Park rangers responded early Christmas morning to rescue three backcountry skiers who had become disoriented the previous day, and had inadvertently skied into Granite Canyon within Grand Teton National Park. The three men, Drew McCord, 32 of Houston, TX; Kevin Livingston, 37, of Afton, WY; and Patrick Callihan, 24, of Jackson, WY had intended to ski Rock Springs Bowl in the Bridger-Teton National Forest but lost their way because of poor visibility just after leaving the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort ski area boundary.
Teton County Search and Rescue initially received the call for assistance from McCord’s girlfriend around 6:30 p.m. December 24. She reported receiving a text message from the men stating they were in trouble and needed help. Upon realizing the party was within Grand Teton National Park, the call was forwarded to park rangers at approximately 7:00 p.m. Though initial communication with the men was difficult, they hiked back uphill into an area with better cell phone reception and were able to communicate directly with park rangers by text around 10:00 p.m.
Using this direct communication, rangers were able to confirm the men were uninjured and had the ability to dig a snow cave and build a fire. Given the darkness of the hour, rangers planned to ski in the following morning when conditions would be less hazardous for rescuers.
At first light Christmas morning, two park rangers were joined by two members of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Ski Patrol to begin the rescue. After riding the tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain, the four rescuers descended into the Targhee Woods area where they located the missing party’s ski tracks. They followed the tracks and located the men in the area commonly referred to as “Cam’s Run.” The party was able to text their coordinates to the rescuers, which aided in their location.
The cold but uninjured men were escorted down Granite Canyon. Given the considerable avalanche risk, the resort’s ski patrol closed the backcountry gates above the descent route. Despite this safety precaution, the rescuers encountered multiple parties who had violated the closure thus putting the rescuers at increased risk of being caught in a skier-triggered avalanche. The group returned to Teton Village at approximately 1:15 p.m.
Park rangers commend the men for remaining calm during the incident, staying together, initially attempting to return the way they had come, and their ability to light a fire and build shelter. The men were equipped with basic backcountry ski gear including avalanche beacons, probes, and shovels. However, the men had very little food, water, extra clothing layers, or other emergency equipment.
Park rangers remind those that venture outside of the ski area boundary that they should be prepared for emergencies and the potential for extended stays outdoors. Granite Canyon presents challenging terrain that should be attempted only by expert backcountry skiers with the knowledge, skills, and experience to travel in avalanche zones. Backcountry closures should always be obeyed.