TIM’S STRAY DOG CANTINA on a cold February night is the sort of place you’ll find locals and tourists mixing it together. Jared Bella and another volunteer called Caleb from the Taos Ski Valley search and rescue team were just finishing their supper when a call came in that five backcountry users were in trouble. Their location was the Bull of the Woods trail, a ridge topping out at around 10,500 feet in the New Mexico backcountry, found between Taos Ski Valley and Red River. This particular evening saw a group of five staying in a backcountry yurt.
A New Mexico Misadventure
Jared is an active backcountry snowboarder and a local volunteer with the local TSV SAR team. Comprised of local volunteers, many of whom work full-time jobs in the village, the TSV SAR team respond, much like thousands of other volunteers teams across North America, whenever someone is reported missing, injured or lost in the backcountry. Whatever the season, winter, spring, summer or fall, the TSV SAR team are on hand to respond.
What happened next is typical of the dangers of a backcountry adventure and how easily they can turn into a misadventure. Three of the group decided to go for a late night hike/ski, two on snowshoes and one on skis. The one on skis was the only member of the group familiar with the area and the terrain.
The two members of the group who remained at the yurt reported they could hear the two on snowshoes calling for help in the woods below them on the Red River side of the ridge. The snowshoers were close enough to be heard but too far away for their shouts to be understood.
Jared works for a snowmobile tour operation during the winter and the trailhead they regularly use, a private road running parallel to the public Bull of the Woods trail, was their route up to help those stranded.
“A few locals, Neil, Hano Blake (one of the Ski Valley family members and resort manager), Erica, Trevor, and Ramey (one of two local police officers) had already headed up the road in an old Tucker snow-cat towards the yurt,” Jared explained.
Gathering up their gear, Jared and Caleb waited for three ski patrollers to arrive with medical equipment and skis. The three patrollers, Kei Braun, Dollar Martinez and Austin Hansen soon arrived and they set out for the yurt access trail.
Arriving at the yurt Jared and the SAR crew found the two members of the group who had raised the alarm, visibly distraught they pointed the patrollers in the direction they believed their friends had travelled.
“Kei and Austin got their gear and headed out that way and after a few minutes located a set of ski tracks and a snowshoe trail. Dollar stayed at the yurt as incident commander and remained in contact with the other two patrollers via radio. After about an hour and a half we received word that they had located the two snowshoers in a private cabin about a mile and a half down below the yurt, on a Forest Service road four miles from the town of Red River,” Jared said.
Jared takes up the story; “when they lost his ski trail on the Forest Service road they decided to break into the locked cabin and wait for help to arrive. The skier had lost his sense of where they were and when he came upon the road decided to follow it downhill and ended up in Red River.
“The two ski patrollers followed the snowshoe trail to the cabin where they found the other two huddled up inside and led them down the same route to town. This had been an anticipated outcome; so Mickey Blake, one of the owners of the Ski Valley, had driven to Red River and was there to shuttle the patrollers and lost skier back to TSV.
” This was the best possible outcome for the SAR,” Jared said, “everyone was safe with no injuries.”
Taos Ski Valley only opened up its doors to snowboarders in the last few years and as soon as they did Jared promptly packed up and left Colorado. At the time I was left scratching my head, why leave the mountains of Colorado for New Mexico? Yet over the years, seeing Jared’s Facebook page fill up with his epic adventures I grew to understand why.