SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Drifting snow and gusting winds forced rescue teams on Friday to suspend a search for two skiers who are missing and feared dead in Grand Teton National Park in northwestern Wyoming.
Walker Pannell Kuhl, 27, of Salt Lake City, and Gregory Seftick, 31, of Columbia Falls, Montana, were last seen in a canyon below the Teton Mountains on Saturday, the first day of a planned two-day ski in the backcountry.
The park began a search on Monday after Kuhl failed to show up for work. But crews aided by a helicopter and search-and-rescue dogs have found no trace of the men, who likely were trapped by an avalanche that happened between Friday and Sunday.
The search was first suspended on Thursday morning when harsh winter conditions threatened the safety of rescuers.
Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said on Friday that teams are awaiting another break in the weather to resume the search, which could happen later in the day, but that relatives were braced for the possibility of bad news.
“The families have reluctantly concluded that we may not have a positive outcome; they are dealing with some hard realities,” she said.
After multiple helicopter flights through rugged, high-elevation terrain failed to uncover the men or their gear, rescuers have concentrated their efforts on snow-covered meadowlands where an avalanche brought down hundreds of feet of snow at some point between Friday and Sunday.
“There is no clue as to the whereabouts of Walker and Craig,” Skaggs said. “It is very sad for us and very frustrating for us to not know what happened to them.”
Warming daytime temperatures paired with fresh snows over loose or sugary snow have created unstable conditions in the area that are likely to trigger avalanches.
For safety, crews have set off blasts to trigger controlled avalanches in areas where teams were to scour.
The wall of snow that fell off Nez Perce peak near where Kuhl and Seftick were last seen was estimated to be 250 feet wide, 300 yards long and more than 15 feet deep.
Skaggs said alerts signaled by search dogs at the site, probes inserted into the snow, and a device that detects dense but unseen objects have yielded nothing.
The missing skiers were well-prepared for alpine conditions and equipped with probes, shovels and signaling devices that can help rescuers pinpoint their location.
Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Bohan