A snowboarder lost out of bounds near Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on Friday evening tried to burn a shirt to keep warm before rescuers found him, a park official said Sunday.
Jackson Hole ski patrollers, who were helping rangers from Grand Teton National Park, found Steven Sprague, 20, of Rapid City, South Dakota, at 6:20 p.m. in the park’s Granite Canyon, adjacent to the resort. He was in good shape but unprepared to spend the night. He was helped to the trailhead by 10:30 p.m., park and resort officials said.
“It could have turned out much more serious than it was,” park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said Sunday. Because he was at the resort, “he didn’t have a lot of clothing on” or equipment for a bivouac, she said.
“When Mountain Resort ski patrollers got to him, he was trying to make a fire with his outer shirt,” Skaggs said. “He was stripped down to his T-shirt.”
“One of the serious parts is this happened late in the day,” Skaggs said. Temperatures that dipped to about 20 degrees could have made a night out dangerous. “He wouldn’t have had that extra warmth if he had had to spend the night,” she said of the shirt.
Officials gave the following account of Sprague’s excursion.
He and friends left the resort’s south boundary at 4:20 p.m. headed for Cody Bowl. Friends realized they were going the wrong way and shouted to Sprague, but they could not get his attention because he was wearing earphones for an iPod.
Instead of staying on the east side of Rendezvous Mountain, Sprague went west into the Granite Creek drainage in Grand Teton. The route winds around the ski area for several miles, much of it difficult to traverse on a snowboard, before emptying out in the valley.
Sprague’s friends got back to the resort and alerted ski patrollers.
Ski patrol leader Jake Elkins checked avalanche danger and sent three of his team after the missing snowboarder. Because of the steep, cliff-studded terrain, Elkins set up a command center at the top of the ski mountain to help park rangers with the rescue. Rangers began searching the canyon from the bottom up.
At approximately 5:30 p.m., the three patrollers picked up a fresh snowboard track in an area known as Targhee Woods. Soon after, they found Sprague and helped him down to the rangers, a snowmobile and the trailhead.
Resort officials used the incident to remind skiers and snowboarders of the risks involved in leaving boundaries to ski or ride areas that are not patrolled. Officials also warned about avalanches and urged backcountry travelers to use the daily Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center forecast, found online at www.jhavalanche.org.
While the search for Sprague was underway, the park got a call from two Minnesota men who said they became disoriented while snowshoeing the trails to Bradley and Taggart lakes.
Ross Trooien, 26, of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, and Gordon Mammel, 25, of Minneapolis, called and told park workers they were disoriented but near cabins, Skaggs said.
Officials told the two to go to the cabins and wait, figuring they were either at the shuttered American Alpine Club Climbers’ Ranch or seasonal employee park housing nearby. A worker was grooming a ski trail in the area and took his machine into the Climbers’ Ranch where he found the two, Skaggs said.
They got out at 7:30 p.m.