Jay Pistono doesn’t see his role as Teton Pass Ambassador as a job. “The pass is an adventure” he says.
Pistono has held the role of ambassador for 12 years now, working at Teton Pass, a popular spot for backcountry skiing in the Bridger-Teton National Forest along Highway 22 near the Wyoming–Idaho state line.
The idea of designating Pistono as official Teton Pass Ambassador came to fruition when U.S. Forest Service program manager Linda Merigliano and Friends of Pathways executive director Tim Young approached Pistono about the position. He was already regularly traversing the area with his dog, Molly, picking up litter and others’ dog waste, so Merigliano and Young proposed making his regular routine into an official job.
As Teton Pass ambassador, Pistono’s goals include greater avalanche awareness, encouraging carpooling and considerate parking, proper dog etiquette and clean-up, and sharing the importance of the pass along with the attention and care required to sustain it. A dozen or so reliable volunteer assistants help him attain these goals.
Pistono also works closely with agencies like Teton County Search and Rescue, Wyoming Department of Transportation, Wyoming State Highway Patrol, and the Teton County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the general public.
When Pistono began skiing Jackson in the 1970s, he started purchasing annual passes to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Then, he found work as a ski instructor so he wouldn’t have to buy a pass anymore. But soon, he began traveling into the backcountry, embracing its wildness and affordability. His concern for Teton Pass was born early on, and he first started talking to people about caring for it as early as the mid-1980s.
Today, Pistono works to educate people about Teton Pass etiquette, and he notes that a few visitors can be disagreeable. While many respect the area and traverse with care, some take up two parking spaces or leave dog waste or trash behind.
But for the most part, Pistono is excited by his job every day. He’s also taken his work on the road, traveling to places like Salt Lake City, Utah, and Denver, Colorado, to promote the idea of ambassador programs and sharing a model other communities can use.
Pistono’s quiet passion for exploring the area is anchored by his humbleness and respect for the wild landscape.
“This is all about the pass and access to affordable recreation and encouraging those who use it to take care of it and be responsible,” Pistono says.