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08 June 2023

Lost woman found dead, son frostbitten


Sheriff's officials found a woman dead of exposure and her teenage son suffering from frostbite Tuesday, ending a three-day search for a family of three that went missing amid a series of mishaps while snowmobiling in the Medicine Bow Mountains.

Searchers had found the father in good condition Monday after he went for help and became separated from the other two.

The couple's 18-year-old son was being treated at a Colorado hospital and was in stable condition, Albany County Undersheriff Robert DeBree said.

"He has a lot of frostbite," DeBree said.

Officials weren't identifying the Cheyenne family. Both parents were 46.

It was a depressingly common tragedy for the Rockies in winter. Each weekend, thousands of snowmobilers crowd groomed trails or explore less-traveled reaches of the high country.

Each trip risks hazards from avalanches to foul weather and equipment problems. All too often, stranded snowmobilers find themselves struggling against the snow instead of playing in it, like when Olympic gold medalist wrestler Rulon Gardner became stranded on his snowmobile and spent a night in the Wyoming backcountry in 2002. He lost a toe to frostbite.

This time, multiple problems — harsh weather and malfunctioning machines — built into a disaster that played out over three days and nights.

Heavy snow and strong winds slammed the southeast Wyoming mountains Saturday night. That was the last thing the Cheyenne family needed after one of their three snowmobiles broke down during an outing in the Medicine Bows.

The family built a fire and spent Saturday night in a snow cave, DeBree said.

Attempts by the father to find help Sunday failed when another snowmobile got stuck in ice and the handlebars of the third broke off, stranding him away from the others. Searchers found him Monday after he spent a second night in the mountains in a snow cave.

The search involved two rescue helicopters and several searchers on snowmobiles. By Monday, the weather was windy but clear and not too chilly, allowing teams to fan out amid many recreational snowmobilers enjoying Martin Luther King Jr. Day away from work.

In western Colorado, three snowmobilers reported missing were found safe Monday after spending a night in the backcountry. Two of their machines had mechanical problems, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent reported. Their names weren't released.