Slide pounds Bridger Restaurant
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort workers probe on the upper deck of the Bridger Restaurant building Monday for possible victims of an avalanche that broke loose from the Headwall. Debris in the photo is deeper than 6 feet.View our entire photo gallery >>
By Angus M. Thuermer Jr., Jackson Hole, Wyo.
December 30, 2008
Ski patrollers triggered “an avalanche of significant size” Monday morning that slammed into the Bridger Restaurant building at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, blowing out windows, scattering chairs and tables, slightly injuring five patrollers and partly burying one, resort officials reported.
The avalanche ran at 9:26 a.m. down a feature known as the Headwall, which looms above the mid-mountain restaurant, officials said in a statement. The building, which houses a cafeteria, deli, retail store and several restaurants, was not yet open to the public, but a number of workers were in it when the slide blew through glass windows and doors.
In a statement, resort spokeswoman Lisa Watson said one Headwall slide triggered a second avalanche that hit the building, “causing considerable nonstructural damage.”
One witness said workers were digging the building free from one slide when the second ran. The witness, who declined to be identified, reported feeling the building shake and then heard scraping, grating and blasting glass as the avalanche hit and poured into the second story.
Watson said only one patroller was partially buried, a conflict with a report from the scene that said more had been trapped, some pressed against restaurant windows. The Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center issued a midday warning stating that the slide “caught four ski patrollers.”
Patrollers and building workers jumped into action to free and search for colleagues; a Web cam picture with a time stamp of 10:07 a.m. showed a line of patrollers probing avalanche debris next to the restaurant before the camera ceased broadcasting. Photographs of the scene showed snow pressing against second-story windows higher than a person’s head.
“By 10:06 a.m., all JHMR employees were accounted for,” Watson wrote in her statement.
The company closed the entire resort temporarily, her statement said, but lower-mountain lifts subsequently reopened.
The injured patrollers suffered cuts and scrapes, Watson said in an interview. Debris, including flying chairs, inflicted the injuries, she said.
The building opened in the 2006-07 ski season. At the time the restaurant building was being planned, controversy swirled regarding its location beneath the Headwall. Debate centered on whether it would be in an avalanche path, whether a berm should be built to protect it and whether the resort or the Forest Service should govern when it should be open to the public.
Monday’s slide followed 62 inches of snow during a seven-day period and was two days after an in-bounds avalanche killed Wilson skier David Nodine. He died of suffocation despite wearing an avalanche transceiver and being located within six minutes and uncovered in about 10 minutes.
The snow and avalanche control work has taxed mountain workers. Resort President Jerry Blann said patrollers and others deserve acknowledgment for their work.
“Our patrollers have done a phenomenal job showing the utmost professionalism and teamwork,” he said in a statement. “I am extremely proud of their efforts and appreciate the risks they take on a daily basis.”
The resort takes safety seriously and follows procedures to reduce danger, Watson wrote.
“Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has established standards and protocols for minimizing the risk of avalanche[s] that are based on the current weather and snowpack conditions,” her statement said. “Avalanche conditions change hour by hour and day by day. JHMR Ski Patrol continuously monitors elements of the weather and snowpack conditions 24 hours a day throughout the winter and uses this information to continually assess potential hazards.”
A weather station at 9,300 feet on Rendezvous Mountain recorded a 7-degree rise in temperature between 8 a.m., when it was 20 degrees, and 10:45 a.m., when it was 27 degrees. Rapidly rising temperatures caused the avalanche center to issue its midday warning for urban areas, where the potential for roof avalanches soared.
“This rapid increase in temperatures is causing large volumes of snow to release from roofs in urban areas,” the warning said. “It has also increased the avalanche danger in the backcountry, which was already high.”
The warning covered Jackson Hole, Star Valley and Sublette County. Resort officials said in their statement that they appreciated help from the Teton County Sheriff’s Office, which dispatched its search-and-rescue team, and the U.S. Forest Service.
Because of the snowfall, the resort said it received a request from the Forest Service to close the gates to the backcountry.
Consequently, those routes will be shut until further notice, officials said.
– Kelsey Dayton contributed to this report.