Some great news coming from home and over the pass at Grand Targhee while I‘m here in New Zealand. Grand Targhee Resort will add a backcountry gate which will allow skiers access to the backcountry terrain on the backside of the mountain. The new gate will be called Scott’s Gate and will be located at the bottom of the Mary’s Nipple bootpack. This will be the first time Grand Targhee will allow fulltime access to the backcountry slopes in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness. Here a link to the story in the TetonValleyNews.com.
While this is great news for “west-side” skiers and riders, it does come a little late and it is yet to be seen if the skiers involved in last year’s incident will be allowed to ski a the resort. From what I understand, Brady Johnson was banned from skiing at the resort until further notice. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, here’s the story the ran in the ValleyCitizen.com.
While high profile sports figures have asked for years that they not be cast as role models, it happens. When you’re good at something, people look up to you. Michael Jordan’s got a gambling problem; Michael Phelps got busted smoking weed, and Michael Vick was guilty of conducting an illegal dog fighting ring.
All three of the latter athletes are incredibly good at what they do, but none of them signed up to be a moral compass for sports fans that follow them. As the coach of the Grand Targhee Ski Team for the past six years, Brady Johnston of Driggs is not a role model either, but he is a damn good skier. Like most talented backcountry enthusiasts, Johnston likes to push the envelope. But on Wednesday, April 14, Johnston pushed it too far when he skied out of bounds at Grand Targhee when resort boundaries were closed.
Skiing with friend and fellow mountaineer Greg Collins, Johnston accessed the Jedediah Smith Wilderness by hiking past Mary’s Nipple when a closure was in effect. Both Collins and Johnston had their passes pulled upon returning to the resort boundary, and both men were later issued a citation by the Teton County Sheriff’s Department in Wyoming for skiing past closed gates.
While Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Snow King are both located within the same jurisdiction as Grand Targhee, the first two resorts are located within Jackson Ranger District of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Grand Targhee is located within the Teton Basin Ranger District of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Though this may be only a matter of semantics, it means that Jackson Hole and Snow King can have their backcountry gates open all season while Targhee has the authority to open and close its gates throughout the season.
“I couldn’t care less what they do in the backcountry, but unfortunately access was achieved by going up Dreamcatcher and heading out past Mary’s when the entry point was closed,” said Scott Pierpont, Grand Targhee’s general manager. “It was closed for a reason. We don’t want to put people in harm’s way.”
While Collins and Johnston were both issued a $100 citation by a Sheriff’s Deputy, Johnston was additionally penalized with a no trespass order at Grand Targhee until the resort sees fit to lift the ban.
“We should be issuing a lot more of these,” Pierpont said. “It was issued for unacceptable interaction with personnel as much as breaking the law. I’ve never lifted one of these in the past, but most have been issued for stealing or disorderly conduct not disregarding closures.”
The death of a New York man who skied past Grand Targhee resort boundaries earlier in the season did not have anything to do with stronger enforcement, according to Pierpont.
“If it’s open, have a nice day,” Pierpont said. “If it’s closed, respect our boundaries.”
While Collins paid the fine for skiing outside the resort boundary, Johnston was considering pleading not guilty this week in District Court, but he did not want to compromise his relationship with Grand Targhee any further.
“I think interaction with ski patrol was misunderstood that day,” Johnston said. “The situation escalated more than it should have, and I’m super sorry for that. I’m pretty careful up there and try to abide by the rules. It’s hard to predict when they’ll close the gates, but we did go under a rope at one point. I hope to work it out.”
Though Johnston said he wants to reconcile with Grand Targhee, he did express concern that wilderness could not be accessed from the resort with the understanding that re-entry would not be allowed. Currently, the resort boundary exists ten to fifteen feet outside the Jedediah Smith Wilderness.
Collins used stronger language when considering the question of access.
“I appreciate the Grand Targhee Ski Patrol looking after my safety with such vigor, but I don’t need them, especially outside the boundary of the resort,” Collins said, who has worked as a mountain guide in Wyoming, Washington and Alaska for many years. “I wish they’d told me to never come back. That wouldn’t be a problem.”
Collins and Johnston were charged the maximum fine for violation of Wyoming Statue 6-9-201: Trespass on closed or unsafe ski areas within ski areas. A maximum fine of $750 can be assessed for violation of Wyoming Statue 6-9-202: Opening and then neglecting to close a gate.
While no jail time is associated with violations of any of the latter state statues, Wyoming Statue 6-9-301: Skier safety; skiing while impaired and unsafe skiing carries a maximum penalty of $200 and is punishable by imprisonment of not more than 20 day, or both.
Though Collins and Johnston violated a Wyoming Statue, that violation occurred upon federal lands. Regardless, Kurt Kluegel, U.S. Forest Service special use permit administrator, said the law is upheld by his agency.
“It doesn’t matter if skiers are accessing wilderness or another part of the Caribou-Targhee National Forrest or private land,” Kluegel said. “If Grand Targhee has posted a closure, we support that. It doesn’t mean the forest is closed. If people still want to access the backcountry behind Targhee, it just means they’ve got a lot of skinning to do.”
While Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Snow King have their backcountry gates open at all times, even in the instance of personnel shortages or dangerous conditions, Kluegel explained that former Grand Targhee General Manager Larry Williamson modified the open gate policy when it was adopted decades ago to include more control at Targhee as a method to address liability concerns for the resort.
Collins expressed concern that Grand Targhee’s gate policy was a violation of his right to access federal lands. Though he does not intend to travel through Targhee’s gate ever again, he was worried that Johnston was being made an example.
“I felt like there was a vendetta. They seemed to have it out for Brady,” Collins said. “Yea, he’s young. Yeah, he charges, but he’s a good, hardworking kid. I’d rather go up the Grand with him than anyone else. He’s got the right to travel on public lands.”