Anthony Stevens was returning from a training session for Teton County Search and Rescue last February when the call came in: Snowmobile accident on Togwotee Pass. Possible broken femur.
Stevens and a small team headed to Togwotee. The victim, they learned, had been in the snow two hours. They had to work fast. The patient had a dislocated hip and was hypothermic. They treated him and drove him out of the backcountry. Stevens remembers the full moon on the pinnacles and the sense of relief. That was his first time acting as medical lead for a search and rescue team.
It turned out also to be the first episode of a new reality TV show about Teton County Search and Rescue on the Outdoor Channel that debuted Monday.
“Bone-crushing avalanches taking down skiers. Wild grizzly bears mauling hikers. Kayakers pinned under boulders in a rushing river. These people would never get out alive without the help of a fearless team of men and women, ready to deploy and save them. This is Backcountry Rescue,” the show’s website reads.
Stevens, one of the featured members of search and rescue on the show, is described on its website as “Eager rookie and local boy done good.” His bio includes an ominous question of whether he has what it takes to join the snowmobile crew and serve as medical lead on rescues. The first episode, which features the Togwotee rescue, is called “Rookie Pressure.”
The added drama, which at times in the promotional materials feels forced and cheesy, was unexpected for Stevens. He hoped the show would be more documentary than reality TV show when he agreed to participate. Still, he’s happy to share the message about what search and rescue volunteers do and how backcountry users can better keep themselves safe.
“There used to be a cloak of secrecy around what rescuers do,” he said. “This is a chance to show what really happens and what volunteers give up and endure to help people on their worst day.”
Stephanie Thomas, executive director of the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation, said she believes the show will take their message of backcountry safety beyond Jackson.
Dirk Collins, who owns OneEyedBird, a production house in Jackson, and Warm Springs Productions from Montana, spent about six months last year on-call with the volunteers to film the eight-episode series.
They filmed rescues of lost and injured snowmobilers and skiers, as well as avalanche missions. They even documented a winter cave rescue, said Tim Ciocarlan, chief advisor to the sheriff’s office with Teton County Search and Rescue.
From the first discussion about filming the show, safety was the biggest concern, he said. Some rescues the film crew could not attend and film because of danger or logistics. Production only worked because they trusted Collins and the rest of the film crew, who Ciocarlan described as “mountain people,” who understood what was at stake.
Search and rescue volunteers could opt out of being captured on camera. Ciocarlan agreed to be filmed. He’s described on the show’s website as the “seasoned veteran with an uncompromising eye for detail.” He says he was the least interesting character.
The cast of characters also includes Jake Urban, “The Snow Doctor,” and his wife, Marilynn Davis, the “Unproven Rookie.”
“How will she perform and what will it mean for her marriage to Jake?” the website says. A teaser for the third episode, called “Married to the Job” says the couple has to cancel a dinner party to attend to an injured skier on Teton Pass.
AJ Wheeler, an emergency room doctor at St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson, faces the triple challenge of training rookies, practicing medicine and being a family man. “Can one of the best backcountry docs in Wyoming continue to juggle it all?” the website asks.
They are joined by featured members Jess King, “The First Mate,” Chris Leigh, “Small Town Attorney,” Cody Lockhart, “The Cattle Ranching Financial Advisor,” Jon Widie, “The Fun Hog,” Flip Tucker, “Snowmobile Expert, Mentor to Rookies and ‘Biggest Hillbilly on the team’” and Jamie Yount, “Bomb Thrower.”
Ciocarlan said it was “a little bit corny,” but he’s happy the way the very real risks of the backcountry and what it takes for a successful rescue mission are shown. The rescues aren’t re-enactments. They are real.
“Things can get out control in the backcountry if you [don’t have] a plan,” he said. “You need to be prepared. You need to take care of your group.”
Backcountry Rescue airs Monday nights on the Outdoor Channel.