STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The rescue of two lost snowmobilers in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests on Wednesday night required a helicopter airlift.
The men were unharmed, but they had to leave their sleds in the backcountry. This marks the first air rescue of the year conducted by Routt County Search and Rescue.
Search and Rescue volunteers received a call from the two snowmobilers just before 4 p.m. Wednesday. The men were from out of state and did not have a clear understanding of the area they were traveling, according to Search and Rescue incident commander Kristia Check-Hill.
The snowmobilers left from Dumont Lake earlier that day and took a trail toward Buffalo Pass. At some point, they traversed off-trail. When they decided to turn around, they were not sure how to return to the main trail.
At first, the men called Search and Rescue and simply asked for directions on how to return to Dumont Lake.
“That’s how it started,” Check-Hill said.
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Search and Rescue volunteers tried to direct the men, but spotty cellphone service complicated the matter. A few hours later, the men called emergency dispatch, which allowed Check-Hill to get a more accurate location.
“They were slightly southwest of Fish Creek Reservoir in some thick timber,” she said.
The two men were still trying to return to Dumont Lake on their own until one of the snowmobiles stopped working.
“Now, we had two guys on one sled trying to get out,” Check-Hill said.
At that point, around 7:30 p.m., Check-Hill decided to conduct a rescue. Based on the location of the men and the deep snow in the area, she and other rescue volunteers decided that a ground rescue would take too long and pose safety risks for both rescuers and the men.
“The quickest way would be to get people in from the air and then ski to them,” Check-Hill said.
She contacted Classic Air Medical, a company that provides air medical transport. Through an agreement between the company and Routt County Search and Rescue, Classic Air Medical donates two hours of its rescue services to Search and Rescue.
“We are very lucky to have that resource,” Check-Hill said.
It took almost a full two hours to complete the helicopter rescue, which required two trips from the Steamboat Springs Airport to transport Search and Rescue volunteers as well as the two snowmobilers.
The search concluded at 11 p.m. after both men arrived safely at the airport. They suffered no injuries.
Check-Hill cautioned that sending volunteers into the field for a rescue, even when they have a location of lost or injured parties, is not a simple process.
“Just because we know where you’re at, doesn’t mean we can get to you right away,” she said.
Check-Hill echoed the advice that Routt County Search and Rescue President Jay Bowman has given in the past about the need to familiarize oneself with the maps and conditions of the backcountry area where one is traveling.