Snowboarder Injured and Partially Buried in Avalanche Triggered by Cornice Fall in Salt River Range, WY

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Snowmobile wreckage sticks out of the snow after a rider fell through a cornice 1,200 feet up the mountainside. Photo: TCSAR

A snowboarder experienced a close call in the Salt River Mountains near Afton, Wyoming, on Sunday after being caught, carried, partially buried, and injured by an avalanche. Teton County Search and Rescue (TCSAR) reports that the slide was triggered after the cornice that the man was positioned on with his snowmobile had fallen onto the steep slope below. He was roughly 20 feet back from the edge of the cornice.

Once caught, the man was carried approximately 1,200 vertical feet over multiple cliff bands. He was carrying an avalanche airbag which he managed to deploy and he ended up being buried up to his shoulders, his head sticking out of the snow. His snowmobile was close-by, also partially buried.

Using his radio, the injured man called his touring partners who immediately dialed 911. Star Valley Search & Rescue in nearby Afton was dispatched, sending a helicopter to extract the wounded man from the treacherous cliffed terrain he ended up in. Had the man been solo, this could have had a different outcome. The full TCSAR incident report is attached below.

Incident Report

On Sunday afternoon, March 5, Teton County Search & Rescue deployed the helicopter and a team of volunteers to help rescue a snowmobiler who’d become injured and partially buried after a cornice fall triggered an avalanche in the Salt River Range outside of Afton, Wyo.

The cornice fall and patient location in the Swift Creek area of the Salt River Mountains. Photo: TCSAR

The accident happened after the snowmobiler, a local man from Thayne, had accessed a steep ridge line up Dry Creek with some friends. The man was about 20 feet from the edge of the cornice on his snowmobile when it broke beneath him, sending him down into another drainage known as Swift Creek. During the approximate 1,200-foot fall and avalanche over multiple cliffs he managed to deploy his avalanche airbag. He ended up buried up to his shoulders, with his head out of the snow, at the bottom of numerous cliff bands. The man’s snowmobile was nearby, also partially buried. 

The man was equipped with a hand-held BCA radio and was able to communicate with his partners still on the ridge. Due to the steep and unforgiving terrain, the group was not able to find a way down the ridge to get to him. The group called 911, which alerted Star Valley Search & Rescue in nearby Afton. 

Star Valley SAR deployed a team of volunteers up Dry Creek but immediately recognized that Swift Creek would be very difficult to access. The combination of elevated avalanche danger, time of day, and remote location would make accessing the patient before nightfall extremely difficult, if not impossible, without air resources. 

According to Clint Erickson, Captain of Star Valley SAR, the team first called an air ambulance in Rock Springs, but that organization informed rescuers they would not be able to dig the man out of the snow for an effective operation. Erickson then called Teton County Search & Rescue, which accepted the mission at 3:43 p.m.

The TCSAR helicopter departed the Jackson hangar with a pilot and four volunteers just past 4 p.m. As the team approached, they were able to see the man’s orange air bag on the snow. The helicopter landed near the man and was able to dig him out of the snow. The volunteers packaged the man in a full body vacuum splint, and carried him about 30 feet to the ship. They loaded the patient internally and transported him to a landing zone and waiting ambulance at the Osmond Elementary School parking lot in Afton at 5:30 p.m.

TCSAR volunteers get ready to transport a patient to a landing zone in Afton, Wyoming. Photo: TCSAR

“We’re extraordinarily grateful for TCSAR jumping on this call and completing it with a favorable result,” said Erickson. “Without the helicopter resource, this incident would have had a much different outcome.”

During the operation, additional TCSAR volunteers drove the fuel truck down to Alpine to ensure a safe flight home for the air crew. The weather cooperated, and the heli was able to fly all the way back to Jackson without ground assistance. All volunteers returned safely.

A couple of things made this rescue successful. The patient helped himself by being equipped with an avalanche air bag and being able to communicate via radio with his partners. TCSAR is happy to be able to share the helicopter resource with surrounding communities in matters of life or death. TCSAR also appreciates the partnership with Star Valley SAR to help bring this mission to a successful close.

A few things to note that helped make this operation successful, according to TSCAR:

  • The patient helped himself by being equipped with an avalanche airbag and being able to communicate via radio with his partners.
  • TCSAR is happy to be able to share its helicopter resource with surrounding communities in matters of life or death. We are all in this together.
  • TCSAR appreciates the partnership with @starvalleysar to help bring this mission to a successful close.

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