The goal is activating 911 as soon as possible
From skiers and snowboarders to snowshoers, fat bikers and snowmobilers, the Crested Butte area backcountry is getting more crowded. On any given day during the holiday season, trailhead parking lots are overflowing and access trails are packed with a variety of users.
Given this increase in traffic it is only a matter of time and circumstance before accidents occur, and when those accidents do happen it is important that area users know the quickest route to calling for and accessing help, especially in areas that are frequently out of cell phone range.
Crested Butte Search and Rescue, the Crested Butte Ambulance and Emergency Services, other backcountry travelers and area guide operations may all provide help and assistance when things go sour far from home. However, knowing how and when to contact these groups is paramount.
Last Thursday, December 26, there was a snowmobile accident just northwest of the Irwin Y on Kebler Pass. A young man hit a tree at high speed and was knocked unconscious. A bystander witnessed the victim lying in the snow, and rather than traveling the approximately seven miles down Kebler to the trailhead to call for help, he opted to go about one mile up past Irwin Lake to the Irwin Movie Cabin, where Irwin staff were able to use a satellite phone to mobilize emergency service. The Irwin guide company also sent two of its employees to the accident site to access the situation and provide medical support.
“We were on top of Scarp Ridge with our guests when I received communication from our staff at the Movie Cabin that there had been an accident near the Y,” said Billy Rankin, director of guide operations for Irwin Guides. “We immediately sent Stu, our mechanic down to suss the scene out. Mike Barney, one of our guides and a certified Wilderness First Responder, was right behind him with medical gear and our rescue sled. When the victim came to he was confused and complaining of neck and arm pain. Mike took control of the scene, spinally immobilized the victim, loaded him onto the rescue sled and then evacuated him to the trailhead, where EMS was waiting.”
Crested Butte Ambulance and Emergency Services then transported the victim to the Gunnison Valley Hospital where he was evaluated. His injuries, which included damage to his cervical spine and a brain bleed, were determined significant and he was flown to Grand Junction for further treatment.
“Because we were nearby and able to both contact emergency medical services through activating 911 and quickly assist on scene, we were able to get the young man off the snow and into medical care sooner rather than later,” said Rankin. “Even though we are a private guide operation, we want people to know that we are out there serving the area as a resource. The Irwin Movie Cabin has communication capabilities, and we are often able act as first responders. In situations where we are closer than any other help or coverage, we are happy to activate help and to do whatever we can to assist the community.”
According to Rankin, Irwin Guides responds to about three or four accidents in the Kebler Pass/West Elk area each winter. These accidents can range from snowmobile crashes, to people getting lost or stuck, to avalanches.
“It’s a matter of safety that people know we’re out there,” Rankin said. “We have trained guides, communication capabilities in all weather, basic life support and rescue gear and often the ability to perform evacuations to the trailhead. Since we’re already out there, we can often respond faster than Search and Rescue, which can take some time to activate. In any situation the goal is to activate 911 as soon as possible.”