Gillespie and three companions skied into Berry Creek canyon in the northern Teton Range on Thursday, January 24, intending to do a multi-day backcountry ski trip. On Sunday afternoon, Gillespie and one companion skied a run on the southeast face of Survey Peak. They then returned with a third member of their party to ski a final run. During that final run, the group planned to ski at one-minute intervals and fan out across the treed slopes. Gillespie was the last person to ski, and is believed to have triggered the avalanche that caught him. Gillespie was carried approximately 220 feet into trees where he was pinned and left partially buried with his head and one arm above the snow. The total slide path spanned 540 feet. The second skier encountered fresh avalanche debris, and believing that the first skier may have triggered it, immediately initiated a beacon search. He also called out and heard the first skier respond from below. He skied down to the first skier and learned that she was unaware of the avalanche. He then immediately skinned back of the slope to search with his avalanche beacon for Gillespie, and located him about 20 minutes after the accident occurred. He initiated CPR, and was eventually joined by the two other members of the party. In total, they performed CPR for approximately 1 ½ hours with no success.
Due to the remote area and spotty cell service, Gillespie’s companions were not able to make an emergency call for help until late evening. Teton Interagency Dispatch Center received notice of the incident at 9 p.m. on Sunday. Because of the late hour and confirmation that Gillespie did not revive during CPR, rangers made arrangements to recover Gillespie’s companions and his body during daylight hours on Monday, January 28. The surviving party of three stayed the night in a National Park Service patrol cabin located about one mile from Survey Peak.
Four rangers were flown into Berry Creek canyon at 11 a.m. Monday and two of the skiers were flown out during the single flight. Deteriorating weather conditions halted additional flights until late afternoon when Gillespie’s body plus one of his partners and all rescue personnel were flown out of the backcountry just before nightfall.
The avalanche danger on Sunday, January 27 was listed as low for mid-elevation terrain. The crown of the avalanche on Survey Peak occurred at 8,405 feet.
Rangers recommend that backcountry users get the latest avalanche conditions and monitor both local weather and changing snow conditions. Backcountry users should also be prepared for all aspects of backcountry travel and travel with others, plus carry basic avalanche equipment such as a shovel, avalanche probe, avalanche beacon, and first aid kit. For local avalanche conditions visitwww.jhavalanche.org or call 307.733.2664.