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Summit County Rescue Group starts new year with 4 calls in 3 days

All-volunteer nonprofit finished 2021 with a record 217 calls

Flight for Life crew members load a patient before taking off for St. Anthony Summit Hospital from Quandary Peak on Monday, Jan. 3. It was the Summit County Rescue Group’s fourth call in three days.
Brian Binge/Summit County Rescue Group

Summit County Rescue Group has been receiving a record amount of calls multiple years in a row — with 217 coming in 2021 — and the trend doesn’t show any sign of stopping. The all-volunteer nonprofit organization has already responded to four calls in the first three days of January.

“It leaves you to wonder, as a mission coordinator, ‘At what point is this going to plateau?’” spokesperson Charles Pitman said. “It has to sometime; it can’t go forever. It just shows you the nature of what we’re dealing with in Summit County.”

Two of the calls were resolved relatively quickly. There was a potentially lost snowmobiler at Spring Creek, who was located, and a person skinning the Peaks Trail, who made it to their rendezvous later than planned.



“Some of them can take five to 10 minutes to clear, and some of them can take five or six or seven hours to clear — even if we never send teams in the field,” Pitman said. “It all depends on what the call is.”

The third call was a natural avalanche that happened Monday, Jan. 3, on Buffalo Mountain. There were no injuries or burials related to the slide. Pitman said the report noted that the slide happened in the “caldera,” which he assumes is the east-facing, prominent bowl on the mountain. Witnesses saw the slide and called it in at 11:54 a.m. That’s something Pitman said he encourages people to do, even if there is no imminent danger, so the group is aware of the situation.



The current avalanche danger is rated as considerable (3 out of 5) for Tuesday, Jan. 4, and Wednesday, Jan. 5, and Pitman said people should use caution even though they might think it isn’t that dangerous.

“If you look at the write-up on considerable, you can almost consider it high,” Pitman said. “It’s just that: It’s considerable danger. You have to watch when you go out there.”

A Flight for Life helicopter takes off at Quandary Peak on Monday, Jan. 3. Summit County Rescue Group responded to a call about a lost individual.
Brian Binge/Summit County Rescue Group

The fourth call to search and rescue came at 1:30 p.m. Monday. The group was alerted that an individual had strayed off the eastern trail of Quandary Peak at roughly 12,800 feet in elevation. Pitman said it was a skier who had apparently made a wrong turn, and the high winds likely caused the man to lose the trail very quickly.

Pitman said five team members flew in along with a ground team of two people on skis and skins. They took 200 feet of rope and a rescue toboggan in case the person wasn’t ambulatory enough to get into the helicopter. Pitman said Flight for Life at one point believed they spotted the individual and said he didn’t appear to be moving very fast, if at all.

“Of course when we see that, we have to really get into high gear,” Pitman said.

Pitman said they were able to find the individual and assess him, deciding that it would be worthwhile to fly him out. Two Flight for Life helicopters responded to the incident, but only one was needed to transport the man to St. Anthony Summit Hospital for further observation. The rescue ended at 6:50 p.m.

Pitman said wind chill and high elevation have to be taken into account with backcountry excursions, as it’s easy to reach subzero temperatures.

A Summit County Rescue Group team member prepares his gear for the trip down from Quandary Peak on Monday, Jan. 3. The nonprofit responded to a record 217 calls in 2021.
Brian Binge/Summit County Rescue Group

Pitman didn’t know whether the person summited and overexerted himself, but he said he knows that if someone is underprepared with inadequate food and water, they might find themselves burning energy when shivering in the cold, which can lead to disorientation and affect how people get down a mountain.

“It’s not unusual for a person to make the summit, and, all of a sudden, on the way back down, they find out it’s a longer slog than they thought,” Pitman said.

Pitman stressed preparation for anyone planning to head outdoors this winter. He said people can get lost on a simple hike or snowshoe trip when winds blow tracks away, and they should be mindful of their surroundings, especially if they’re not familiar with the trail or how to get back out. One tip he suggested was a GPS app to help.

He also added that contacting the Summit County Rescue Group doesn’t translate to instant safety, since it’s a volunteer group that takes time to mobilize from across the county. The person being rescued should be ready to wait with plenty of supplies.

“Be prepared to hunker down for a period of time in weather like we have right now,” he said. “How are you going to stay warm? How are you going to keep the wind off of you?”

Summit County Rescue Group responded to 217 calls in 2021, setting a new record from 2020's high of 178.
Nicole Miller/Summit Daily News

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