Letter to the Editor: Appeared in JH News and Guide- May 14, 2014

In light of the tragedy that took place on Teewinot Mountain last week, I am writing on behalf of the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation to remind community members of the unique challenge our search and rescue team faces this time of year. Spring is great time for mountaineering and ski touring in the Tetons, but it also represents a time of year when our search and rescue team’s toolkit does not include a helicopter for mountain rescues. 

As backcountry recreation in the Tetons has increased and evolved over the years, our team of dedicated volunteers has trained diligently to keep pace and expand their capabilities, including the use of a helicopter for mountain rescues. While a helicopter offers no guarantees, and it is useless without a skilled team to manage rescue operations, it can be an incredibly useful life saving tool in difficult situations. I will not speculate as to whether or not imme! diate access to a helicopter would have changed the ultimate outcome of the events of May 5th, but I think it is important for the community to understand the limitations and exposure our team faces, especially this time of year. 

Most people are not aware that Teton County Search and Rescue only has dedicated access to a helicopter for 5 months of the year, from the beginning of November to the end of March. During the summer months, Grand Teton National Park has a helicopter in the valley, which can be utilized by our team, if it is not otherwise needed. Unfortunately that helicopter does not arrive until June 15th. As a result, we are left with a roughly 2-month window of exposure from mid-April until mid-June, where the nearest helicopter is several hours away, if one is even available. 

The search and rescue team under the direction of the Sheriff’s office, and in conjunction with the foundation board and board of county commissioners, continues to explore opt! ions that are financially feasible to close this gap and ensure year-round helicopter access. The dialogue has been very constructive to date and we appreciate the support and attention the board of county commissioners has given this important matter. I am confident, by continuing to work together we will find a long-term solution that works for the community, but in the meantime, please play it safe as you enjoy spring in the Tetons. 

Brian Cousins
President-Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation