BONDURANT — Two backcountry skiers were killed in separate avalanches in western Wyoming on Sunday, the first two people to die in slides this winter.
Elizabeth “Liza” Gray Benson, 28, of Jackson, died after being caught in a small slide west of Bondurant and hitting a tree, the Sublette County Sheriff’s office said. Longtime Grand Teton National Park seasonal employee Nick Gillespie, 30, of Jackson, was also caught in an avalanche around 5 p.m. Sunday on the southeast face of Survey Peak and died of injuries from the slide, park officials said Monday.
Crews were working Monday to recover their bodies.
Benson was skiing with four other people, including a doctor, in the area near Cliff and Cabin creeks, according to the sheriff’s office. The skiers called for help but during the call the doctor pronounced Benson dead.
Gillespie, who had worked on Grand Teton National Park’s trail crew the past six seasons, was with three other people who tried to resuscitate him, park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said. When they were unable to, they carried his body to a backcountry patrol cabin, where they spent the night.
They weren’t able to make a telephone call to authorities until around 9 p.m. Sunday, so rangers weren’t able to fly in to the remote area until Monday. Park officials said the avalanche danger was listed as low Sunday morning but was expected to rise to moderate in the afternoon between 9,000 and 10,500 feet, meaning human-triggered avalanches were possible.
The avalanche danger was rated as considerable Monday at middle and high-elevations in the Tetons and moderate in the Togwotee Pass and Greys River areas.
The Tetons got significant snowfall over the weekend following a prolonged dry, cold period. The snowpack is unstable because the new snow is resting on old snow that is either weak because it has crystalized and become grainy or slick because the snow melted and then turned icy, said Jim Springer of the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center.
The danger is higher on the west side of the Tetons, where up to 18 inches of snow fell Sunday.