Randosteve and his motorized sleigh provide a pick-up instead of a drop-off
for two Wisconsin snowboarders on Christmas day.
After a night of tossing and turning, thinking about the people we would be going out to search for, I met my Teton County Search and Rescue teammates and we gathered up some snowmobiles before heading up to Togwotee Pass. The weather was looking great, which meant we would probably be able to use the helicopter, as huge plus to a search mission. Two snowboarders had gotten lost on Angle Mountain, which is home to a Cat-Skiing operation and might have come in handy.
Bits and pieces of information were coming in to us, and word was that the two were dropped off at the top of the mountain by a snowmobile and told not to ride off the north side. When they didn’t return to the lodge and their family, the call came to us. When we arrived at Togwotee, more information came in, saying that two tracks were spotted going towards a 4′ crown of an avalanche. Neither party was wearing a transceiver, so if they had gotten buried, it would have taken a lot of probing to find them. More tracks were spotted going off the north side towards the Buffalo River…we could only hope they were theirs.
After getting an LZ dialed next to the road, the heli came in and we loaded up a few people, including a medic in case we found them a bit worse for wear. As the heli lifted off, the radio came alive with news that the lost snowboarders had just called the lodge with their cell phones and were standing on top of a mountain. We all let out a sigh of relief, now knowing that we wouldn’t be spending the day probing for a lifeless body in some avalanche debris and hopefully, like my father said, be able to play Santa and Jesus (by saving their lives) all in the same day.
Traffic on Togwotee Pass comes to a stop as 142MA comes in to re-fuel.
The ship took off and we all expected some chatter on the radio indicating that they saw the victims relatively soon…but it didn’t. The victims called the lodge again, saying they heard our helicopter and that they were in the shadow of the big mountain. Our searchers in the helicopter spotted some tracks but lost them in the thick trees. Not soon after, the heli was forced to come back to refuel. We swapped out personnel for some fresh eyes and I loaded in the front seat, hoping to get in on some of the action. We flew over the Buffalo River and Ken, our pilot, showed me the tracks they had seen. Further up the slope I could see their downhill tracks. After flying around a bit, we realized that the party had wandered in circles for a while, as their tracks would double back in the same direction they came from, but just on the other side of a ridge.
After a few passes in the ship, we focused on some tracks that seemed to disappear into the forest. We hovered and squinted hard to find more. Slowly but surely we were able follow tracks that went up a steep slope towards a ridge…they had to be up this way. As we came over the ridge and the sloped dropped on the other side, Alex (a newbie on the team) shouted out that he spotted one of the snowboarders. Sure enough, down and to the right, a person came walking out of the woods, waving his hands at us. We couldn’t land right were they were, so we circled a bit and found a good LZ about ¼ mile from where they were.
Our first contact with the missing snowboarders.
Alex, Ray and I got out, and the heli took off so we would be able to yell and communicate with the party. I was amped and stared post holing towards where they were and soon enough we were able to get them to come down the slope towards us. Finally, we saw them trudging through the thick trees and I wished them a Merry Christmas.