Steamboat Springs — Two men, who were rescued by Routt County Search and Rescue on Jan. 12 during a mission that injured a volunteer in an avalanche, are grateful to the organization, but they believe some wrong information was given to the public.
It was originally thought that Minnesota residents Tom Trutna and Jerry Baack had to be rescued by Search and Rescue under similar circumstances four years ago at the north fork of the Fish Creek drainage. It was also believed the men did not have avalanche equipment and other backcountry safety gear.
Those revelations infuriated Routt County commissioners last week, who were interested in trying to recover the cost of the rescue and medical bills associated with the injured volunteer, Jay Bowman, who had to undergo surgery and have a plate with 13 screws put into his upper arm. The county also discussed the case with the District Attorney’s Office to see if criminal charges were appropriate.
In recent telephone interviews, Trutna and Baack said they had never needed to be rescued by Search and Rescue prior to Jan. 12.
“It was guys that we’ve skied with on this trip before,” Trutna said.
They also said they had some essential equipment, including shovels, avalanche beacons, probes, extra clothes and a way to start a fire.
“It wasn’t like we were morons who went off the bus with not a hope and a prayer,” Trutna said.
Trutna acknowledged they were not totally prepared. They did not have headlamps. Trutna had Alpine skis and did not have skins. Baack was on a snowboard and did not have snowshoes to walk through the deep snow at the bottom of the canyon.
“In that capacity, we were ill equipped,” Trutna said.
Trutna said it was his seventh year coming to Steamboat, where he and friends split their time in the backcountry and at Steamboat Ski Area.
On Jan. 12, Trutna said his group was skiing the same runs used by Steamboat Powdercats, but they went left where they should have stayed right. This put them over a ridge and into the canyon.
“We clearly weren’t paying attention,” Trutna said. “We knew fairly quickly in hindsight we should have stopped and tried to hike out. A small, very seemingly small mistake leads to consequences that are big and could have been bigger.”
Trutna and Baack found themselves in a bad situation, and a friend called Search and Rescue and relayed information. Search and Rescue President Chad Bowdre said this was partly to blame for some of the poor information. Bowdre said Search and Rescue was told the men were not prepared to spend the night.
While waiting for Search and Rescue, Trutna said he and Baack dug six feet down into the snow and built a snow cave.
“We were completely prepared to stay the night,” Trutna said.
Trutna and Baack said they are grateful for the Search and Rescue organization, and they feel horrible about what happened to Bowman, but they wanted to set the record straight because community members were getting so upset.
Trutna has made a $2,000 donation to Search and Rescue.
“The donation was simply to say ‘thank you’ and help them keep up the good work,” Trutna said.
Bowdre said Search and Rescue was against the county commissioners trying to recover costs associated with the mission.
“We’re out there helping people and not charging,” Bowdre said.
None of the state’s search and rescue organizations charge for rescues because they believe it could deter people from calling for help.