Vail Mountain Rescue Group set a rescue record with 147 missions in 2018
VMR’s Rescue record
EDWARDS — Heroes run toward danger when everyone else is running away, and Vail Mountain Rescue crews ran toward danger a record 147 times in 2018.
The rescue record is relatively easy to explain, Dan Smith, of Vail Mountain Rescue said.
More people are active and going further into the backcountry looking for adventure. They’re often carrying emergency beacons, which is a good thing, and makes rescuers easier to contact.
Vail Mountain Rescue always rallies, and it never charges money.
They don’t charge one thin dime. Not one. Neither does HAATS, the Colorado National Guard’s High-Altitude Aviation Training Site helicopter crew that sometimes plucks you out of harm’s way.
“Calls are coming later and later in an event because, apparently, people seem to think we charge to come rescue them. We do not charge. The National Guard does not charge,” Smith said.
Two trifectas last weekend
Vail Mountain Rescue scored two trifectas over the New Year’s holiday weekend: three rescues on Dec. 30 and three more Dec. 31. There was the Florida couple who rented some snowshoes in Leadville and headed into the backcountry. They were both fit and perfectly competent — the husband was former military — but took a wrong turn at the intersection of the Colorado Trail and … somewhere. They ended up at 11,000 feet, hungry and freezing, before they called 911. The snow was blowing sideways and night was falling.
Smith was driving the couple down after they were found, and asked what took them so long to call.
They didn’t want to pay a big bill, they said.
“We don’t charge,” Smith replied.
The Florida couple was lucky. Night was falling and another hour might have meant disaster. But rescue crews were already in the area pulling a snowmobiler with a hideously broken leg out of the Camp Hale area.
“They were lucky. If we’d had to push it back an hour the outcome might have been much different. They were fortunate it was an area we knew well,” Smith said.
Not everyone is that lucky. Vail Mountain Rescue crews handled eight deaths in 2018. In an average year they deal with four, Smith said.
Why it’s effective
Vail Mountain Rescue is effective because of relationships, Smith said, especially with HAATS, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and Eagle County Paramedic Services, the valley’s ambulance district.
Vail Mountain Rescue started with Tim Cochrane and former Eagle County Sheriff A.J. Johnson. They worked together because they trusted each other, Smith said.
Around the Central Rockies, some sheriff’s offices and search and rescue crews work together better than others, but Smith said probably none better than Vail Mountain Rescue and the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
“These are people putting aside their own lives to help other people and spend hundreds of hours doing it,” said Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek. “That’s just missions. That does not include the thousands of hours they spend training.”
HAATS’ primary mission is to train helicopter pilots to fly in all sorts of inhospitable mountain conditions all over the world. Second on HAATS’ mission list is search and rescue. Because HAATS does not have a ground crew, Vail and Aspen’s search and rescue crews fill that role.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vail daily.com.