Jackson Hole is surrounded by miles and miles of untamed wild space.
It’s one of the characteristics that draws people here, whether for a short visit or a lifetime.
In the winter, snow blankets the forests, peaks, and meadows, inviting all kinds of adventure and fun. And though the wintry landscape often looks like a glitter-encrusted marshmallow world from a holiday tune, it can be harsh and frighteningly unforgiving. This is why Teton County Search and Rescue (TCSAR) stands ready 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. When something goes wrong, swift and professional help can be the difference between life and death.
TCSAR’s all-volunteer team of rescue experts stands at the ready to respond to any kind of backcountry mishap, including avalanches, skiing and snowmobiling accidents, and lost hikers. Many of the team’s tools and resources — like ropes, safety equipment, and helicopters — are acquired through the generosity of donors and the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation (TCSAR Foundation).
In addition to fundraising to procure the tools the TCSAR team needs, the foundation supports the volunteers through community education and advocacy. Enter Liz King.
“My role is the preventative search and rescue manager for the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation,” explains Liz with a bright smile, joking that the toughest part of stepping into this role two years ago was memorizing her lengthy title. Preventative search and rescue, she explains, is about preventing backcountry incidents before they happen. “It’s community outreach and education at its simplest.”
“In the winter, we really focus on avalanche education and preparedness,” explains Liz. The TCSAR Foundation collaborates with other groups around the valley to host an array of events aimed at increasing the community’s awareness around the potentially lethal danger of avalanches in the backcountry.
Liz brings over a decade of leadership experience with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and has taught countless avalanche courses. She’s passionate about helping people with all levels of experience stay safe on their winter adventures. But, she points out, preventing incidents isn’t only about keeping community members safe, it’s about keeping the TCSAR team safe, too.
“The safest mission for our team members is the one they never have to go on,” she affirms.
The foundation uses educational and empowering programming to ensure people “know before you go” — a catchphrase that refers to a recreator’s obligation to be aware of weather and avalanche conditions before setting out on a winter adventure.
“We host the Wyoming Snow and Avalanche Workshop in October in partnership with the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center, and throughout the season we team up with Headwall Sports to host the State of the Snowpack Series,” Liz says. The organization also offers a multitude of awareness workshops for all ages — usually based in the TCSAR helicopter hangar — including wintertime fire starting, shelter building, and basic first-aid skills.
Liz’s vision is to make Jackson Hole a community that relishes backcountry adventures and knows that there are simple, easy ways to avoid many backcountry accidents. From the items in your backpack to your communication skills and your ability to understand how changing conditions may affect your plans, Liz wants every skier, snowboarder, and snowmobiler to stay out of trouble — for your own sake, of course, but also for the sake of those ready to leave their own families and offer help when it’s needed most.
HOW TO ADVENTURE IN THE TETONS SAFELY
Staying safe in the backcountry takes more than the latest, flashiest gear. In her trainings, Liz King says, “We focus on things like your headspace, having contingency plans, and making sure you’re well-rested and aware when you’re heading out there. It’s critical that you’re an active participant in your day even if you’re the least experienced in your group.”
To that end, Liz advocates the three tenets of the Backcountry Zero program, which are aimed at reducing backcountry fatalities in the Tetons.
Be Prepared. Preparedness means having all the right gear (layers, first-aid kit, headlamp, matches, food, etc.) in addition to seeking out all the training and education you might need for your excursion (avalanche classes, first-aid/CPR training).
Be Practiced. Don’t jump into the season without being confident in using your gear and safety equipment. Take the time before you go to practice.
Be Present. Be mentally engaged when you’re in the mountains. If you’re distracted, unfocused, not suficiently rested or fed, or feeling under the weather, it’s more likely to cause a cascade of unfortunate events that can result in serious consequences.
For more information and tips visit backcountryzero.com.