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 http://www.jhavalanche.org/ or call 307.733.2664.