Grand Teton rangers rescue skiers during major winter storm

Rangers from Grand Teton National Park rescued three backcountry skiers Saturday as a major winter storm moved across the region.

The three skiers unintentionally ended up in Grand Teton’s Granite Canyon on Friday after becoming lost, according to a statement released by the park’s public affairs office.

Tom Barry, 59, of Jackson, Wyo., Zoe Tong, 49, and Dave Catero, 52, from San Francisco, Calif., left the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort boundary at about 11 a.m. on Friday with the intention of skiing an area called Four Pines, adjacent to the ski resort. The three mistakenly skied into Granite Canyon instead, and became lost in the remote backcountry.

By 4 p.m. Friday, the three skiers realized they were lost, so they decided to dig a snow cave and stay put for the night. By Saturday morning, the group was out of food and water, and only one of them was carrying an avalanche transceiver. They decided to send a text message to a friend indicating they were lost and needed help.

Teton County Sheriff’s Office dispatchers received the call for help, and notified park rangers at 8:30 a.m. The skiers were able to provide their location by GPS coordinates derived from their cell phone, and through a text message, rangers determined that no one in the party was injured. Due to high winds and low visibility, a helicopter reconnaissance and rescue was not possible, so rangers prepared for a ground-based rescue.

Rangers spent most of the day Saturday weighing options to help the trio while analyzing the risk to rescuers. With concerns that the skiers might not survive a second night in the backcountry, rangers ultimately decided to attempt a rescue.

Park officials said that if rescuers had encountered signs of slope instability, or if the avalanche danger had been any higher, rangers would not have attempted the rescue.

Four park rangers departed the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on skis at 4 p.m. Saturday and reached the party at 7:30 p.m. Rangers led the group out of the backcountry and back to the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

Rangers remind backcountry users and those who leave the ski resort boundary that a rescue is not guaranteed. Pursing backcountry winter activities requires a high level of personal accountability and responsibility. All members of a backcountry party should have appropriate avalanche gear, including a transceiver, shovel, and probe.

Backcountry skiers and snowboarders need to be prepared to spend more time than anticipated in the outdoors, and should bring extra clothing, high-energy snacks and water. They should also consider their physical limitations and time restrictions when choosing a destination, and bring a map of the area and know how to use it before setting out.

This was the first major search and rescue in Grand Teton National Park this winter.

Contact Yellowstone Gate at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].

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