About Coconino County

About Coconino County

Encompassing 18,661 square miles, Coconino County, Arizona, is the second largest county in the U.S. but one of the least populated. Our county includes Grand Canyon National Park, the Navajo, Havasupai, Hualapai and Hopi Indian Reservations, and the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world. Elevations range from 2,000 feet above sea level along the Colorado River to 12,633 feet at the summit of Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff.

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A Severe Out-Of-Bounds Injury

He's an experienced backcountry snowboarder. In fact, he's a snowboard instructor. And he did have one of the free winter backcountry permits required for entering the wilderness from the Snowbowl ski area. (Note: This permit requirement has since been discontinued).

But accidents happen, of course, and this was a bad one. The 28-year-old snowboarder lost control on some ice and slammed into a tree, breaking his femur with knee involvement, an obviously very painful and potentially life-threatening injury should shock become a factor.

The victim was fortunate, though, that he was accompanied by three friends, one of whom stayed with him while two went for help. And luckily, Ski Patrol personnel were still on the mountain. They quickly came to the aid of the injured snowboarder and packaged him in a sked. While search and rescue was en route to the scene, we were in contact with these first responders, who kept us apprised of the victim's condition and their progress down the mountain.

In the meantime, a large group of us SAR volunteers deployed the snowcat and three snowmobiles. In the snowcat were a driver, a co-pilot/navigator, and five others, including myself and two Guardian medics, one of whom is also a SAR volunteer. The plan was to get us as far in as possible in the 'cat and then for some of us to continue on foot (on snowshoes, of course) to rendezvous with Ski Patrol and the victim.

Eventually, the snowcat began to bog down in very deep snow, so the five us in the back got out and snowshoed instead to lighten the load. We caught up to the snowcat when it could go no further, and then three of us continued upslope as the sun set and the glow of the full moon permeated the fog. Despite the task at hand, I couldn't help but notice what a beautiful evening it was on the mountain, a far cry from conditions during our last rescue in the middle of a blizzard.

Soon, our whistle blasts were answered by Ski Patrol, and we veered left toward the sound. Not a minute later, we spotted our moving target, making fast downhill progress with the aid of a rope attached to the sked. We'd heard they had to make several technical lowers along the way.

Time had been of the essence from the beginning, but now rescuers were even more concerned about the patient's condition. The three of us SAR folks could see that Ski Patrol wasn't about to stop for us to catch up . They were making a beeline toward the lights of the snowmobiles, which had stopped well short of the snowcat because of a mechanical issue. So, we radioed the 'cat crew and told them to go back the way they'd come, to meet Ski Patrol and the victim further down. We then snowshoed as quickly as we could to rendezvous with the whole group and got there soon after Ski Patrol and the snowcat connected.

The victim was alert but in agony. There's just no painless, gentle way to bring someone down a mountain. Not with that kind of injury. Add to that the fact that his leg was too deformed to put on a traction splint, and you're talking one extremely miserable patient. It was too cold to administer IV fluids or painkillers, so he had to wait till he was loaded into the back of the warmer snowcat. I later heard that nothing touched the pain, and every slight bump or lurch of the snowcat made him scream, which was constant, I'm afraid.

My snowshoeing teammates and I walked out as the snowcat delivered the patient to a waiting ambulance.

All in all, the mission went very well and quite fast (though I'm sure it seemed like an eternity to the victim), thanks in large part to the coordinated effort between Ski Patrol and SAR.

See the article in the Arizona Daily Sun: Ski patrol rescues out-of-bounds skier