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March 1, 2015
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Winters of Wonder

Winters here are always special, but some are truly extreme.

(page 4 of 5)

The fury of 1986

As Valentine’s Day approached in February 1986, a ferocious storm began pummeling the Hole, ideal for lovers to shutter themselves inside. Winds hit one hundred miles per hour. The storm began February 13 and would last for twelve days, dumping eight and a half feet of snow containing an estimated twelve and a half inches of water. Snow King closed February 18, “when rain turned city streets into rivers,” the News reported.

On February 13, a slide in Glory Bowl buried two cars on Highway 22, forcing the drivers to dig themselves out. On February 17, patroller Tom Raymer was killed by an avalanche during hazard-reduction work on Moran Face at Jackson Hole. He was the second patroller to die at the resort that season; Paul Driscoll was killed by a slide in Rendezvous Bowl in early December.

On the morning of February 24, ski patrol gunner Kirby Williams fired a 105mm recoilless rifle with four pounds of explosives into the Headwall, triggering a fracture a quarter-mile long with a crown between six and seven feet. After running down onto Gros Ventre, the slide appeared to lose steam but initiated a “slower-moving river of wet snow,” the News reported. The wet slide plowed everything in its path, destroying the coin-operated Marlboro Ski Challenge race course and Halfway House near the bottom of Thunder chair. “We saw the trees lay over like matchsticks,” Gary Poulson, Bridger-Teton National Forest avalanche fore-caster who was watching from the tram dock at the resort base, told the News.

The avalanche ran one and a half miles, coming to within 200 feet of a home in Teton Village. Ski patroller Renny Jackson, arriving at work, began backing his car out of the resort parking lot upon observing the slide’s approach. Teton Pass was closed by avalanches for more than two weeks. In the Snake River Canyon, Highway 89 was blocked by a debris pile fifty feet deep. The Bureau of Reclamation said precipitation for February was 329 percent of normal, and runoff on the Snake River that spring was the highest recorded—until …

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