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4 people cited after search and rescue in avalanche conditions


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The following is a news release from Grand Teton National Park on Wednesday.

MOOSE, Wyo. – Grand Teton National Park has cited four individuals who violated a closure in the park alongside the boundary of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort earlier this year that triggered a search and rescue operation during dangerous avalanche conditions.

Andrew Richards, age 24, of Jackson, Wyoming, Ruth Schwietert, age 28 of Jackson, Wyoming,
Natalie Burns, age 32, of Breckenridge, Colorado, and Joseph Higgins, age 25 of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, each received two citations requiring a mandatory court appearance. Citations are for violation of an emergency boundary closure and disorderly conduct with creation of a hazardous condition. Each citation carries a maximum penalty of up to $5,000 fine and/or six months in jail.

The following is the original news release on this case from March 1.

Grand Teton National Park conducted a search and rescue operation Thursday evening, February 28, into early morning, Friday, March 1, in Granite Canyon north of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Two individuals were rescued with no reported injuries. The search and rescue was in cooperation with Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Teton County Search and Rescue.

At approximately 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 28, Teton Interagency Dispatch received a call from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort regarding two skiers that were lost in Granite Canyon, an area of Grand Teton National Park that is located north of the resort.

Initial investigation indicates that four individuals: a 24-year-old male from Jackson, Wyoming, a 28-year-old female from Jackson, Wyoming, a 24-year-old male from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and a 31-year-old female from Breckenridge, Colorado, rode the Teton Chairlift for a final downhill ski for the day. The group exited the ski area boundary by going under the boundary rope and entered an area closed due to hazardous conditions. As they skied down, two of the individuals got lost, and the other two individuals were able to ski back to the Resort boundary.

The lost skiers had cell phone access and were able to contact a friend who in turn contacted ski patrol and then park dispatch. A Teton County Search and Rescue helicopter conducted an aerial reconnaissance, using location information communicated by the lost individuals. Due to sunset and diminished light, it was challenging to confirm the location.

At approximately 8:30 p.m. the Resort transported three rangers to a location near the top of the Teton Chairlift, allowing the rangers to initiate a ground search by skiing into Granite Canyon. Rangers had GPS coordinates provided by the lost individuals via cell phone. The area is in a high avalanche and hazard area, including steep terrain, numerous trees and cliffs. The rangers utilized safety practices that involved ropes and belay systems as they moved down the canyon.

The rangers were able to verbally communicate with the lost individuals and at approximately 11 p.m. they located the skier and snowboarder in the Spock Chutes area. The individuals were not injured, and the entire group then climbed back up the mountain to the ski area boundary. They reached the boundary at approximately 2:30 a.m. and skied to the base of the Resort by 2:45 a.m.
The incident is under investigation by the Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Bridger-Teton National Forest.

All recreationists are reminded to respect current backcountry conditions and make informed decisions regarding any recreational endeavors. All rules and regulations should be followed, including exiting the resort at designated access points and respecting any closures. Please do not create a situation that may put rescuers at unnecessary risk.