Search and Rescue Success, Lessons Learned

Here I am, a person who fell in love with snowmobiling and the backcountry about 5 years ago and decided to get involved in this Colorado Snowmobilers page.  My husband was extracted by Search and Rescue efforts yesterday from the Snowy Range, Wyoming.  You might be thinking Nona is a joke, she doesn’t do the sled thing right, shame on her and her crew.  I accept that.  I can share that I have done so much to embrace this sport, to learn what must be learned to be a backcountry sledder.  I realized very quickly this adrenaline fueled sport is dangerous from the get-go and set forth to ensure I could be most prepared for inherent risks we all accept.  I am willing to share my mistakes/crew mistakes when they happen, as they are learning opportunities to grow from AND with the intentions of sparing others of same mistakes.

Jason and two members of his crew visited the Snowy Range, Wyoming.  They headed to 7 Fools, an area we are intimate with.  They were taking snowboard runs as our crew does in this area.  Two sleds were left at the top of the run.  The fellas were riding Canadian with one guy being towed.  Jason left his two friends at the top for maybe the final shuttle of the day at around 3:30pm.  They saw Jason ride off.  At this time, My Jason decided to dip into some fresh powder and make a few quick boondocking turns as his friends were enjoying their final snowboard runs of the day.  Just like that, the enchanted forest swallowed him up.

He realized quickly he had become turned around, some panic, then the stucks, 3 big ones.  His friends walked to their sleds at the top of the run, for 2 hours calling to Jason but no response.  After looking for him in the little remaining light, his crew rode back to the truck and hoped to meet up with Jason there.  They began riding again, searching the area again in the dark.  At 10pm, our agreed upon check in time with family in our group; I received the call from a crew member that Jason went missing.

My own panic set in.  This was Jason’s first trip out this season, it was a rushed decision to go… did he remember everything???  I felt somewhat comforted that on Friday night I woke up and saw all his gear laid out, he had pulled his shit together and looked like he was prepared.  As I was frantically packing up, I found both our BCA radios, realizing the crew went out without the radios.

I reached out to my sled family for guidance and help, but the outreach was brief as I only had time for a few quick posts and phone calls.  I was loading up and headed to the trailhead.  I was in touch with the sheriff’s office, the crew members had already initiated a response.  My communications were severed as I arrived to the trailhead at 3:30am.

That’s when I found my panicked crew.  They had just completed another search around 2:30am.  The temps for overnight in the Snowies was not bad, so that did offer me some hope.  They saw no fire, smelled no smoke.  My heart sunk.  There’s a lot of awful thoughts that torture your soul during these situations – had an injury or slide claimed his life?  Pictures of these different scenarios were invading my thoughts.

6:20am arrived and so did Tori Nilsen.  A friend of Kaleb Timberlake, one of the calls I made in my desperate search for direction and help.  He brought word that the message had been shared, and people were responding, that there would be help to search.  Our other crew member who didn’t go out on Saturday arrived then as well.  My crew organized and were out before the daylight broke.  I unloaded my sled and geared up as well.  I stayed to ensure good communications happened with the Sheriff and Search and Rescue efforts as I had become clearer about the events that had taken place and could offer details.  Between 7-8am the SAR folks started gathering at the lot, organizing, gearing up, and unloading.

The sheriff offered that I could go out and I made the very difficult decision to stay put.  I haven’t been out once this season, a nervous wreck, and thought I could be of more help at the trailhead.  I could see others outside of our search team were gathering to ride.  I decided to visit each trailer/vehicle that pulled up.  I shared that my husband hadn’t come off the trails Saturday.  To my surprise, many many sledders had already heard about the situation.

My sled family had come to my rescue.  My hope soared as I was talking with locals and regular riders who were obviously familiar with the 7 Fools area.  Brad Spies and crew, I believe these guys even brought drones to fly.  I spoke with Tyler’s Backcountry Awareness, as they made camp that night and were riding in the morning, the group offered their assistance as well.  After talking with pretty much everyone riding for the day I returned to speak with the Sheriff.  I sat with the Sheriff and he too knew of many of the sledders who had shown up that day, many he knew as badass riders, who were super knowledgeable about the terrain.  There were so many riders who now knew to be on the lookout or who were actively taking part in the rescue mission.

Around noon Tori Nilsen returned to the trailhead.  He brought back the report about all of the sledders who were out at 7 Fools.  I wished I could have been at 7 Fools to see all the sledders tearing up that terrain.  They worked methodically from the point of last visual contact.  Because there were so many searching, they had extreme confidence to check a zone off and move quickly to another zone.  Around this time the Civil Air Patrol had been on scene to offer air support as well.

Jason spent the night in a snow pit he dug out down to the earth.  He tried a couple of different tricks to extract gas from his tank but found that the tow rope was the best.  He had a fire all night.  His sled was working and used the light to help him find firewood.  The fire tried to die several times and he was able to keep it going all night.  At dawn, he was ready to start moving but his sled wasn’t.  His sled would turn on but not move, like the engine had blown.  He started hiking a bit, 1 mile in one direction, a half mile in another, returning to camp after exploring.  After returning from the last hike, he gave his machine another go and it was working.  He decided to make some water as he was becoming dehydrated and try and explore some more. That’s when Korey Malmborg found Jason.  Korey has been a local snowmobile guide in the area and heard about the commotion and decided to help out.  Korey knows this area so well and had previous knowledge of this terrain sucking in riders.  He stumbled on Jason’s post holes and it led him right to Jason’s camp.

We do so many things right.  I am happy to report that Saturday morning, Jason had visited the Laramie Polaris shop and purchased his Wyoming tag and made the $2 donation for Search and Rescue.  We carry beacon, probe, shovels.  We carry heavy avy bags loaded down with survival gear.  We follow CAIC reports like scripture.  We wrench on our own sleds, I’m a helluva sled mechanic!  We usually ride with BCA link radios.  The crew I ride with, they have been together riding the backcountry since the 90’s, starting with post-holing all of Loveland and Berthoud passes.  They’ve been on sleds for about 9 years.  All this experience and precautions… You can do so much right, and still end up in trouble in the backcountry.

Decades of backcountry experience and terrain familiarity brought overconfidence to this situation.  How could he get lost, he’s at 7 Fools?  A place we ride A LOT.  He was with his experienced crew.  It doesn’t matter, forests with no reference points can quickly become disorienting, that’s all it takes.  Jason said what made him most sick was that he was truly lost, he didn’t know what direction was North from South and on his hikes he didn’t get any visual on anything that would help him.  He went for a splash in some fresh pow in the trees and that mistake cost him plenty.

When the mission ends with a rescue not a recovery, it’s followed by a public execution.  Since this was such a public incident, the masses can become judge, jury, executioner; weighing in on their opinions in a public forum with a few key strokes.  I get it.  I do.  Been there, done that.  It seems natural to look at a situation like this and judge, considering it, and how it would never be you.  Overnight, the gravity of the situation has set in for Jason.  He is full of remorse and embarrassment.  He feels foolish and reckless.  And now he is forever labelled as that guy.  I knew IF he came out of this situation, he would be a changed man.  He didn’t lose his fingers, toes, or legs how I had imagined, but he did emerge from the mountains a changed man.  He vows to change his ways, the fun doesn’t outweigh safe ever again.  He will be more cautious and ride with the communication devices each and every time he goes out.

I purchased an In Reach a while ago now, a backcountry satellite communications device.  When I pulled it out of its packaging it seemed complicated and I just haven’t put the time into figuring that out.  With the satellite communications, Jason’s extraction would have not been dramatic or a drain on resources.  We won’t be travelling into the backcountry again without this device.

When that call came at 10pm on Saturday night.  I remember that Marc asked me if I knew of anybody that could come help search.  I squeaked out a “No, I don’t know anybody that can come help”.  How very wrong I was, I’ve never been more wrong in my life.  I am part of a snowmobile community and that meaning came to life on Sunday.  Social Media, our Facebook gathering places, is a huge part of what enabled the sled community to respond and bring my husband home with all his fingers and toes and just a bit of snow blindness.  We aren’t just posting up silly memes and talking shit about sled brands.  We have built true community through online groups and educational forums, and I am honored that I have been part of that.  I will always be in debt to the Snowmobile Community and I will never forget the sheer amazing of the people I call my tribe.  It was overwhelming to speak with so many sledders that day, all were concerned and willing to help.  I started gathering some gas and that took only minutes to secure enough for more searching.  A lady at The Post in Centennial, she fed my crew after hours so they could go out and search the rest of Friday night.  She was there at noon, bringing grilled cheese sandwiches for the searchers.  Tori came back to update me on the search efforts, he said he never seen anything like it before, so many sledders were there helping on the scene.  The sheriff too thought the turnout was the biggest he had ever seen.  Our online community connection made this happen.

Thank you to the countless individuals who reposted my Facebook plea.  Thank you Thank you Thank you to each sledder that intentionally set out in response to that plea, especially those who call 307 their stomping ground.  Thank you to each of the sledders that I visited with in the parking lot, all who expressed deep concern and many able and willing to assist.

Thank you to Albany and Carbon County Sheriff’s Offices, their response meant everything, the calm demeanor and professionalism was so very impressive.  Your communications and actions were swift, I had confidence right from the first contact with your departments that the response was taken seriously and was being treated with the importance it deserved.  Thank you to Albany and Carbon County Search and Rescue/SAR volunteers, you were the men making it happen on the sleds and your leadership was exemplary.  Thank you to the Civil Air Patrol for responding to the call for air support.

The calls I made when I found out Jason was missing was to Heather Rottman Tupper, a woman I don’t know as a friend (before this), but was willing to help as she is leadership to the Snowy Range Snowmobile Club and a DSG Outwear Brand Ambassador.  You did me great service Heather, thank you.  I called Keith McBreaty, leaving a vague weepy message for him.  He leapt into action, being sure he helped spread the word, picking up the phone and calling Search and Rescue.  You were the very first to reach me by phone Keith, when I just entered phone range after being reunited with Jason, I needed that call, thank you friend.  I called Kaleb Timberlake who also posted information sharing messages and recruited great folks.  Thank you Tori Nielson, you arrived first to the parking lot Sunday morning.  Your presence was comforting and the messages you brought with you about help coming helped my soul.  Your mid-day communications were also so encouraging.  You were of great assistance, thank you so very much.

Thank you Jarred Roy.  I see your missed calls, your Facebook messages; you were on the phone with rescue personnel and trying to help get sledders to the scene.  Thank you Jamey Fader, you helped direct some badass sled folks to the Search and Rescue, they made a huge impact on the efforts.  Thank you Matt Crowe for your assistance in spreading the message and getting good folk to the area for searching.  Thank you Brad Spies for bringing up a couple truck load of slednecks that made shit happen.  Did you bring drones?  Gah that was brilliant.

In all of the confusion, I got his name but it was soon out of my brain.  I believe the man who found Jason was Korey Malmborg and his riding buddies, who I don’t have all the names yet but I believe Charles Slayton was part of the crew as well.  Korey told me he used to guide in the area and had some previous experience locating a lost soul in this same area.  These guys were not part of Search and Rescue or the Sheriff’s department.  They were just some badass local sledders who showed up for a fun day of riding their stomping grounds but instead took some time out of their precious riding time to assist with the Search and Rescue.  Your response, your kindness, you saved my family, my life, my everything… I am in debt to you guys, let me buy you dinner and drinks in Centennial soon, please.

You all did, everyone who responded to posts and took action, you helped save a man and his family… you were part of a community response that ended in my husband returning to me physically safe and sound.  Jason is moved by the community response and he will be offering his words to the community soon.  We hope that our snowmobile community can still accept us as members; as we have such a love and passion for the sport and now a much greater feeling of being part of something that is so special, the snowmobile community.

Map

Pictures were taken and shared by Korey Malmborg.

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2 thoughts on “Search and Rescue Success, Lessons Learned

  1. Glad everything worked out , shit does happen I know been there. Snowmobile clubs have great support in these cases, tight groups.

    Like

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