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    How to Prepare for Water Acitivities This Fourth of July

    By Visit Jackson Hole

    Swiftwater safety in Jackson Hole

    Summer in Teton County symbolizes a lot of things: Long days in the mountains, dusty mountain bike shuttles, floating on lakes at sunset, backyard barbecues, campfires, music, weddings, wildflowers, whitewater, fireworks. 

    For Teton County Search & Rescue’s 39 volunteers, summer also evokes the first responder trifecta of vigilance, anxiety, and adrenaline. Especially on July 4th. Since 2017, TCSAR has responded to 45 total swiftwater incidents. Five of those occurred on July 4th. Three of those were fatal. The real tragedy: None of the people killed were wearing a life jacket.

    Words by Teton County Search and Rescue

    Incident data shows us trends we have to pay attention to: People see the river as a place to have fun before they see it as an environment that’s actively trying to kill them.

    At Backcountry Zero, the education arm of the Teton County Search & Rescue Foundation, we want to create a culture of accountability on the river. We want to see a community of river ambassadors who know what to look out for and how to take action when something is trending from fun to reckless to dangerous.

    July 4th makes TCSAR volunteers nervous for a reason. Our swiftwater safety messaging will inevitably miss some people, but this year we’re approaching our prevention efforts with a tone of ‘friends don’t let their friends be irresponsible on the river.’

    So far this year, our community has already seen three swiftwater incidents on the Snake River alone. All three were in large part a consequence of the powerful heat we saw in June that rapidly melted much of our snow in the high alpine. And, they involved experienced, local boaters.

    Among other things, rapid melting can mean more aggressive hydraulics, more complex channel braiding, lower water temperatures, and once familiar rapids changing form overnight. Combine this with the classic summer cocktail of visitors, newly purchased innertubes, alcohol, cliff jumping, and forgotten PFDs, and you have a recipe for high frequency, high consequence incidents. Cue our first responders keeping their pagers close.

    Orion Hatch of the Snake River Fund reminds us that ‘There’s nothing more tragic than a fatal accident that feels preventable.’

    This swiftwater season, be prepared, practiced and present on the river. And help us help you be an ambassador for responsible recreation. Check yourself, check your friends, and make it home at the end of the day.

    In the Tetons, your best summer day can turn into your worst in the blink of an eye.

    For more resources on backcountry safety and workshops, visit the Backcountry Zero website.