Monday, March 19 proved to be a busier-than-usual winter day for rangers in Grand Teton National Park. Park rangers worked in concert with Teton County Search and Rescue volunteers to conduct a helicopter-based rescue of an injured skier who was caught in an avalanche in Death Canyon early in the afternoon. Later in the afternoon, rangers completed a ground-based rescue of a snowshoer who became injured while jumping off boulders near Taggart Lake.
The first search and rescue effort began just before 1:00 p.m. when Teton Interagency Dispatch Center received a report that a skier was caught in an avalanche in an area known as “Son of Apocalypse Couloir” on the south side of Death Canyon.
Two separate parties of two individuals were skiing the couloir at the same time when a natural avalanche of fresh snow began above them. The sliding snow swept past one skier before gaining momentum, picking up snow, and hitting the remaining three. The first two were able to stop themselves, but the last skier, Yuki Tsuji, 37, of Louisville, Colorado, was knocked down and tumbled a few hundred feet down the lower portion of the couloir and onto the apron of snow at its base.
The three uninjured individuals, which included two emergency medical providers, skied down to Tsuji’s location and discovered she had suffered a leg injury and was unable to ski out. Tsuji’s partner carried a satellite communicator device and was able to send a text message for help. Meanwhile, one of the medical providers skied out to Phelps Lake where he was able to make a broken call to rangers and discuss the patient’s condition.
Based on the patient’s condition, rangers requested assistance from the Teton County Search and Rescue helicopter and prepared for short-haul evacuation. The helicopter flew one search and rescue volunteer into the patient’s location. The volunteer then fitted Tsuji into a screamer suit and flew with her back to Sawmill Ponds Overlook along the Moose-Wilson Road. Tsuji was transferred to a park ambulance and transported to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson, Wyoming. The remaining three individuals skied out on their own.
Rangers observe that the coming of spring conditions in the Teton Range mean that backcountry skiers and riders tend to push higher into the mountains onto steeper terrain. Even the smallest of avalanches in steep terrain can sweep skiers off their feet leading to serious, and sometimes fatal, injuries. Fresh snowfall intermixed with sun and warm temperatures can increase the risk of this type of avalanche.
The second search and rescue effort of the day involved a party of two individuals who snowshoed around Taggart Lake before heading a few hundred feet above the lake. Cody Dumont, 24, of Lexington, Kentucky, suffered leg injuries after jumping off a 10-foot boulder around 3:30 p.m. Cody’s partner sent a text message for help to a friend at the Taggart Lake Trailhead, who in turn contacted the Teton Interagency Dispatch Center.
One ranger skied into the area to locate the party and assess the patient’s condition. Based on this assessment, four additional rangers skied into the area with a toboggan and medical gear. The rangers skied with Dumont in the sled back to Taggart Lake Trailhead, where Dumont and his partner chose to drive themselves to the hospital.