In recent years, backcountry skiing has seen a rise in popularity, with more skiers now than ever venturing out of bounds and into the backcountry.
According to a study published by Snowsports Industries America on the 2016-17 season, 900,000 skiers and 1.1 million snowboarders reported skiing or riding in non-resort backcountry terrain. Compared to the 11.857 million people in the U.S. who participated in downhill skiing during the 2016-17 season, this number of backcountry skiers might seem minute, but participation has never been higher, and it’s only projected to continue to grow.
In Jackson, Wyoming, where the Tetons stand as a backcountry bucket list item for many skiers, the need for more readily available and accurate backcountry information is apparent.
The Grand Teton National Park Foundation (GTNPF), a local nonprofit in Jackson, helps fund projects that "enhance Grand Teton National Park's cultural, historic, and natural resources and to help others learn about and protect all that is special in the park." Since its establishment in 1997, the foundation has raised over $65 million for projects that benefit the park.
Currently, GTNPF is working to fund the installation of two new avalanche forecasting devices, which would help improve the breadth of avalanche forecasts and weather information in the Teton range.
"With this project in particular, we were approached by the park service," says Maddy Johnson, the communications manager and development officer for GTNPF. "As the number of skiers going into the backcountry continues to rise, the park saw the need for putting in weather stations."
In partnership with the Bridger Teton Avalanche Center and Grand Teton National Park, GTNPF hopes to raise $25,000 by September 1 to fund the installation of the new devices which will be placed in the central area of the range, where most skiing and riding occurs. If the goal is met, the forecasting will begin this upcoming winter and the information will be integrated into the Bridger Teton Avalanche Center's forecasts.
"The $25,000 will cover the equipment and installation of the devices," says Johnson. "We need the support of the community in order to make this happen."
As it stands now, the avalanche forecasts from the Teton area do not include specialized weather data from inside Grand Teton National Park's backcountry. The ski/ride terrain of the Park features big descents on big peaks, with steep terrain, untouched powder, and stunning landscapes, but the terrain can be dangerous. For example, in March 2018, two different ski parties were skiing the same couloir at the same time when an avalanche broke loose. Luckily, no one died, but the increased backcountry use can trigger avalanche activity, emphasizing the need for a localized forecast. However, it is hopeful that the new devices could help mitigate potentially dangerous situations in this area, as skiers would be able to better prepare for various conditions and risks based on the additional data.
"There's so many people going out there, which is why we saw the need for more informed avalanche information. We want people to stay safe if they decide to explore the Tetons," says Johnson.
Athletes like Hadley Hammer and Griffin Post, who both call the Jackson area home, have shared their support for the forecasting devices on their Instagram accounts. Johnson stated that so far the fundraiser has been received positively by the Jackson community, with many vouching for its need.
To donate to the project, click here.