Injured skier hopes Grand Teton accident video will make others ski safely

A still frame from a video shot by skier Josh Tatman shows his shadow on the snow just before he is injured in a fall on a steep slope in Grand Teton National Park. (click to enlarge)

A still frame from a video shot by skier Josh Tatman shows his shadow on the snow just before he is injured in a fall on a steep slope in Grand Teton National Park. (click to enlarge)

By Ruffin Prevost

A skier who was rescued Saturday by members of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort ski patrol and evacuated by helicopter from a steep canyon in Grand Teton National Park is recovering from his injury, and hopes a video of the incident will help remind others to ski safely.

Josh Tatman

Josh Tatman paddles along the Niobrara River in Nebraska. (courtesy photo - click to enlarge)

Josh Tatman, 31, of Jackson, Wyo. was skiing alone at about 1 p.m. near the top of Endless Couloir in Granite Canyon. Tatman broke his leg in an otherwise relatively moderate fall, but he was able to use his cell phone to call for help.

He also happened to be recording the run with a helmet-mounted video camera, and has posted footage of the accident. Tatman has since made private a separate video showing footage from the subsequent rescue, including scenes of his helicopter ride and hospital stay.

Tatman said he hopes other skiers will watch the video of his fall — in which the sound of his leg snapping is clearly audible — and realize the importance of safe skiing habits in the backcountry, especially skiing with a partner.

Poor decision

“I have to suspend my own embarrassment in making a poor decision that day in order to try to help others enjoy skiing safely,” Tatman said Wednesday in an email. “I would also like other people to know that there is One who has all power, regardless of the situation.”

Tatman said he gave himself 50-50 odds of survival after the fall, as he felt hypothermia setting in and realized he wasn’t likely to be discovered by other skiers.

“I focused on thankful praying, taking my vital signs and just enjoying the beautiful view for the mere hour that it took for patrol to get to me,” said, who has worked previously as an archaeologist. “I moved my arms quite a bit to keep warm. Fortunately, the pain was not as intense as I expected.”

Endless Couloir is on a north-facing slope in Granite Canyon and runs almost 3,000 vertical feet on a roughly 40-degree slope. (NPS photo -click to enlarge)

Tatman had been skiing in-bounds with his wife, Adrienne, Saturday morning, but decided to explore Granite Canyon alone after lunch. Though he had not skied Endless Couloir before, he knew the general route and has skied elsewhere in nearby backcountry. The avalanche risk that day was low to moderate.

“Although I know the risks of skiing solo, I have chosen to do so on occasion in the past. This is especially true when skiing in the Bighorns, where there are far fewer ski partners available than in the Tetons or other popular ranges,” said Tatman, who recently moved from Sheridan, Wyo. to Jackson temporarily to pursue a career in education.

Tatman often uses a helmet camera to capture his ski runs on video, and has posted footage in the past for friends and family to enjoy. But none have attracted the same level of interest as his Saturday adventure.

“This ‘wipeout’ clip has definitely gotten a lot more attention than anything else I have ever put together,” he said.

A serious and experienced skier for more than a decade, Tatman spends up to 40 days each winter on the slopes, mainly in the backcountry. He has skied in several mountain ranges across the region, including the Beartooths, Bighorns and Crazy Mountains.

Saturday’s fall came not as a result of skiing outside his comfort level or tackling impossible terrain, but probably because his ski tip caught some icy debris — dubbed a “chicken head” by skiers — during a turn, Tatman said.

Sickening sound

In Tatman’s video of the fall, when his alpine binding fails to release and he bucks forward, viewers can hear the clatter of his gear, but also the sickening sound of a bone breaking.

“You can definitely hear my tibia snapping,” he said.

Skier Josh Tatman, seen here with wife, was injured Saturday while skiing in Grand Teton National Park's Granite Canyon. (courtesy photo - click to enlarge)

Skier Josh Tatman, seen here with wife Adrienne, was injured Saturday while skiing in Grand Teton National Park's Granite Canyon. (courtesy photo - click to enlarge)

Tatman suffered a spiral boot-top fracture at the center of his right tibia, an injury that required insertion of a titanium rod running the length of the bone’s mid-section.

“At first, I thought my binding had pulled out of the ski or something,” Tatman said. “I reached down to grab the ski, and when I did so, I felt my leg buckle.”

Tatman appears in the video to try to recover from the fall and regroup before fully realizing his leg is broken. He cries out, “Oh no,” before switching off the helmet camera.

He took off his skis and shouted for help in hopes that a skier he had spotted earlier might still be within earshot.

Tatman had an avalanche beacon in his pack, but decided to try his cell phone, which did not get a signal at first.

“I sat for several minutes, now realizing that the run was remote enough that I would probably not be found randomly. I was already shivering from mild hypothermia, and knew I wouldn’t last the night,” he said.

“I started to form a plan that would allow me to drag myself 300-400 feet uphill to the resort boundary fence, then a text message beeped through on my cell phone. I flipped it open and dialed 911 with one bar of signal. It worked,” Tatman said.
“I remember thinking that God must not be done with my life yet.”

Posting video of his experience online has been “difficult,” Tatman said, but the incident has driven him to share what he now realizes is “the importance of always skiing with a partner, regardless of the terrain difficulty or avalanche hazard.”

Tatman said he is in good condition and that his recovery is going well. He expects to be skiing next winter.

Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].

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