A skier was caught in an avalanche and seriously injured about 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 9 in Grand Teton National Park’s backcountry. Greg Epstein, 43, from Wilson, Wyoming was preparing to descend one of the Air Force chutes within Granite Canyon with two companions at the time of the avalanche. Epstein was reportedly carried over 1000 feet by the slide. No other members of the party were injured, according to a statement released by the park’s public affairs office.
Just after 2 p.m., Teton County Sheriffs’ Office received a 911 call reporting the avalanche and injured skier. Shortly after, Teton Interagency Dispatch Center was notified and Grand Teton National Park rangers began coordination of the rescue operation with Teton County Search and Rescue personnel. Jackson Hole Ski Patrol initially responded to the scene, stabilized Epstein, and transported him 300 to 400 feet down to the bottom of the chutes. A Teton County Search and Rescue helicopter flew two park rangers to the area and Epstein was placed inside the ship with an attending park ranger to the base of Teton Village and a waiting ambulance.
Due to the proximity of Granite Canyon to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Jackson Hole ski patrollers are often the first rescuers to respond to winter emergencies within the canyon. Ski patrol reached Epstein about an hour after the incident. They subsequently delivered him to the responding park rangers and rescue helicopter at 4:20 p.m. Epstein was transferred to a Jackson Hole Fire/EMS ambulance and transported to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson, Wyoming for further care.
This was the second backcountry ski run of the day for Epstein and his companions. All three are expert skiers with extensive knowledge of backcountry skiing and avalanche danger. The ski party was well equipped for their plan and they were carrying all the appropriate safety gear, including avalanche beacons and probes.
The Air Force chutes are one of many popular backcountry ski areas accessible from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Rangers remind skiers and snowboarders who leave the resort boundary that neither their safety nor a rescue is guaranteed. Parties should be equipped with appropriate avalanche gear and know how to use it. Backcountry users should also carry extra food and water in the event they have to spend any unplanned nights the park’s remote terrain.
The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center listed the avalanche danger on March 9 at mid and high elevations as moderate in the morning and considerable in the afternoon. A general avalanche advisory noted that “Skiers…who venture into steep avalanche terrain could trigger dense surface slabs and in isolated areas, very destructive deep hard slabs. These slabs could be triggered during the morning hours and will become more sensitive to human triggers as temperatures increase.”