was still doing avalanche mitigation on Mary’s Nipple and Peaked when the call came in about the slide.

As the snowpack deepens, Calder said that Grand Targhee patrollers are mostly moving new snow during control work, but they’re still seeing pockets of deeper instability. “The early season snowpack structure is still coming into play,” he said.

Once the group had safely reentered the resort after self-rescuing, patrollers investigated the slide, which initiated under the cliff band called Hollywood Rocks on the skier’s right side of Scotty’s Couloir. Calder said the same path had previously slid in mid-December down to the problematic facets near the ground. He thinks that last week’s slide involved all the snow that had fallen since then. Scotty’s Couloir, the main point of egress and ingress for backcountry users at the resort, was untouched by the slide, but debris did reach the flat area where people typically begin to bootpack back to the access gate.

“Scotty’s is still an avalanche path,” Calder said. “Basically everything back there is a path, often a corniced path.”

The Jan. 7 slide was the second close call outside the Grand Targhee boundaries this season. According to the BTAC, on Dec. 5 a solo skier triggered a slide with a two-foot crown on Steve Baugh Bowl while digging a snow pit at the top of the slope.

“It’s a good reminder to the public that as soon as people leave the ski area boundary, they’re in pretty serious, active avalanche terrain,” Calder said. “People might let their guard down because of the familiarity and proximity of the terrain, but if you exit the boundary, it’s important that you know what you’re doing, be well-trained, and have a good partner. Fortunately this group was very solid with companion rescue skills. It could have been much worse.”

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