Avalanche in Grand Teton National Park claims life

JACKSON, Wyo. — An avalanche in Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) claimed the life of a man earlier Monday, Feb. 22.

Teton Interagency Dispatch Center received an emergency call at approximately 12 p.m. today, Monday, February 22, about a snowboarder involved in an avalanche in the Broken Thumb Couloir on the peak known as 25 Short in Grand Teton National Park.

Park rangers, Teton County Search and Rescue members, and Bridger-Teton National Forest personnel jointly responded to the incident.

A party of three local residents departed from the Taggart Lake Trailhead this morning, with an intent to ski the Broken Thumb Couloir. The party was skiing one at a time in the upper part of the couloir. Matthew Brien, a 33-year-old Jackson, Wyoming resident, was leading the group, entering the narrow area of the couloir above the rappels when an avalanche occurred.

The avalanche was up to two feet deep and fractured fifty to one hundred feet above Brien, sweeping him over the rappel and downslope for approximately one thousand feet.

Other members of the ski party dialed 911 and reached Teton Interagency Dispatch Center to report the incident and also called two friends who were skiing down canyon on an FRS radio and told them about the avalanche. Both parties made their way to Brien and found him partially buried. They removed him from the debris and initiated CPR.

The Teton County Search and Rescue helicopter with park rangers immediately responded with aerial reconnaissance to determine if a short-haul rescue would be an option. Due to gusty winds, short-haul was not feasible. The helicopter landed on Taggart Lake and rescue personnel skied to the scene.

Brien suffered significant trauma and was determined deceased at the scene. His body was flown to a frontcountry location and transferred to the Teton County Coroner.

The other members of the parties skied out.

The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center issued a considerable avalanche danger rating for elevations above 7,500 feet monday for the Teton area. Recent snow and wind events have created dangerous backcountry conditions. Very cautious route finding and expert snowpack evaluation skills are a requirement for safe travel in avalanche terrain.

 

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“Avalanche conditions remain dangerous at the mid and upper elevations,” The avalanche report for Monday said. “Backcountry travelers could easily trigger small to large wind slabs on steep, wind loaded slopes. While these slides could kill you, involvement in a persistent deep slab avalanche almost certainly will. Skiers and riders have the potential to trigger these large to very large slabs on a variety of aspects and elevations. If you want to play it safe, stay off of and out from underneath slopes greater than 30 degrees. Otherwise, very cautious route finding and expert snowpack evaluations skills will be a requirement for safe travel in avalanche terrain. Strong winds will likely keep snow surfaces cool. However, if extended periods of sunshine do occur and snow surfaces start to become damp, transition to shaded terrain.”

A reader-submitted photo of the TCSAR helicopter in GTNP on Monday, Feb. 22. Photo: Eli Tianse Abeles-Allison

This is the third avalanche fatality in Northwest Wyoming within one week.

Last Thursday, February 18, 31-year-old snowboarder and Jackson local, Michael McKelvey, was killed in an avalanche after hitting a jump built on Togwotee Pass.

The day before that, a 55-year-old Michigan snowmobiler, Greg Stanczak, was killed in the Greys River area southeast of Alpine from an avalanche that caught him and seven other snowmobilers.

“Check yourself, check your friends,” Matt Hansen, Communications Director for Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation told Buckrail before the winter backcountry season began. “Check your beacon every single time. Check your friend’s beacon every single time. Just take a couple of seconds to think about your next decision. Have the patience and have the presence of mind to just slow down a little bit and think about your next step.”

Backcountry users are encouraged to check avalanche danger at JHAvalanche.org before going out.

Buckrail offers sincerest condolences to friends and family of the deceased.

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