Heavy snows and high winds created whiteout conditions and stranded travelers Saturday night in Grand Teton National Park. (NPS photo – click to enlarge)
From Staff Reports
High winds and blowing snow left approximately 160 travelers stranded over the weekend near the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park and complicated efforts to find a snowboarder lost in Grand Teton National Park’s Granite Canyon.
Whiteout conditions and heavy snow drifts left Grand Teton National Park snowplow operators unable to keep open a 22-mile stretch of highway between the Jackson Hole Airport and Moran Junction, 30 miles north of Jackson, Wyoming.
Travelers were temporarily stranded between Moran Junction and Flagg Ranch, according to a statement released Sunday by the Grand Teton National Park public affairs office.
Grand Teton park rangers closed the highway shortly before 2 p.m. Saturday and helped those stranded by providing food and makeshift accommodations at Signal Mountain Lodge, Flagg Ranch and the Moran Elementary School.
Park rangers staffed highway barricades throughout the stormy night Saturday and early Sunday morning and routed motorists to the provisional shelters. Rangers set up a barricade at the Jackson Hole Airport Junction and advised travelers to return to Jackson, eight miles south, for overnight lodging.
As conditions improved by around 4 a.m. Sunday, Grand Teton snowplow drivers began working to open a single lane allowing rangers to escort vehicles south from Moran Junction. Both lanes of highway 26/89/191 reopened at 7 a.m. and normal travel resumed.
Also during the blizzard, Grand Teton rangers were notified that a snowboarder had become separated from his party of six as they exited an out-of-bounds gate at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort ski area and headed toward Rock Springs Bowl Saturday afternoon.
Sam Hoerr, age 31, of Dunlap, Ill. mistakenly entered Granite Canyon in the backcountry of Grand Teton National Park. Hoerr sent a text message to his companions at 2:30 p.m. explaining that he intended to follow a creek out of the canyon.
Given the high avalanche danger and limited daylight, authorities launched a rescue effort, although high winds and poor visibility prevented the use of a helicopter.
The highway closure prevented park rangers from responding from rescue facilities at park headquarters in Moose, Wyoming. Rangers requested help from Teton County Search and Rescue volunteers.
Rescuers located Hoerr at approximately 8 p.m. and provided him with a “split board” so that he could more easily travel out of the backcountry canyon on his own. Search and Rescue personnel escorted Hoerr out of the canyon and returned safely to the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort at around 10 p.m.
Grand Teton public affairs officials said Hoerr and most of his companions did not carry avalanche equipment, and that his situation could have been life-threatening.
Rangers advise skiers and snowboarders to consider weather conditions and time of day when entering the backcountry and to carry appropriate avalanche gear and emergency equipment.
Contact Yellowstone Gate at 307-213-9818 or [email protected]