Local Life| Anatomy Of

Teton Pass Parking

// By Brigid Mander
Photo by Bradly J. Boner

According to local backcountry skiing old timers—as in anyone who backcountry skied in the 1980s or earlier—the summit pull-out on Teton Pass was never crowded in winter. Because of the potential for avalanches, it wasn’t until April, maybe March, when warming temperatures made the snowpack more stable, that skiers ventured to this area. But, with improved ski-touring gear and avalanche-rescue equipment, this has changed.

Today, five parking areas off of Wyoming Highway 22—only two of which are actual parking lots; the others are meant to be truck brake-check pullouts and/or snowplow turnarounds—that offer access to Teton Pass’s backcountry are jam-packed from dawn to dark and early to late season. Issues have arisen between skiers, highway users, and the Wyoming Department of Transportation, which maintains Highway 22 and plows the five areas. Since 2005, longtime local backcountry skier Jay Pistono has been a Teton Pass Ambassador working to smooth over these issues. At first, his was a volunteer position, but as skier traffic increased, it became a full-time job (funded by the Bridger-Teton National Forest and Friends of Pathways) that relies on volunteer ambassadors for additional help. The ambassadors’ goals are to guide people to use the parking areas in a way that is considerate of other skiers, traffic, and snowplows; to improve human (and canine ski companion) safety; and to make the Pass user experience better and more positive for everyone. 

While the parking lots are decidedly different, at whichever one you park, good etiquette is to: 1) Park tight to adjacent cars; if you can only get the driver’s door 75 percent open, you’ve done a good parking job. 2) Get ready at the back of your vehicle; once parked, rather than stand alongside your car as you put on your boots and organize your gear, move to the back to do this and allow the next car to park close to yours. 3) Keep your dog on a leash until you’re away from the parking lot.

1. At the base of the west side of the Pass, the Coal Creek parking lot is, like Old Pass Road, an official parking lot. Grab one of its 30-some spots to access south-side objectives like Mail Cabin and the Do It Chutes, or head north and skin or boot-pack up Mt. Taylor. It is also possible to ski to Coal Creek from the summit of Mt. Glory; skiers doing this sometimes leave a car shuttle here.

2. The Summit Lot is the crown jewel of Teton Pass parking, even if it’s not meant to be a parking lot (it’s a WYDOT turnout and brake-check area). From here, it’s an easy skin out to south-side terrain or a straight shot up the Glory boot-pack. Because of this, the approximately 60 spots are usually taken by 6:30 most mornings (even on non-powder days). Cars come and go throughout the day—most locals are parked here between one and three hours as they do a lap or two—and skiers waiting for a spot line up in order of arrival (the line usually goes west to east). 

3. Until relatively recently, the Summit Overflow Lot was forlorn and empty. Several hundred meters below the top of the Pass, it’s just that much farther from the skin tracks and boot-pack at the top. Now its 25ish spots fill up in short order as soon as the summit lot is full. Although it’s only a few hundred meters from here to the summit lot, please do not walk up the highway to get to the top. Instead, slap on skins, clamber up the snowbank, and skin to the top; this keeps you, highway commuters, and WYDOT workers safer. 

4. On the south side of the road a little more than three miles above Wilson is the Phillips Bench parking lot, which is technically a WYDOT turnout. Across the highway from the Pass’s only motorized access—a small slice between the wilderness boundary and the non-motorized recreation areas—this parking lot has room for about 15 vehicles and is favored by snowmobilers.

5. Take a left-hand turn one mile up Highway 22 from downtown Wilson onto Old Pass Road and you can drive one mile before the road is closed to cars and there’s a trailhead and parking lot with room for about 15 cars. Although as full as any other Pass parking lot, this one feels calm because it’s removed from the high-speed traffic of Highway 22. This parking lot also has the most diversity of user groups: alpine and Nordic skiers, dogwalkers, snowshoers, fat bikers, and runners—if it doesn’t require a motor, someone will be doing it from this lot. While the road is closed to cars, it’s open to non-motorized users; the top of Teton Pass is about four miles above the parking lot. Alpine ski tourers also park here and skin to the top of the Pass, or drop a car here, shuttle or hitch to the top of the pass, and ski back down to Old Pass Road (many of the runs south of the Pass’s summit dump skiers out onto Old Pass Road). This is one of the two official Pass parking lots. JH

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