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MOOSE, WY —Rangers rescued an injured backcountry skier from Disappointment Peak in Grand Teton National Park this afternoon, February 4, 2016. The skier, Rene Etter-Garrette, 32, of Jackson, WY, was beginning his ski descent of Spoon Couloir above Amphitheater Lake when he triggered a wind slab avalanche and was swept downhill.
Teton Interagency Dispatch Center received a call for assistance at 12:55 p.m. from Brian Close, 38, of Wilson, WY, who reported that his ski partner had been swept in an avalanche while making a ski cut at the top of the Spoon Couloir. The avalanche, which released about 30 feet above Etter-Garrett, carried him 1200 feet down the couloir to a location approximately 600 feet above Amphitheater Lake. While he did not lose consciousness, he was buried by the slide with his head and arm exposed and he did suffer a leg injury. The avalanche was estimated to have a crown that was 40 feet across and one foot deep.
Close and the third member of their party, Mike Bessette, 40, of Jackson, WY were able to ski down to Etter-Garrette's location, dig him out, and provide first aid. They applied a splint using an avalanche shovel handle, an ice axe, and rubber ski straps to stabilize the injury. At the rangers' request, they then assisted Etter-Garrette down to Amphitheater Lake where the helicopter could land.
Initially, weather conditions, which included a low cloud ceiling, made it unclear whether a helicopter rescue would be possible. The National Weather Service forecasted that weather conditions would continue to deteriorate for the remainder of the daylight hours. Rangers simultaneously prepared a ground team and aerial rescue team for both possible scenarios. A ground rescue likely would have lasted into the night and involved much greater difficulty. However, a brief break in the cloud cover made the aerial rescue possible.
Two rangers boarded the Teton County Search and Rescue helicopter, which used the Sawmill Ponds parking area along the Moose-Wilson Road as a staging area, and flew to the party's location on Amphitheater Lake. Etter-Garrette was flown to Sawmill Ponds at 3:02 p.m. with one of the rangers. There he was transferred to a park ambulance and transported to St. John's Medical Center in Jackson, Wyoming. The other ranger remained with Close and Bessette and skied to Taggart Lake trailhead with them.
Rangers remind those who venture into the backcountry that there is no guarantee of a helicopter rescue. Backcountry skiers should
Rangers commend the party for their self-rescue to Amphitheater Lake and their ingenuity in the creation of the splint. Their ability to get to the lake was instrumental in allowing the rescue to occur within a limited weather window. The party had ascended to their location via the Spoon Couloir and Etter-Garrette was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.
Last updated: February 5, 2016