HISTORY OF SNOW SCIENCE IN JACKSON HOLE
Since the 1960's the avalanche program at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has been a world leader in the development of avalanche hazard forecasting, avalanche hazard mitigation and avalanche rescue techniques. Significant local contributions to the development of avalanche science are provided in the following summary.
The United States Forest Service had no illusions as to the potential for avalanche problems and the need for mitigation when the future site of the Jackson Hole Ski Area was selected in the early 1960's. Top avalanche experts in North America including Walt Hines from Mt. Baker, Washington; Dick Stillman from Berthoud Pass in Colorado and Ed LaChapelle from the Alta Avalanche Study Center were hired to develop an avalanche mitigation plan for the proposed ski resort. These professionals brought avalanche expertise from maritime, inter-mountain and continental settings.
The proposed resort's 4,000 foot plus vertical elevation distribution and the climatic differences associated with this elevation spread were unique in North American ski resorts and presented a new challenge to avalanche experts responsible for the safe operation of this resort on the national forest.
The aerial tramway and three chairlifts became operational in 1966-67. The first US Forest Service Snow Ranger was Juris Krisjansons. He was assisted by Rod Newcomb.
Early avalanche hazard mitigation efforts at the resort relied heavily on artillery. Four gun mounts, two on the valley floor and two on the mountain were used to address the majority of the major avalanche path starting zones at the resort.
Krisjansons took advantage of electrical power and phone lines and installed weather instruments that provided real time data from the top to the bottom of the resort. During the period of 1965 to 1975 Snow Rangers Krisjansons, Gary Poulson and assistants Rod Newcomb and John Simms and other members of the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol pioneered a state-of-the-art avalanche control program that became a model for industry standards.
In this terrain patrollers lives and those of the public depended on the ability of avalanche professionals to correctly access conditions and perform rescues. These demands necessitated the invention of lightweight collapsible probe poles and shovels and innovative snowpack investigation tools. The prototypes developed by John Simms and tested and used by the patrol evolved into products that are currently used by avalanche professional worldwide and have likely saved numerous lives. John started Snow Research Associates which became Life-Link International.
In the mid 1970's Snow Ranger Gary Poulson started the Bridger-Teton National Forest daily Backcountry Avalanche Forecast Bulletin. The primary source of information for these bulletins was the data from the resort remote weather instruments and snow study efforts conducted at the resort. Gary's format and product persists today and is supported by backcountry observations, snowpack investigations and data from a network of remote automated backcountry weather stations.
In the mid 1980's daily backcountry avalanche bulletins and the avalanche control program at the resort became the responsibility of avalanche forecaster Jim Kanzler and his assistants Jake Elkins and Larry Livingood. Under their leadership the program progressed into the 1990’s, developed a state-of-the-art avalanche rescue dog program, expanded onto the internet and further established itself as an essential community service.
In the late 1990's the avalanche program at the resort and the Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center operations came under the direction of avalanche forecaster, Bob Comey and Winter Sports Administrator, Ray Spencer. During the period of 2000 to 2006 Recreational Trails Program grant funds were used to expand the daily avalanche forecast and avalanche education efforts into areas heavily used by snowmobilers.