A series of avalanches ripped down the Headwall at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Monday morning (Dec. 29) and collided with the Bridger Restaurant at the top of the Bridger Gondola. Jackson Hole promptly closed down its lifts and downloaded the early tram skiers from the top.
The resort's ski patrol triggered an avalanche of "significant size" on Rendezvous Mountain during its routine morning avalanche hazard reduction work. The avalanche tore down the southeast aspect of the Headwall-steep, experts-only terrain, which has remained closed so far this season-causing a second slide to slam into the Bridger Restaurant building at the top of the gondola at 9,095 feet in elevation.
No structural damage resulted from the avalanche, but the slide caused considerable destruction from snow pushing through windows, sprawling chairs and tables, and burying the deck. The Bridger Gondola had not yet been open to the public, but mountain employees in the area were all accounted for uninjured within 30 minutes. Some local blogs buzzed with news of several ski patrollers caught in the avalanche, but resort officials would not comment, pending the official investigation.
The resort promptly closed, but both the Eagle's Rest and Teewinot Quad on the lower mountain re-opened by mid-day. The upper mountain remained closed while the ski patrol continued avalanche control work. "They were bombing all afternoon," communications manager Lisa Watson told OnTheSnow.com. "Crews were also already up at the restaurants cleaning up."
The ski patrol has been battling a week of heavy wind-packed snows piling up over five feet, and an inbounds avalanche killed a local snowboarder two days ago. The resort has also closed all of its backcountry gates until further notice as requested by the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The avalanche danger is expected to remain high above 7,500 feet for the next several days, and the Forest Service is discouraging travel in avalanche terrain.
Lower mountain lifts will run on schedule beginning tomorrow. Watson anticipates the upper mountain lifts running again within the next couple days, subject to avalanche control work. "It didn't snow at all today, but we're expected to get four to six more inches tonight," said Watson. "Everyday it changes. Our goal is to get the mountain back open as soon as possible."