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Grand Teton National Park rangers conducted the first backcountry search and rescue operation of the 2011/12 winter season on the night of February 13. Rangers launched the operation for two snowboarders who were not prepared for backcountry travel and who became lost in the park's Granite Canyon area.
Joe Tauro, 55, from Brick, New Jersey and Mike Fasciolli, 36, from Toms River, New Jersey left Gate 2 at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort just before 3 p.m. on Monday. The snowboarders told rangers they intended to access Rock Springs Bowl, but mistakenly made their way into Grand Teton National Park via Granite Canyon, instead.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Ski Patrol first received notification that two snowboarders needed help around 7 p.m. Ski Patrol notified Teton County Search and Rescue staff who were able to ping the GPS location of the pair from their cell phone and determine that they were in Grand Teton National Park's backcountry. Teton Interagency Dispatch Center was notified of the out-of-bounds boarders at 7:30 p.m.
Rangers were able to communicate directly with the duo via cell phone and determine that a rescue response was needed based on a medical condition of one of the party combined with their inadequate preparation for backcountry travel.
Rangers used a snowmobile to access the mouth of Granite Canyon and reached the pair about 10 p.m. at a location in the lower canyon. For emergency response situations, rangers maintain a winter snowmobile trail that extends from the Moose-Wilson Road to the mouth of Granite Canyon. Jackson Hole ski patrollers were preparing to ski into the canyon from the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort when the two were found.
Although the snowboarders were not injured or in need of medical aid, they lacked winter backcountry experience and did not possess food, water, lights or the appropriate avalanche gear. While this incident ended on a positive note, it certainly had the potential for a negative outcome because of the late hour and the lack of preparation for travel in remote avalanche-prone terrain.
The Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center reported general avalanche hazard for February 13 to be "moderate" above the 9,000 foot level and "low" for low elevations (6,000-7,500 feet). Backcountry users were also cautioned to be prepared with appropriate emergency equipment and the knowledge and skill of how to use it before attempting a winter excursion.
Rangers advise backcountry travelers to be prepared to spend more time than anticipated in the backcountry by bringing extra clothing, high energy snacks and water. Skiers and snowboarders should consider their physical limitations and time restrictions when choosing a destination, and bring a map of the area and know how to use it before setting out. Park rangers also remind backcountry users to pay special attention to avalanche and weather conditions before entering remote areas outside of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort boundaries.
Rangers thank the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Ski Patrol and Teton County Search and Rescue for their efforts in this successful rescue.