A backcountry skier in Grand Teton National Park survived an encounter with an avalanche with relatively minor injuries, although he ended up with a helicopter rescue.
Mark Gardner, 41, of Teton Village, Wyoming, was skiing with a friend in the Northwest Passage area of Granite Canyon on Thursday afternoon when a slab avalanche estimated at 60 feet wide and 2-and-a-half feet deep swept him down-slope about 50 feet and into a tree. While he did sustain a leg injury, according to park officials, he was not buried by the slide; the fact that he was wearing a helmet likely prevented more serious injuries.
Despite his injured leg, Mr. Gardner and his friend were able to sidestep down the mountain through Endless Couloir, where they found an off-duty ski patroller from the narby Jackson Hole Mountain Resort who called for additional help, a park release said.
Teton Interagency Dispatch Center got word 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 Mr. 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., park officials said.
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 Thursday 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.
Grand Teton 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 www.jhavalanche.org or call 307-733-2664.