January 29, 2009
Grand Teton National Park rangers collaborated with Teton County Search and Rescue personnel to locate and rescue by helicopter two lost skiers in the upper reaches of Granite Canyon on Thursday morning, January 29. Darin Gamba, age 32, and Patrick Thornberry, age 39, both residents of Jackson, Wyoming, became disoriented in white-out conditions and accidentally took a wrong turn after exiting an out-of-bounds gate at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort around
1 p.m. on Wednesday, January 28. Gamba and Thornberry spent the night out in the mountains with temperatures hovering near 1 degree Fahrenheit. They were located during an aerial reconnaissance flight at 9 a.m. Thursday and flown from the backcountry at 9:30 a.m. This marks the second incident in a single week of skiers getting lost in the park’s backcountry and spending a night exposed to the elements.
Gamba and Thornberry exited the upper gate at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on Wednesday afternoon, intending to ski into the Rock Springs drainage. White-out conditions obscured the route, causing them to ski westward and ultimately into Granite Canyon, rather than southwest into the Rock Springs area. The two men searched for ski tracks to confirm their whereabouts, but by 2:30 p.m., they realized that they were not where they intended to be. About an hour before sunset, they decided to make preparations to spend the night in the backcountry.
Gamba and Thornberry dug a snow cave, collected pine boughs to insulate themselves against the snow, and made a fire. They were carrying food and water; however they also melted snow to replenish their supplies. While the two men did not have a map, compass or GPS device, they did have extra clothing and full avalanche gear— recommended equipment for anyone entering the Teton backcountry.
Early Thursday morning, Gamba and Thornberry began skiing up slope in order to get a clear view above tree line and determine their location. When they spotted Mount Hunt, they realized they were in Granite Canyon. The Teton County Search and Rescue contract helicopter, carrying a park ranger and county rescue staff, spotted the skiers’ tracks and eventually located them about 9 a.m. near the Shady Lady Couloir. Rescuers communicated to the two men, directing them to ski to a landing zone where the ship could safely touch down. Gamba and Thornberry were then flown to the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Park rangers credit Gamba and Thornberry with doing everything right to keep themselves safe and attempt their own self rescue. They carried the basic necessities and kept their wits about them during an unexpected night out in the Tetons.
Backcountry users are cautioned to be prepared with the knowledge, skills, and emergency equipment necessary to safely recreate in the park’s backcountry areas before attempting any winter excursion. Park rangers also remind backcountry users to pay special attention to avalanche and weather conditions before entering remote areas outside of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort boundaries.