Granite Canyon rescue

Teton County Search and Rescue and Grand Teton National Park rangers rescued two stranded skiers in Granite Canyon late at night Feb. 28.

A skier rescued out of Granite Canyon during high avalanche danger in February after getting lost is fighting charges that she ignored an emergency closure.

Natalie Burns, 32, is scheduled to go to trial Aug. 12 on charges of violating an emergency boundary closure and disorderly conduct.

Two of her codefendants have already pleaded guilty and one of them is awaiting a plea deal.

Grand Teton National Park officials said Burns left the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort ski boundary with three friends on Feb. 28 during an unprecedented emergency closure.

Park officials say Burns, along with Joseph Higgins, ended up lost and stuck in Granite Canyon, which triggered an overnight search and rescue.

In May one of Burns’ codefendants, Andrew Richards, issued a public apology after pleading guilty in federal court.

“To me that’s one of the most frustrating things I have experienced in society — people not owning up to things they have done wrong,” Richards said. “I can’t reiterate enough how thankful I am that everyone is OK and how sorry I am.”

Richards explained what happened in a long letter to the community and first responders of Jackson Hole.

“This lapse in judgment, though only a few seconds in duration, cost hours of time, thousands of dollars, and most importantly put the lives of multiple people in grievous danger,” Richards said. “I chose to duck a boundary and ski next to the rope line that borders Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Grand Teton National Park. Absolutely never was it my intention to lead anyone under the rope, let alone Granite Canyon.”

Richards said he, Burns, Ruth Schwietert and Joseph Higgins were skiing together when they rode the Teton chairlift up and made a plan to meet at the lower entrance to Saratoga Bowl.

Taking much of the blame, Richards said he didn’t expect all three of the other skiers to follow him out of bounds.

“After waiting for two to three minutes with no sign of the other two, I knew something had gone terribly wrong,” Richards said.

Reached on her cellphone, Burns told Richards they were lost.

“Understanding both the severity of the avalanche danger and the terrain in which they must have entered, I immediately told Natalie not to move and for her to direct Joe to do the same,” Richards said.

Burns and Higgins provided their GPS coordinates after Richards alerted Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Ski Patrol, which contacted Teton County Search and Rescue and Grand Teton National Park rangers.

Rangers reached the skiers just before midnight after using ropes and belays to descend into the Spock Chutes.

They all hiked back up to the ski area boundary, concluding the rescue just before 3 a.m.

Burns, who lives in Breckenridge, was supposed to go to trial Monday but said in a motion to continue filed by her attorney Katarine Lovett that it would be too hard to travel here from Colorado because she can’t miss nursing school classes.

The bench trial has been rescheduled for Aug. 12, which is three days after Burns’ semester ends.

Ruth Schwietert, who was facing the same charges, pleaded guilty to violating an emergency boundary closure and received three years of unsupervised probation.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Carman ordered her to pay a few thousand dollars in fines and restitution to the Grand Teton Association.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office dismissed her disorderly conduct charge with prejudice.

Joseph Higgins is set for a change of plea hearing July 22 at the Yellowstone Justice Center.

Burns’ trial is scheduled to take place at the Clifford P. Hansen Federal Courthouse in Jackson beginning at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 12, also in front of Judge Carman.

The possible penalties for each citation are up to $5,000 fine and six months in jail.

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

(2) comments

Thurs Darp

Wow... just wow... millennial think never ceases to amaze. The signs could not have been clearer, plus they ducked the rope to avoid making tracks to the gate in front of the Patrol shack. I hope she does wind up going before a jury of her peers, and they throw the entire book at her!!

Ken Chison

Undoubtedly a victim in this case.She should never have to be responsible for her actions. It's always someone else's fault. Good on the others who owned up to their actions. There's always one.

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