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Home National & State Parks Grand Teton Bodies of Skiers Killed in Grand Teton Avalanche Recovered

Bodies of Skiers Killed in Grand Teton Avalanche Recovered

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The bodies of expert backcountry skiers Steve Romeo, 40, of Jackson, Wyo. and Chris Onufer, 42, of Teton Village, Wyo. were recovered March 8, 2012 from avalanche debris at Grand Teton National Park.

A team of Grand Teton National Park rangers, Teton Interagency personnel, Teton County Search and Rescue (SAR) members and the Teton County contract helicopter brought out the bodies just before noon.

grand_teton_avalanche"The tragic loss of Steve and Chris is deeply felt by everyone in Grand Teton National Park," said park Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott. "These two individuals have touched so many in the park and in our community. Our sincere condolences are extended to the family and friends of Steve and Chris. Hopefully all who loved them can find a measure of solace knowing they died doing what they both loved - skiing."

Onufer was maintenance manager for the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort tram, while Romeo was dedicated to backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering in the Jackson Hole and Grand Teton area, and a much-followed blogger on skiing at TetonAT.com.

Onufer also was a member of the Teton Village Fire Department and an associate member of Jackson Hole Fire/EMS.

Officials said Romeo and Onufer were buried by a large avalanche sometime Wednesday, March 7. The men were in a couloir, a broad mountain gully prone to avalanches, on a ridge that forms the north wall of Waterfalls Canyon.

Based on evidence at the scene, park rangers believe the pair was ascending with skins on their skis when a large soft slab avalanche released, sending them more than 2,000 feet down the couloir.

The crown, or top of the avalanche, broke at about 10,300 feet in elevation and the toe of the avalanche terminated around 7,100 feet in elevation, officials said. The crown was estimated to be approximately 600 feet long with a depth of about three feet. The debris field that reached into Waterfalls Canyon had an estimated average snow depth of six feet.

Romeo was found about 150 feet from the avalanche's toe and Onufer was found about 1,500 feet above Romeo. Teton County Coroner Kiley Campbell determined the cause of death to be blunt force trauma. Both Romeo and Onufer were located near the surface of the debris.

According to officials, Onufer was reported missing to the Teton County Sheriff's Office at 10:36 p.m. on Wednesday. Sheriff's deputies began a missing persons investigation on Wednesday night after Onufer failed to pick up his father from the Jackson Hole Airport at 7 p.m.

At 10:47 p.m. it was learned that Onufer had intended to go skiing in Grand Teton National Park Wednesday morning with a friend.

At 11:16 p.m. a Grand Teton National Park ranger began sweeping trailheads popular for backcountry skiers in the park's south district.

As more information became available a ranger in the Colter Bay area began sweeping the areas in the north district of Grand Teton National Park. Onufer's vehicle was located near the Colter Bay swim beach just after 12:30 a.m. Thursday.

With the support of Teton County Sheriff's Office Dispatch, park rangers worked throughout the night to notify rescuers and establish a search plan. On Thursday at 2:23 a.m. the incident commander requested the Teton County Search and Rescue contract helicopter be made available at first light for the search efforts.

A morning briefing was held at 6 a.m. at Colter Bay while two park rangers responded to the county search and rescue hanger to meet the helicopter.

The Teton County Search and Rescue contract helicopter, with two Grand Teton National Park rangers on board, spotted the avalanche at 8:40 a.m. Thursday on a ridge that forms the north flank of Waterfalls Canyon. Rangers decided to immediately overfly the debris field.

The helicopter searched the avalanche debris with a transceiver hanging below the ship in an attempt to pick up any signals from avalanche beacons. At 8:48 a.m. the transceiver picked up two positive beacon hits.

The helicopter proceeded to a landing zone in the Colter Bay area on the east side of Jackson Lake. Just before 11 a.m., a team of seven rangers was flown to Waterfalls Canyon near the toe of the avalanche where they began a probe search of the debris.

By 11:45 a.m. the bodies of Onufer and Romeo had been located and removed from the debris.

The helicopter delivered them to the west side of Jackson Lake. From there, Rangers on snowmobiles transported Romeo and Onufer to the east side of Jackson Lake where they were met by the Teton County Coroner.

The threat of avalanche remains a strong danger in the Jackson Hole / Grand Teton area.

The danger level for Friday afternoon, March 9, in the high elevations (9,000 to 105,00 feet) was listed as considerable by the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center.

With a danger level 3 Considerable rating, skiers are warned of dangerous avalanche conditions. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making are essential. Natural avalanches are possible, and human-triggered avalanches likely.

The Website for the official home page for the Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center can be found at
www.jhavalanche.org and the Website for Grand Teton National Park can be found at www.nps.gov/grte/ .

 
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