After a stormy week of gusty winds, snow, rain, multiple highway closures, and a four-day power outage in the Teton Village area, the sun is shining over Teton County again — both literally and metaphorically. Skies are blue, roads are open, power to the Teton Village area was restored Saturday afternoon, START Bus transit is returning to normal operations, and all three local ski areas — Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Snow King Resort and Grand Targhee Resort — are welcoming skiers to powder.
A Teton County state of emergency for the Teton Village areas that were impacted by the power outage officially expired today (Monday, Feb. 13) at 9 a.m. At a Monday morning Voucher Meeting, Teton County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Mark Newcomb led the way on behalf of the community in praising all of the organizations who played a major role in getting the valley up and running again — particularly Lower Valley Energy and the five other utilities from the surrounding region that brought crews and equipment.
“They spent huge hours around the clock on getting those lines back up,” Newcomb said of the 17 power poles that went down in the storm on Tuesday night. “It’s a very complicated job and highly technical. I’m personally blown away at how well it went, given the weather conditions.” Newcomb called for the board and meeting attendees to give a round of applause to Teton County Emergency Management Coordinator Rich Ochs, his crew of staff and volunteers, as well as emergency responders, and all town and county staff who worked extra hours or who were challenged by their commutes.
“I applaud your efforts, and it is very much appreciated,” Newcomb said.
Commissioners also gave a special shout out to the enormous efforts by the Wyoming Department of Transportation and snow plow drivers throughout the area who kept local roads functioning, and who cleared avalanches from Teton Pass, Snake River Canyon and Hoback Canyon. “The walls of snow are monstrous,” Commissioner Greg Epstein said. “WYDOT was instrumental in getting the community back to normal operations.”
Newcomb noted the upside of last week’s abundant snowfall: “I don’t know of any community in the U.S. that has better snow or more snow,” he said. He jokingly called for a vote: “All in favor of canceling this meeting and going out to ski….”
Newcomb noted that all ski areas are open, outfitters are ready to go, and activities are plentiful, including sled dog rides, nordic skiing, snowmobiling, and National Elk Refuge sleigh rides. “It’s a great time to get out and enjoy the area if you can.”
Commissioners had declared a state of emergency on the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 8, to recognize extreme and unusual storm impacts, and specifically, the multi-day power outage to Teton Village, the Jackson Hole Airport and multiple subdivisions served by the Crystal Springs electrical substation. The airport continued to operate with generators, but the ski area, hotels and restaurants at Teton Village were forced to shut down temporarily. Many residents of neighboring subdivisions — such as Solitude, Bar B Bar, Poker Flats, Lake Creek Ranches, and Shooting Star — searched for alternative accommodations or hunkered down with generators until power could be restored.
“Last week’s winter storm threw one extreme situation after another at Teton County,” Ochs said. “Our emergency services, Lower Valley Energy, local and state road crews, and many, many others responded with extraordinary cooperation and teamwork to get Teton County back in order in a very quick time frame. We are grateful and impressed.”
Stories of teamwork, tenacity and generosity flowed throughout the week. There was the grit of Jackson Hole Fire/EMS and Teton Village Fire Department teams who braved 60-mile-per-hour wind gusts for hours to secure the scene after 17 power poles went down along the Teton Village Road/Hwy. 390. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort employees pitched in by plowing roadsides to make way for powerline restoration crews.
Teton County Sheriff’s Office patrols visited neighborhoods without power to ensure homeowners and property were safe. Wyoming Department of Transportation crews worked day and night to clear avalanches from major routes into the valley via the canyons and Teton Pass. A private communications company, Union Wireless, charitably lent a generator to keep Teton County fire departments’ communications powered from atop Apres Vous.
Meanwhile, volunteers, nonprofits and houses of worship sprung for hotel nights for a displaced family, answered public inquiries at the Red Cross Warming Center, aided the Teton County Emergency Operations Center, and paired volunteers with elderly residents needing extra help shoveling.
“Teton County is accustomed to dealing with winter storms, but last week was unusual, even for a mountain town,” Ochs said. “Everyone came together and dealt with it beautifully.”
In the coming days and weeks, Ochs will be working with state and federal officials to determine if public agencies, such as Lower Valley Energy, may qualify for federal assistance to recoup costs of emergency efforts.