Short-haul heli team rescues man in remote area of Madison Range
By Jason Bacaj MANAGING EDITOR
A skier attempting to circumnavigate Sphinx Mountain in the southern Madison range on Sunday was rescued by a short-haul helicopter team with Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue Big Sky Section.
The person had started from the Madison Valley side and completed a portion of the scenic loop before he fell ill and found himself unable to get out of the backcountry alone, according to a release from Gallatin County.
“It’s amazing how quickly you can get yourself into these remote areas (around Big Sky),” said Andy Driesbach, a member of the three-person short-haul team that made the rescue.
The man is “a phenomenal athlete and very well versed in backcountry pursuits,” Driesbach said. He added that without a helicopter available, the rescue would have been significantly more complicated.
“Just the cumbersome nature of trying to get to this arduous spot would have been potentially a multiple day rescue,” Driesbach said.
In addition to the heli team, GCSSAR volunteers on the ground massed at Buck Ridge, south of Big Sky, and snowmobiled toward Circle Mountain to help, according to the county statement. The helicopter team flew directly to the skier, picked him up and left him with a Madison County deputy sheriff.
Driesbach said helicopters are a unique tool to have in search and rescue toolkit, but one that’s a necessity with the remote areas around Big Sky and Gallatin and Madison counties. Of the handful of SAR teams around the country that have a short-haul helicopter team, Gallatin County’s is the only one without an exclusive use contract, which guarantees access to a helicopter and a qualified pilot.
The athlete who needed rescuing on Sunday had a stroke of luck that a helicopter was available when he needed it. Helicopters and qualified pilots typically have better availability in the winter than in the summer, Driesbach said, because during summer pilots can often be off fighting wildfires, logging or doing utility work.
“Knocking on wood, we get lucky more often than not,” Driesbach said. “But, at some point in time, our luck’s gonna run out.”