If you left the boundaries of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to go backcountry skiing last winter, chances are you encountered a backcountry zero intern equipped with questions. “Did you read the day’s avalanche reports?” “What’s in your pack?” “Are you heading to the backcountry with a group?”
Started last year by the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation (TCSARF), Backcountry Zero is an initiative that aims to reduce fatalities in the Tetons year-round. As it heads into its second winter, the foundation’s executive director, Stephanie Thomas, hopes to continue the conversation.
“We are analyzing all of our data so we can say what type of people are leaving the resort gates, whether or not they are prepared, and if they have the right skill-set,” Thomas says.
Steps like these help Thomas and her team of volunteers reach the right groups with the right messaging, whether it’s people enjoying backcountry skiing, floating down the Snake River, or mountain biking on Teton Pass. The goal is to impact all backcountry recreationists in the Tetons.
The first cross-sport, year-round, community-based program of its kind in the country, Backcountry Zero is mirrored after Sweden’s successful Vision Zero program aimed at road fatalities.
During a TCSARF strategic planning session in 2012, the board realized there was a need to address Jackson’s deep-rooted love of backcountry exploits and the reality of the potentially dangerous elements involved. Members of the community and key players in each realm of recreation would need to come together to educate and empower the general public. Backcountry Zero soon came to life.
Fast forward to 2016, and Thomas and her team’s program is well underway with classes, campaigns, and ambassador programs geared toward all facets of recreation in the Tetons.
Thomas first became a volunteer with Teton County Search and Rescue (TCSAR) in 2007. She was launched into her current role as executive director of TCSAR’s fundraising arm, TCSARF, in 2010 when the need for a new building called for fundraising.
She now works to educate locals and visitors in hopes of stopping people from getting into situations where they may need assistance from search and rescue. But, when rescues do occur, she helps ensure her volunteers are trained, educated, and as efficient as possible.
“We play a role in education, but it isn’t just about us educating people,” Thomas says. “It is about bringing together different people from different sectors of the community and getting them on the same page.”
Backcountry Zero gives the foundation the ability to take this message further.