Section of Teton Pass “Catastrophically Failed” With No Estimated Reopening

Section of Teton Pass “Catastrophically Failed” With No Estimated Reopening

Featured Image: Courtesy of Wyoming Department of Transportation

Wyoming Highway 22, known to most as Teton Pass, suffered a major collapse on the weekend of June 8th. The mountain pass plays a critical role in all manners of life for those who live in or visit the recreation super hubs surrounding this section of the Wyoming – Idaho border. Connecting Victor, Idaho to Jackson, Wyoming, Teton Pass is the only major road route in the area, with alternative connections forcing drivers to now travel 80 miles or more. While Jackson Hole is still accessible from the North, East and South, this geological and engineering catastrophe is due to cause economic and individual troubles for months to come.

There were hints that the area had become geologically unstable leading up to the collapse. While responding to a motorcycle crash on Teton Pass the morning of Thursday, June 6th, law enforcement crews noticed, “a large break in the pavement… and maintenance and engineering crews were dispatched to investigate the roadway and the subsequent landslide movement,” said the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) in a press release. The road was patched at milepost 12.8 and reopened on Thursday evening.

In the 24 hours that followed, mudslides plagued the pass, with a massive swath of ground spilling onto the road at milepost 15. The geologists on sight determined that the activity was, “more than likely due to the heavy water saturation and spring runoff.” Again, Teton Pass was closed. The ground continued to deteriorate further up the road, and engineers informed officials that the previous patch at milepost 12.8 had become unsafe, with new cracks stretching 8-12 inches wide.

While a plan was put in place and construction crews mobilized to begin repairs, neither plan would see daylight. Between Friday night and Saturday morning, a large portion of Teton Pass collapsed at milepost 12.8, leaving a massive gash in the mountainside and sending several tons of debris onto the earth below. It has since been dubbed the “Big Fill Slide” by WYDOT officials. Thankfully no injuries were reported.

The current state of Teton Pass at milepost 12.8 | PHOTO: Courtesy of WYDOT

Looking ahead, there are several problems to consider relating to the road’s demise. Those most prominently affected, however, will not be bikers or, even in the long run, skiers, even though the pass is a recreation hot spot. The people who are really going to deal with this burden at the moment are the workers and businesses that rely on Wyoming Highway 22.

Because of the lofty living costs that come with residing in Jackson, many workers choose to live in Victor, Driggs, or Tetonia, Idaho, and commute to Wyoming for work. These individuals make up around 40% of Teton County’s workforce, according to the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board. The drive over the pass usually takes around 30 minutes. Now forced to take alternative routes, these workers will have to travel nearly two hours one way through Snake River Canyon. While officials have acknowledged that it is not a sustainable long-term solution, it is currently the only option, as there is no estimated time of reopening for Teton Pass.

To get a sense of how people feel around the Tetons, we asked a few locals for their thoughts and concerns. Max Martin, a professional skier who commutes for work over the pass into Jackson year-round, told us, “This is certainly a massive hit to both sides of Teton Valley. There are huge implications on how the workforce will deal with it, since the summer tourism season just beginning.” Blaine Gallivan, a local professional skier and baker based in Victor, Idaho, expressed his view that this incident, “really shows the co-dependency of our communities. I hope it leads to an overhaul where we can have more sustainable and independent towns. [Teton] Pass is definitely a communal hub, so it’s tough to lose that.”

A JHMR employee, who asked to remain nameless, shares Martin’s sentiments as someone who lives in Idaho, and commutes into Jackson. “Between five and eight thousand people commute the pass from Idaho every day, and employers are now asking us to commute triple the amount for the same wage. With how long it takes to commute I can’t even recreate outside of work, and that’s why I moved to this beautiful place. It’s a wild time, to say the least.”

The area faces a nearly unprecedented tourism and economic concern without the pass open. Even if they can compensate and maintain a steady workforce, will local businesses see a decline in summer visits? After reaching out to community members, FREESKIER found that it isn’t just comuters feeling the pressure. In Driggs, Idaho, local business owner and skier Brianna Moore Wimberg said that she already feels the pressure. “As a small business owner in Driggs, there is fear of a significant decrease in tourism this summer,” she mentioned. “I really hope people visit; the local business owners will be grateful you’re here, and there are incredible trips that can be had without access to the pass.” But like many, she’s staying optimistic that this disaster will spur overdue change in Jackson Hole. “Though this is incredibly difficult, many of us are hopeful of the change this will create,” said Wimberg. “Jackson is being forced to face an issue locals have harped on for years: the need for affordable housing in Wyoming for its workforce!”

Aerial view of the Big Fill Slide on Wyoming Highway 22 / Teton Pass

While there are many questions yet to be answered, and plenty of concern and frustration from both employees and business owners, the long-term benefit of this accident could be immense. We could see improved safety measures and engineering techniques. The fact that no one was hurt during this collapse is incredible. There might be drastic measures taken to ensure that more affordable housing is a necessity in mountain towns across the American West. Jackson Hole is far from the only location that employs a large workforce who must commute to work, often in dangerous winter conditions.

We hope to see these changes and many more, but for now, the truth is that it’s going to be a tough summer for many looking to continue to make a living along the Wydaho border. Our hearts go out to all those affected by the economic and personal consequences. Thank you to the construction crews, as well as Idaho and Wyoming Transportation personnel who will be working tirelessly to restore the road.

Please Note: Both Grand Targhee Resort and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort are open for summer operations. Businesses in town on both the Idaho and Wyoming sides of Teton Pass are also open with no announced change in operations. Support the local economies if you visit!

“It’s a difficult time for businesses and workers on both sides of Teton Pass. Many of our guests drive over from Jackson and the commute just got a lot more difficult for everyone. Grand Targhee remains hopeful that there will be a quick solution and in the meantime, our goal is to remain a refuge for Teton Valley residents and guests from afar that are looking for an escape from these trying times.” – Jordan Wilsted, Grand Targhee Resort Sr. Marketing Manager

“We are grateful to the representatives from WYDOT, Teton County, and the Town of Jackson for their swift response to the incident on Saturday. Our Jackson Hole community is incredibly resilient, and it’s times like these when our community comes together and supports one another and visiting guests. Three of the four roads into Jackson, Grand Teton National Park, the Town of Jackson and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort are open, and our local businesses are ready for the season to begin. We would love to see you this summer.” – Mary Kate Buckley, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort President

FREESKIER will be monitoring this story as it develops, so be sure to check back for updates.

Click here for the official WYDOT Press Release regarding the collapse of Wyoming State Highway 22

Upgrade Your Inbox

Don't waste time seeking out the best skiing content; we'll send it all right to you.