Features

Two winters ago, a man skiing the Maverick backcountry line in Grand Teton National Park had a heart attack. His wife called 911.

When Jess King, supervisor for Teton County Search and Rescue, received the call, she got to work immediately. Time was ticking. Working with the Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers and Teton County Search and Rescue squads, she coordinated with the teams to safely reach the man as quickly as possible. Rescuers evacuated him via helicopter, flying him off the mountain and to the hospital. He survived.

“When you save someone’s life, it’s something you never forget,” King says.

King moved to Jackson in 2004 with her then-boyfriend, now husband, Jona King. She’d grown up in Acton, Massachusetts, and her family hiked, camped, and backpacked in the Adirondack mountains.

Both Jess and Jona were working as hydrogeological technicians back East and wanted a change. They planned, as many people do, to come to Jackson for a single winter. During her interview at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort she said she knew how to ski—a bit of an exaggeration—but working at Corbet’s Cabin on top of the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram allowed her plenty of practice.

A year or so later King took a job at Rendezvous Engineering. One of her colleagues was a former search and rescue volunteer, and she became intrigued by the possibility of joining the group. He told her the most important skill volunteers needed was the ability to act as a good team member. King, who wasn’t previously sure if search and rescue was right for her, figured she could be a good team member, so she decided to give it a go.

"When you save someone’s life, it’s something you never forget."
Jess King

“Jackson was a place I found a real home in, and the community really supported me,” she says. “I wanted to find a way to give back.”

In 2006, she applied to Teton County Search and Rescue and became an operational member in 2007. She moved into a position as coordinator in 2013, and was promoted to supervisor last year. In this role, she still trains and participates in rescues with volunteers, but she also works behind the scenes, coordinating with groups like ski patrol, or agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, as well as team members in charge of equipment and gear. King also helps coordinate trainings where team members learn rigging techniques and how to safely work with helicopters.

“I help make sure we are ready to rescue 24/7,” she says. And the rescues come year-round—up to 100 per year.

In the winter and spring there are avalanches and skiing accidents. Summer brings mountain bike crashes, hiking and paragliding injuries, and river rescues, while fall involves searching for lost hunters and people injured after being thrown from horses.

According to King, the most important part of the team’s success is the synergy of its members.

“You can’t get a rescue done if you can’t work together,” she says.