Aspen Shortsfest film ‘SAR’ celebrates the strength and courage of Colorado search-and-rescue team

Aspen Shortsfest film "SAR" honors the Custer County Search and Rescue team.
Courtesy photo

Colorado native Tristan Owens learned the importance of his local Search and Rescue Team firsthand when his brother suffered a life-threatening accident while out exploring the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area in the southern part of the state.

“Growing up in Colorado, we spent so much time exploring, and we had never had an incident. We were pretty lucky until my brother’s ATV rolled over on one of the trails, and he broke three ribs, two disks in his spine, and his sternum,” he said. “I did not have the expertise to be able to help him, and I just remember feeling completely helpless and completely vulnerable.”

The group was about four miles from the nearest trailhead and about an hour from the nearest hospital. The only thing he could think to do was call 911, which in turn called in the local mountain rescue team.

“They helped get my brother out,” he said. “And I started to learn things that I had no idea about search-and-rescue – one of which I believe is the most important is that they’re all volunteers. They volunteer their own time, and their resources, to be able to do what they do and keep people in the backcountry safe. So that’s how I was introduced to the story.”

That experience is the inspiration for his new documentary short film “SAR,” which will have its Colorado premiere at Aspen Shortsfest on Friday, April 5, at the Wheeler Opera House, in which he tells the story of the members of the Custer County Search and Rescue team.

“That experience was critical for me,” he said. “Because not having a resource like search-and-rescue would prevent me from being able to do things in the backcountry. Knowing that they’re there, and if for whatever reason something happens, gives me and everyone the ability in the state to do what we love to do in Colorado.”

“SAR” director and Colorado native Tristan Owens.
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Owens said he spent a lot of time researching how SAR works in the Centennial State and was impressed by what he found.

“In Colorado, search-and-rescue is equal opportunity across the board, where if they get a call, they’re going to come help you no matter what,” he said.

He said one of the most important things someone can do if they plan to spend time in the backcountry is to obtain a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) Card. The card costs $3 for one year or $12 for a five-year card. That money goes into the Colorado Search and Rescue Reimbursement Fund, which helps reimburse the expenses of search-and-rescue missions through SAR Fund grants, so that teams can receive equipment, such as radios or ropes, and send team members to special SAR training courses. The fund also pays for team or volunteer equipment that is damaged during missions.

“It’s relatively inexpensive,” he said. “And it’s not insurance. That’s an important distinction. But what it does is it gives the search-and-rescue teams a way to be able to reimburse for anything that could happen. And that’s important when some rescues can involve extensive resources.”

Tristan Owens behind the scenes while filming “SAR.”
Courtesy photo

The other thing that impressed the filmmaker was the stories of the individual volunteers and how and why they chose to dedicate their time and physical energy to help their fellow outdoorsmen. Some of those stories are highlighted in the film.

“I learned what a supportive of a group they are,” he said. “I think it was important to show people that if they want to volunteer for something like search-and-rescue, that there is a way to do it. The majority of volunteers in Colorado are over the age of 50, and I think it’s pretty incredible. I’m so grateful for them. They’ve helped me, my brother, and my family so much. And I know they’ve helped families across the state and continue to do so. It’s it’s great to be able to share their story.”

Aspen Shortsfest opens Monday, April, 1, and runs through April 7. For information and tickets:

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