TETON VILLAGE, Wyo. — On Saturday night, Jan. 28, Teton County Search & Rescue (TCSAR) volunteers were called to respond to two skiers who’d become lost in the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) backcountry.
At 3 p.m. on Saturday, two skiers from Utah took the tram to the summit of Rendezvous Mountain with the plan of exiting into the backcountry to ski Rock Springs. Instead, they dropped into the top of Granite Canyon. When the skiers did not show up to meet their friends after the lifts closed, one friend put in a call to Jackson dispatch at 5:28 p.m.
A rescue response was set up with TCSAR, Grand Teton National Park and JHMR Ski Patrol to begin formulating a search plan. As the Tetons received roughly four feet of snow over the previous three days, avalanche danger was rated high and The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center’s forecast for Jan. 28 stated: “Human-triggered avalanches will be likely at all elevations today, with very dangerous avalanche conditions above 9,000 feet.”
Without knowing the exact location of the two men, the rescue team believed the risk was too high to send teams blindly into the field at night. But at 8:10 p.m., a friend received a call from one of the skiers, which was quickly dropped. Searchers zeroed in on the coordinates from the phone call, putting the skiers’ location in the area known as the Jersey Shore, a large and dangerous cliff band at the top of Rock Springs that has been the site of numerous accidents over the years.
According to TCSAR, one skier said they realized their mistake after dropping into Granite and were able to hike back up to the saddle above Rock Springs. One of their phones had died, and they were trying to conserve the battery on a second device. “It was five or six hours before we were able to get a hold of anyone,” one victim said.
Tired and cold, they decided to wait until rescuers could arrive. The skier confirmed that they did not have avalanche safety equipment. “We knew that if we didn’t get out of there, it might be game over,” the skier said.
At 10:45 p.m., nine volunteers skied out the top gate equipped with avalanche safety equipment, extra layers, food and energy drinks. They made voice contact with the two men at 11:06 p.m. To avoid putting themselves in avalanche danger, the volunteers persuaded the two skiers to walk straight up the hill a short distance to where they could greet them with warm clothing and food. The volunteers put snowshoes on the men and helped them walk back up the ridgeline, and reached the top tram station at 12:50 a.m. The tram transported everyone down the mountain, where friends met the men and transported them to St. John’s Health for further care. TCSAR volunteers returned to the hangar at 1:35 a.m.
During the Monday interview, the skier expressed his remorse, apologized, and expressed gratitude for the rescue teams.
“It really comes down to being overconfident in knowing the terrain, overconfidence in backcountry knowledge, and not having a plan,” he said.
According to TCSAR, the rescued men have been cooperative and regret their mistakes, explaining that by sharing their experience they hope that others don’t commit similar errors.
“The incident serves as a reminder to make sure you check the avalanche forecast, have the proper equipment and a plan before heading into the backcountry,” TCSAR said.