Missing Skier Found and Rescued
A missing skier has been rescued after spending two nights in the backcountry of Grand Teton National Park after exiting a backcountry gate leaving the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Jackson, Wyoming.
Two skiers were reported overdue by friends at approximately 7 p.m. Monday night, February 20, when they did not return from skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The men were identified as 30-year old Chris Prem from Destin, Florida, and 31-year old Mike Syverson from Telluride, Colorado.
The emergency call to 911 prompted a conference call with Teton County Sheriff’s Office and Teton County Search and Rescue with Grand Teton National Park to initiate a search for the men. Information to help determine a search area was very limited, other than it was believed the men planned to exit the resort and ski the nearby backcountry. At approximately 10 p.m. the Teton County Sheriff’s Office successfully got a cell phone ping to help determine that the missing skiers were in the Granite Canyon area of Grand Teton National Park. This information greatly helped to narrow the search area.
The National Park Service took the lead with the search. Due to avalanche danger and darkness, resources were gathered to begin an aerial and ground search for early Tuesday morning.
At approximately 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, February 21, a resort tram operator spending the night near the top of the tram was awakened by one of the missing skiers, Prem. An emergency call was made to alert rescue personnel. Prem was uninjured, and communicated that he had separated from Syverson because he had gear that would allow him to travel back to the summit for help. He also had a GPS coordinate from a phone app that could help to locate his friend. Prem spent the night atop the mountain.
Park rangers and resort ski patrol personnel interviewed Prem at approximately 7:30 a.m. Tuesday atop the mountain to gather information to assist in locating Syverson. Four park rangers skied into Granite Canyon to begin the search, and found no signs.
Weather conditions were extreme, including 50-60 m.p.h. winds with gusts up to 80 m.p.h. and heavy snowfall. Due to these extreme weather and increased avalanche conditions, at approximately 12 p.m. the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort closed for the safety of their staff and guests.
The park rangers searching for the missing skier also returned due to deteriorating and unsafe conditions, and increased avalanche danger. They remained near the top of the tram waiting for conditions to improve. As conditions worsened, search personnel returned to the base of the resort. Aerial search efforts were called off throughout the day due to unsafe flying conditions.
The search was suspended until Wednesday morning or when conditions improved. The Wyoming Civil Air Patrol was requested to provide a Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) flight to help locate the missing skier.
Early Wednesday morning, the search resumed in the Granite Canyon area, and the Teton County Search and Rescue helicopter conducted an aerial reconnaissance of the area. At approximately 8 a.m. the missing skier was visually located from the aerial flight near Cardiac Ridge. The helicopter inserted park rangers and county personnel about a quarter mile from the individual. The rescue personnel skied to Syverson’s location and evaluated him for injuries and transport out of the backcountry.
At approximately 10:15 a.m. Syverson was flown to the Teton County Search and Rescue Hangar and transported to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson for a thorough medical evaluation and treatment for cold-related conditions.
Grand Teton National Park David Vela said, “We are joyous on the outcome of this search and rescue operation, and that Mr. Prem and Mr. Syverson are safe and able to return to their family and friends.” Vela also expresses his pride in all the rescuers and the cooperation with Teton County Sheriff’s Office and Teton County Search and Rescue, and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to successfully execute a search and rescue operation with unforgiving terrain and challenging weather and avalanche conditions. He said, “Rescue personnel safety is a priority in each and every incident.”
Park rangers remind skiers to “Know Before You Go” and be well prepared for any backcountry adventure. Please be prepared with appropriate equipment and skills, and always let someone know your planned route and estimated return time. Recreationists should have some familiarity with the terrain and area they wish to enjoy.