Grand Teton National Park rangers enlisted the help of the Teton County contract helicopter to rescue a backcountry skier who was injured during an avalanche on Tuesday morning, March 15. Benjamin Shortledge, a 32-year-old Jackson resident, triggered an avalanche around 11:20 a.m. while skiing with friends on the northwest side of Cardiac Ridge in Granite Canyon. He received several injuries as a two-foot deep and 40-foot wide soft slab avalanche carried him about 400 feet down a slope near a feature known as Shady Lady.
Because of the remote location in Granite Canyon, the ski party could not get cell phone reception. Consequently, one of the Shortledge’s companions donned his skins and made his way back up the slope they had just skied in order to reach a saddle just northwest of Rendezvous Mountain from where a 911 call could be made. Teton County dispatchers received that call for help about 1:15 p.m. and in turn notified the Teton Interagency Dispatch Center in Grand Teton National Park. Rangers immediately contacted the Teton County Search and Rescue coordinator and requested assistance from their contract helicopter and pilot Ken Johnson. In the meantime, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort ski patrollers made preparations to ski into Granite Canyon from the resort boundary to help with the rescue. Two ski patrollers met Shortledge’s companion at the mountain saddle and the three of them skied to his location, arriving at approximately 2:30 p.m. The patrollers provided emergency care and prepared Shortledge for the arrival of the ship.
Rangers aboard the County helicopter reached Shortledge at 3:28 p.m., and he was flown to the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. After the ship landed at 3:51 p.m., a Teton County ambulance transported him to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson. The remaining members of the ski party were also evacuated by air from Granite Canyon.
The Bridger-Teton National Forest avalanche report rated the avalanche danger on Tuesday as “low” for all elevations. However the advisory also stated, “Strong southwesterly to westerly ridge top winds have created isolated pockets of wind slab 6 to 12 inches deep at the upper elevations. Backcountry travelers could trigger these easily identifiable slabs in steep, wind loaded terrain.” For up-to-date avalanche forecasts, visit http://www.jhavalance.org/, or call the avalanche center at 307.733.2664.
While this rescue operation proceeded quickly and smoothly, it is important for backcountry users to realize that weather and other factors may prevent the ability of rescuers to effectively reach locations in the Teton Range to perform an evacuation. Anyone entering the backcountry of Grand Teton National Park should be prepared with appropriate emergency equipment such as avalanche beacons, extra clothing, water and high energy snacks, among other items. Such basic gear may make all the difference if an unexpected event happens and an unplanned night in the backcountry becomes a reality.