Boulder backcountry skier ends up self-rescuing after an overnight in the woods
By Kristy Acuff
Three members of the Crested Butte Search and Rescue team made the long trek to Marble, Colo. early Sunday morning to search for a skier who had spent the night somewhere in the Raggeds Wilderness.
The Crested Butte team was one of three search and rescue teams summoned to search for a 47-year old Boulder man who left on a solo backcountry ski early Saturday morning from the trailhead where Yule Creek reaches McClure Pass near Marble.
The skier’s friends waited until 9 p.m. Saturday to report him missing, initially to the West Elk Search and Rescue based in Paonia. Officials from West Elk Search and Rescue then reached out to both Aspen and Crested Butte for assistance with the operation.
“It was midnight on Saturday by the time we got the call from West Elk. A team of three of us—myself, Erika Hosier and Ben Breslauer—left Crested Butte at 6 a.m. Sunday and by the time we reached the trailhead, Aspen had three teams out in the field already searching,” says Jeff Duke of Crested Butte Search and Rescue.
“The area is filled with tight trees, lots of terrain traps and at this point has very little snow. It is a perfect place for a skier to get hung up on a tree and injured or stuck in a tree well,” he said.
Because the Aspen teams were already in the field, the Crested Butte team stayed close to the trailhead, searching the dense trees until late in the afternoon.
By three p.m. Sunday, the Aspen teams were returning to the trailhead and Duke was readying to take over the operation the following day.
“The Aspen teams told us they would not be continuing the search on Monday, and because it falls in our jurisdiction, Gunnison County, we were gearing up to head the operation the next day,” says Duke.
Fortunately, the skier emerged from the woods at Ericson Springs campground just after 4 p.m. and the search was called off.
According to his Facebook account, the skier realized he was lost as it was getting dark and decided to focus on preserving his energy and keeping his wits about him. He bushwhacked down a drainage, determined not to spend the night in the wilderness, until his second headlamp ran out and then finally decided to find a place to spend the night. At that point he was too exhausted to build a fire and instead sat on his pack, wrapped himself in a space blanket and leaned against a pine tree for the night. He spent the night shivering but survived with only minor frostbite to his fingers and toes.
By his own account, the skier made several poor decisions that led to his overnight stay in the wilderness. Number one, he decided to ski alone after his partner bailed on their plans. Number two, instead of skiing down his typical descent, he followed a pair of ski tracks that descended into unfamiliar terrain. Number three, when those tracks climbed back up to the ridge, this skier abandoned them and continued down, mistakenly assuming he would encounter a drainage to follow back to the trailhead. And finally, the skier was under-prepared without a map (although he left one in his car), and with limited food and warm clothing. After skiing approximately 18 miles over 28 hours, he emerged relatively unscathed.