The turnout at a first-time event last week proves how much locals appreciate Teton County Search and Rescue.

Or maybe people just love helicopters.

Either way, hundreds of people showed up Thursday to watch a short-haul demonstration at the base of Snow King Mountain.

“I have never dangled from a helicopter before,” said donor Nick Wheeler, who acted as a patient during the demonstration. “The touchdown was unbelievably gentle.”

Wheeler has a unique appreciation for search and rescue work after a team rescued his son in Hawaii a few years back.

“They pulled him off a cliff,” the Teton County resident said. “These guys all really know what they’re doing.”

The close-up look at a faux helicopter rescue celebrated the finale of search and rescue’s successful Heli-Yes campaign. The funding drive secured enough donations for the organization to provide helicopter services and essential training in May and October, gap months between pilot contracts with Teton County Search and Rescue and Grand Teton National Park.

“This time of year a lot of people are going up into the park and doing bigger routes and skiing bigger lines,” Search and Rescue volunteer Phillip Fox said. “If we didn’t have the helicopter it would take twice as long — or even up to a day or a half a day — to reach someone.”

May and October are no longer the sleepy shoulder seasons of Jackson Hole’s yesteryear.

“Spring and fall are critical months in the Tetons,” Fox said. “In the fall it’s also important to be able to reach hunters or others who might be injured.”

Being able to bring the Search and Rescue helicopter to Teton County in October will ensure volunteers are trained and ready for short-haul operations before winter arrives.

“The short-haul program allows us to access tight locations or a forested area much faster,” Fox said. “There’s always that golden hour we are thinking about.”

Thursday’s short-haul demonstration showed two scenarios.

The first patient, Colleen Valenstein, played someone stuck in the backcountry but not severely injured. Rescuers packaged her about midway up Snow King Mountain and flew her to the ball field at the base.

On the second round, Wheeler played a severely injured patient who needed spinal support. Volunteers packaged him in what looked like a body bag but what they call a Bauman bag, where only his face is exposed.

“All I could see was sky and helicopter,” Wheeler said. “It was interesting. I had no sense of what direction we were going. I couldn’t tell if we were going forward or backward.”

Spectators watched from the base of the mountain or from Stillwest Brewery and Grill’s upper deck, where Search and Rescue volunteers were staged to answer questions from donors or potential donors.

To read more about the Heli-Yes campaign, visit TetonCountySAR.org.

Contact Emily Mieure at 732-7066 or courts@jhnewsandguide.com.

Emily Mieure covers criminal justice and breaking news. She has reported for WDRB TV in Louisville, Ky., WFIE TV in Evansville, Ind., and WEIU TV in Charleston, Ill.

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