“Backcountry Zero” Aims to Reduce Deaths in Tetons

Initiative promotes training, education to limit fatalities

new initiative in Teton County, Wyo., aims to cut down fatalities among climbers, rafters, and other outdoor enthusiasts around one of America’s most iconic national parks.

Stephanie Thomas, the executive director of the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation, described Backcountry Zero “a vision” aimed at promoting safety and preparedness in the backcountry.

“It’s about looking as a community about what we can do to bring more attention to these deaths — and have fewer deaths,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the idea came from Sweden’s Vision Zero, an effort aimed at reducing driving fatalities through education and road construction. Because of its success, Thomas proposed a similar model for limiting backcountry deaths.

Each year, 40 volunteers at Teton County Search and Rescue respond to around 80 calls, not including calls to the Jenny Lake Rangers in Grand Teton National Park. The volunteers have started giving backcountry visitors safety information upon arrival, and also offer a yearly “What’s in your pack?” class for instructors to review what to carry when heading into the backcountry.

Thomas says she wants Backcountry Zero to build upon these efforts and create a “common language among user groups” that prompts people to think about their equipment, education and consequences of their actions.

She hopes Backcountry Zero will get people thinking more about their safety and preparedness, and that when they get home, they will think, “I am the zero today.”

The kickoff included a snow and avalanche workshop, the screening of Meru—a film about three climbers attempting a summit in the Himalayas—and other outdoor educational seminars.