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Backcountry skier rescued at Grand Teton

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A missing skier was rescued Wednesday after two nights in the backcountry of Grand Teton National Park after exiting a backcountry gate leaving the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Jackson, Wy., according to the National Park Service.

Two skiers were reported overdue by friends at approximately 7 p.m. Monday night, February 20, when they did not return from skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The men were identified as 30-year old Chris Prem from Destin, Florida, and 31-year old Mike Syverson from Telluride, Colo.

The emergency call to 911 prompted a conference call with Teton County Sheriff’s Office and Teton County Search and Rescue with Grand Teton National Park to initiate a search for the men. Information to help determine a search area was very limited, other than it was believed the men planned to exit the resort and ski the nearby backcountry. At approximately 10 p.m. the Teton County Sheriff’s Office successfully got a cell phone ping to help determine that the missing skiers were in the Granite Canyon area of Grand Teton National Park. This information greatly helped to narrow the search area.

The National Park Service took the lead with the search. Due to avalanche danger and darkness, resources were gathered to begin an aerial and ground search for early Tuesday morning.

At approximately 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, February 21, a resort tram operator spending the night near the top of the tram was awakened by one of the missing skiers, Prem. An emergency call was made to alert rescue personnel. Prem was uninjured, and communicated that he had separated from Syverson because he had gear that would allow him to travel back to the summit for help. He also had a GPS coordinate from a phone app that could help to locate his friend. Prem spent the night atop the mountain.

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Avalanche rescue at Grand Teton

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Below is the latest from the National Park Service on Sunday’s helicopter rescue following an avalanche at Grand Teton. According to the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center, the skier deployed an airbag and wasn’t buried but sustained significant injuries.

Backcountry Skier Caught & Injured in an Avalanche Gets Aerial Rescue
March 10, 2014

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 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 1,000 feet by the slide. No other members of the party were injured.

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 and flown 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.”

Skiers survive avalanche

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Skiers Trigger Avalanche in Park
January 9, 2013

Two skiers triggered an avalanche on Elk Mountain in Glacier National Park, Montana, on Tuesday afternoon. Park dispatch received a call at approximately 4:15 p.m. on Tuesday, January 8, indicating that two skiers were involved in an avalanche and one skier was injured. Park rangers and local emergency personnel organized and responded to the incident.

At approximately 6:30 p.m. park rangers found the skiers and transported them to a nearby trailhead. The Glacier County EMS Ambulance transported the injured skier to a medical facility and the other skier was released at the scene. The skiers, male age 34 and male age 35, both from the local area, were skiing a ridge of Elk Mountain, just west of Marias Pass, when one of the skiers fell and triggered an avalanche. The skier was carried with the slide and partially buried. The other skier was skiing below when the avalanche occurred and was able to escape from the avalanche slide path, and then help rescue his companion. The skier that was partially buried sustained significant injuries.

Emergency personnel assisting Glacier National Park Rangers included members of the Blackfeet Law Enforcement Services, Glacier County Sheriff’s Office, Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, Flathead County Search and Rescue, and North Valley Search and Rescue.

All backcountry recreationists are highly encouraged to be prepared for winter conditions, including awareness and understanding of avalanche terrain, mountain weather, snowpack conditions, current avalanche advisories, as well as being prepared with appropriate equipment such as beacons, probes, poles and shovels. Recreationists should have the knowledge and skills to safely utilize the equipment as needed.

Another Denali death

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Here’s another National Park Service release on a death at Denali, this time it was a skier. This is the second death at the park in recent weeks.

Mountaineer Dies in Ski Descent of Mount McKinleyDate: May 24, 2012

TALKEETNA, Alaska: A 36-year-old Finnish mountaineer died from injuries incurred in a fall while descending Mt. McKinley the afternoon of Wednesday, May 23. Ilkka Uusitalo of Oulu, Finland was skiing down the 40- to 45-degree slope known as the ‘Orient Express’ with two teammates when he fell from an elevation of 17,800 feet and was unable to self-arrest. Uusitalo tumbled through snow, ice, and rocks, coming to a stop in a crevasse at 15,850 feet.

While one of his teammates continued down to the NPS ranger camp at 14,200 feet for rescue assistance, Uusitalo’s other teammate rappelled into the crevasse with the help of a nearby team. They determined that Uusitalo was likely deceased.

An NPS response team arrived on scene approximately one hour later, and Ranger Tucker Chenoweth was lowered 60 feet into the crevasse by his team of three volunteer rangers. After confirming that Uusitalo was deceased, the NPS patrol members hauled both Chenoweth and the victim out to the glacier surface. Soon after, Uusitalo’s body was evacuated via a long line operation by the park’s A-Star B3 helicopter to the Kahiltna Basecamp, then on to Talkeetna.

This accident is the second fatal fall on Mt. McKinley this climbing season. Since 1972, 16 fatalities have occurred during descents of the Orient Express. (5.30.12)