The Winter of 2016-17

Blacktail Butte Below Winter Weather

Most people aren’t going to have a hard time forgetting this past winter. Jackson Hole Ski Resort set a record for snow depth on the Rendezvous Bowl just below the tram. Kids had a snow day from school for the first time in decades. Avalanches occurred on Highway 89 just north of Jackson, something most people will admit to never seeing before. Avalanches also shut down the Snake River Canyon repeatedly. One winter storm knocked down 17 large, steel powerline towers, leaving Teton Village without power for a week.

It wasn’t just the snow either. For three straight months the high temperature rarely, if ever, crested 15 degrees F. And those were the warmer days. The average temperature in January is normally around 20. This season, it was 5. Between mid-November and mid-February, people could count on two hands the number of days the sun came out. People were starting to go a little stir crazy, partly helped from the lack of Vitamin D.

Abstract Winter Cottonwoods

Despite the abnormally frigid weather, I still made some attempts to get outside and take advantage of some unusual winter scenery. One such case was Blacktail Butte in Grand Teton National Park. Often too windswept to maintain any significant snow depth, the entire butte was buried in snow, creating a soft flowing hill that rose gently from the Jackson Hole valley floor. While it’s normally a nice escape for snowshoeing, the snow was became so deep that I was out of breath only half-way up.

Whiteout after whiteout left the landscape covered in a light powdery blanket of snow, details in the distance either buried or softened much more than usual. Though the driving was difficult at times, it made for some fantastic abstract photos.

Bison Herd in Snow

The wildlife was also caught off guard. Lingering bison quickly found themselves in deepening snow, creating a greater sense of urgency to continue their annual migration into the National Elk Refuge.

The Gros Ventre and Snake Rivers also began to shrink thanks to the increase in ice along the shores. Slowly but surely, the snow and ice encroached steadily into the rivers’ channels. Ice consistently flowed through the waters and out toward warmer climates. On a snowshoe hike along the Gros Ventre River, bundled up in several layers, I went out to capture a rare sunset and stayed out as long as I could before my fingers began to go painfully numb through two pairs of gloves. I wanted to take more photos, but I couldn’t feel the camera. I escaped the quickest I could on snowshoes to try to work up enough energy to get the blood flowing back to my fingers, but nothing worked. Fortunately it wasn’t a terribly long distance before I was back to my car.

Grand Teton Above Icy River

What’s normally a week or two of intense cold each year wound up lasting three straight months this year. It was made worse by the fact that the sun rarely came out. It was definitely a winter people won’t soon be forgetting around here.

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