Snowmobilers use chopper to retrieve faithful steeds
February 21, 2002
The nine snowmobilers who had to abandon their sleds and walk out of the backcountry Monday night hired a helicopter Thursday to retrieve their pricey gear.
DBS Helicopters of Rifle plucked the nine sleds one-by-one out of a secluded drainage on Red Table Mountain and delivered them to a trailhead on Basalt Mountain.
It was an odd sight as the chopper came into view from about four miles away with a 600-plus pound snowmobile dangling 100 feet below.
The snowmobiles cost at least $5,000 apiece, and some of the machines were valued at $9,000. That means roughly $65,000 worth of equipment was left on the hill for a couple of days by nervous owners. Wednesday’s blizzard buried them under more than a foot of snow.
The snowmobilers, including two members of West Eagle County Search and Rescue, were stranded in about the same spot in three groups.
Four snowmobilers got caught in the gulch while on a pleasure trip Sunday afternoon. They got bogged down due to deep snow and deadfall, and couldn’t climb back up the steep slope they descended.
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Three friends searched for them Monday morning.
Rescuers sent a team of six snowmobiles into the field Monday, and two members followed the snowmobile tracks into the steep drainage while others stayed on the rim. The two rescuers were also stranded.
The parties hoofed it out to Upper Cattle Creek Road and were met by other members of search and rescue.
The rescue group, which is under the umbrella of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, hired DBS Helicopters to get the two rescuers’ machines as soon as weather allowed.
The seven recreational snowmobilers jumped at the chance to piggyback on the effort.
Three of the snowmobile owners were shuttled by sled at 6 a.m. Thursday back to the drainage where they had been stranded. They moved their machines to an area where the helicopter could hover above and lift them out.
Three members of West Eagle County Search and Rescue were shuttled to the site Thursday morning by DBS owner and pilot Doug Sheffer. They hooked the sleds into a special harness for transport.
The first sled out provided a great testimonial for the manufacturer. The Ski-Doo Bombardier started on the second pull.
DBS workers Paul Rinker and Lisa Balcomb assisted at the trailhead. They said their firm does a lot of work with search and rescue crews.
“The nice thing about this mission is it’s got a happy ending,” said Balcomb.
The firm typically charges $925 an hour for its services. The operation took at least three hours.
The sheriff’s office covered the cost of retrieving the two snowmobiles owned by the search and rescue members, authorities said. The other snowmobilers were responsible for retrieval costs.
An Eagle County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said no rescue costs are charged to people assisted in cases like this.
The six workers in the field were shuttled out by helicopter when all the snowmobiles were retrieved.