Backcountry Skier Injured in Slab Avalanche

February 25, 2011
Grand Teton National Park rangers enlisted the help of a Teton County Search and Rescue helicopter to evacuate an injured backcountry skier who was caught in an avalanche in the park on Thursday afternoon, February 24. Mark Gardner, age 41, of Teton Village, Wyoming triggered a soft slab avalanche while skiing with a friend in the Northwest Passage area of Granite Canyon. A 60-foot-wide and 2.5-foot-deep mass of snow carried Gardner over 50 feet down slope before he collided with a tree and came to a stop. While the force of the shifting snow injured Gardner’s leg, he did not become buried. Gardner was wearing a helmet which likely protected him from other injuries.

Gardner and his partner were not able to make a cell phone call from their location in the canyon, so they sidestepped from the Northwest Passage down through Endless Couloir. An off duty ski patroller from the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort encountered the two and ultimately made a call for help after getting cell reception near the mouth of the canyon. Teton Interagency Dispatch Center received notice of the situation at 3 p.m. and rangers initiated a rescue effort that involved the assistance of the Teton County helicopter. The pilot and crew were able to quickly respond and locate the two backcountry skiers near an area where the aircraft could conveniently land. Teton County rescue personnel assisted Gardner and his partner to the waiting ship and then flew them to the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, landing at 4 p.m. An ambulance then transported Gardner to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson, Wyoming.

The Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center reported the general avalanche hazard on February 24 to be "considerable" for high elevations (9,000 - 10.500 feet).  A considerable rating means that natural avalanches are possible and human-triggered avalanches are likely. The report also stated, “Recent snow and strong west to southwest winds have formed dense slabs in steep avalanche terrain. At the high elevations these slabs could be triggered by skiers or riders to depths of three feet and may release in small pockets or involve wider slabs in exposed bowls or wind loaded terrain features.” Travel advice from the avalanche center stresses careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route finding, and conservative decision making for these conditions.

Rangers recommend that backcountry users get the latest avalanche conditions, be prepared for backcountry travel, carry basic avalanche equipment and go with others. For local avalanche conditions visit or call 307.733.2664.

Ira Blitzblau Named Deputy Chief Ranger at Grand Teton National Park

Ira Blitzblau, deputy chief ranger at Grand Teton NP

Bonnie Taylor, EMS coordinator at Grand Teton NP

February 14, 2011
Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott announced today that Ira Blitzblau has been selected to become deputy chief ranger at Grand Teton National Park. Blitzblau will support Chief Ranger Michael Nash and assist with the management of daily operations for the park’s Division of Visitor and Resource Protection: a division that includes the branch of ranger activities, branch of fire and aviation management, the Teton Interagency Dispatch Center, and the fee and revenue program. Blitzblau currently serves as the South Rim district ranger at Grand Canyon National Park. He will begin his new post at Grand Teton in late March.

Blitzblau began his National Park Service career in 1997 as a seasonal law enforcement ranger in the Wahweap sub-
district at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (NRA). He took a seasonal law enforcement ranger position at Yosemite National Park in 1999 and worked in the Yosemite Valley portion of the park before transferring to a permanent park ranger post at Dangling Rope in Glen Canyon NRA later that same year. During his time at Dangling Rope, Blitzblau conducted search and rescue missions on Lake Powell and along its shorelines, and provided emergency medical care in remote locations of this vast recreation area that straddles the Utah-Arizona border. Blitzblau transferred from his remote post at Dangling Rope to the busy, high-use Wahweap subdistrict where he worked as a patrol ranger for over a year. In November of 2001, Blitzblau took a park ranger position on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park: a job he held through June of 2005. From 2005 to 2009, Blitzblau worked as a supervisory park ranger at the South Rim and also worked a detail assignment for several months in 2008 with the Intermountain Region chief ranger’s office in Lakewood, Colorado. While serving the detail, Blitzblau worked with national parks located along the United States border with Mexico to perform risk assessments and provide assistance in developing priorities and strategies for field operations. Blitzblau has served as the South Rim district ranger for the past two years.

Blitzblau was born in Montague, Massachusetts. He graduated in 1998 from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst with a Bachelor of Science in natural resource policy and a minor in political science and environmental science. He completed his federal law enforcement training at Glynco, Georgia in 2001.

Blitzblau’s wife, Bonnie Taylor—also an NPS career employee—has been selected to become the emergency medical services (EMS) coordinator position at Grand Teton. Taylor began her career in 2000 as a dispatcher in the communications center at Grand Canyon National Park. At Grand Canyon, Taylor also served as a preventative search and rescue (PSAR) ranger, as the PSAR supervisor, and later as the EMS coordinator. 

Taylor has extensive experience in all facets of EMS operations; she will oversee the training, recertification program and all aspects of emergency medical operations at Grand Teton, and will coordinate ambulance calls for both the park and the northern reaches of Jackson Hole.

Taylor was born in Show Low, Arizona and completed two years of coursework towards a Bachelor of Arts in broadcast media at Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, Maryland. She maintains several professional qualifications including, NREMT paramedic and S271 helicopter crewmember certifications. Taylor is also an American Heart Association CPR instructor, and she serves as part of a technical rescue team trained in short-haul rescue at Grand Canyon.  

February Full Moon & Winter Festival Weekend

Ranger-led snowshoe hikes offer fun for all ages
during the winter festival weekend
February 10, 2011

To celebrate February’s full moon and the peak of the winter season, Grand Teton National Park ranger naturalists invite visitors and local residents to enjoy a winter festival weekend filled with astronomy, snowshoe hikes and family-orientated fun. A host of activities will take place over President’s Day weekend from Friday, February 18 through Sunday, February 20.

On Friday evening at 6 p.m., rangers will present a 45-minute interactive program in the Director’s Room at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Moose. Titled Rangers of the Lost Dark, the program examines the incredible nighttime skies of Grand Teton National Park in the warmth and comfort of the visitor center auditorium. Reservations are not required for this indoor presentation.

Following the Rangers of the Lost Dark program, a ranger-led snowshoe walk by the light of a full moon will begin at
7 p.m. from the Discovery Center. The full moon walk offers a chance to experience the winter wonderland of Grand Teton and learn about the unique characteristics that make this season so incredible, and often challenging for park wildlife. The snowshoe walk traverses a mostly level,
1-2 mile roundtrip distance along the forests and meadows near the Snake River. This two-hour-long activity does not require previous snowshoeing experience, and snowshoes are provided for anyone without their own. Headlamps are required for this activity.

Festivities will resume on Saturday, February 19 at
1:30 p.m. with a ranger led snowshoe walk from the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center to the historic Murie Ranch. Along the way, rangers will talk about the Murie family and their contributions to wilderness preservation and
a fledgling conservation movement that culminated in protection of numerous nationally designated wild areas and the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. At the Murie Ranch, snowshoers will explore Olaus and Mardy’s cabin home and enjoy hot beverages and snacks in the Homestead Cabin. The Murie Center staff will be on hand to share additional facts about the Murie Ranch’s history and legacy. This walk takes place on mostly level terrain and is suitable for beginning snowshoers. Total distance roundtrip is 1-2 miles.

The winter festival will conclude on Sunday, February 20 with a family-oriented snowshoe hike. Bring the whole family for an hour-long walk and fun activities for all ages; anyone who is able to spend an hour outside on snowshoes is welcome. The snowshoe hike will begin at 12 noon at the Discovery Center and various sizes of snowshoes will be available for participants.

Those attending any of the weekend activities should wear warm layered clothing, sturdy insulated boots, and a face scarf or ski mask, plus bring along an energy snack and water, or hot beverage in a thermos.

Space is limited on the full moon snowshoe walk, the Murie snowshoe walk and the winter family program; therefore, reservations are required. Please phone 307.739.3399 to reserve a spot, or to learn more about the winter festival weekend.

For a complete list of ranger-led programs, please refer to the park’s newspaper, Grand Teton Guide, online at, or call the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center at 307.739.3399.

Rangers Evacuate Ailing Snowshoer from Phelps Lake Moraine

Febraury 7, 2011
Grand Teton National Park rangers conducted a lengthy rescue operation on Sunday, February 6, to evacuate an incapacitated snowshoer from the Phelps Lake overlook. Michelle Harvey age 40, from Sacramento, California, became ill while snowshoeing to the overlook with her husband, Don Happel, and she could not continue hiking the final 2.5 miles to their parked vehicle at the Death Canyon trailhead. Ten rangers and park staff coordinated a multi-phase evacuation that involved both rescue skiers and snowmobiles. Rescue skiers hauled a toboggan with Harvey aboard down the steep Phelps Lake moraine, and rangers on snowmobiles—staged on the northwest shore of Phelps Lake below the moraine—transported her the remaining distance to the trailhead located on the Moose-Wilson Road. The rescue and evacuation took nearly eight hours to complete.

The rescue mission began at 3:15 p.m. after Teton Interagency Dispatch Center received a 911 cell phone call from Happel explaining his wife’s predicament. Rangers and park staff used snowmobiles to cross the frozen surface of Phelps Lake and get close to the location where Harvey and Happel were waiting for help. Five rescuers skied up and over the Phelps Lake moraine and reached Harvey and Happel at 8 p.m. Harvey was then placed in a rescue toboggan and gradually lowered from the top of the moraine (7,200 feet elevation) to the lakeshore (6,633 feet elevation). Harvey was then transported by snowmobile to the Death Canyon trailhead where the evacuation concluded at 10:15 p.m.

Although Sunday’s weather was sunny with mild afternoon temperatures, physical conditions changed as the evacuation stretched into the evening hours. With darkness and colder temperatures, rangers resorted to using headlamps for visibility and emergency gear to keep Harvey warm and protected from the cold nighttime air. After reaching the trailhead on the Moose-Wilson Road, Harvey declined further medical attention and departed the area with her husband in their personal vehicle.

Harvey and Happel, who arrived in Jackson Hole on February 3, had a couple of days to acclimatize to the higher elevations of the Teton backcountry before their Sunday excursion. They were equipped with good winter clothing, water, and high energy snacks for their snowshoe outing. They also carried a GPS unit, a compass, and a cell phone—which they used to summon help.

While most rescue operations involve injured, stranded and/or lost persons, rangers and other park staff often conduct rescue missions to locate individuals—who are incapacitated for whatever reason—and bring them to safety and/or medical care. Emergency responses for persons "in need" are part of the proud National Park Service tradition. However, visitors and local residents should accept responsibility for their own safety and welfare, and always be prepared to self rescue as a first option.

Park rangers and other staff schooled in emergency medical procedures regularly train for events like Sunday’s rescue. Coincidently, park rangers conducted a scheduled training for wintertime open-water rescues on Monday morning, February 7. Many of the same rangers involved in the late day rescue of Harvey on Sunday, also participated in Monday’s practice session.