Routt County Search and Rescue found four snowmobilers unharmed Sunday morning after they had spent the night in the backcountry on Rabbit Ears Pass.
Two parties -- a 28-year-old man and a 38-year-old man from the Castle Rock area and a 43-year-old man and 40-year-old man from Arvada -- used backcountry survival skills to weather the night near the Rabbit Ears rock formation, Routt County Search and Rescue member Darrel Levingston said.
Routt County Search and Rescue was contacted at about 9 p.m. Saturday with a report that the two parties had not returned from snowmobiling that day. Search and Rescue surmised that the groups could weather the night and decided to start searching for them Sunday morning.
With the help of about 30 search and rescue members and local snowmobilers, both groups were found by 9:20 a.m., Levingston said. When found, all four men were in good health.
"Everyone was very well-prepared. All four stayed warm and dry and comfortable. They used their heads and had packs with them," he said. "It made all the difference in the world."
The two men from Arvada reached the ridge with the Rabbit Ears rock formation Saturday afternoon, decided they could not return back to the parking area before dark and made plans to camp out for the night.
The two were on the west side and on top of the ridge. They built a snow cave and put pine boughs on the bottom to spend the night. High winds, which reached 30 to 40 miles per hour, prevented the men from building a fire, Search and Rescue Incident Commander Russ Sanford said.
Three snowmobilers from search and rescue and members of the men's party found them on the Rabbit Ears Ridge on Sunday morning. Members from the group had last seen the men heading toward that area and suspected they had stayed close to the ridge that night.
The two men from Arvada said they had seen the two Castle Rock men go over the side of the ridge and down the steep north face.
The two Castle Rock men did go down the face, realized they could not take a snowmobile back up the face, and got turned around and had trouble finding a way out of the area, Sanford said.
The two Castle Rock men started a fire by using a stick and a spark plug from the snowmobile. They also had a field saw, which was used to cut firewood. The two had a fire going throughout the night.
In daylight, the men reportedly found a way out of the area heading east, Sanford said.
While riding in the snow cat, search and rescue members found the two Castle Rock men.
The snow cat was taking skiers and snowshoers out to search the north face of Rabbit Ears Ridge, which they thought was too steep to take a snowmobile down, Levingston said.
Sanford and Levingston said the successful mission partially was because of both parties being prepared to spend the night in the backcountry.
A field saw is a crucial tool to have for cutting down firewood in the snow-covered woods during winter months, Sanford said.
The men also were dressed appropriately for a cold night outside, and the group that built the snow cave had shovels, Sanford said.
The incident is a good reminder for people to be prepared to spend the night when they go into the backcountry, Levingston said.
"Even for an hour snowshoe lap, you have to take stuff to be prepared to spend the night," he said. "No one goes out planning to get stuck or to spend the night."
Search and rescue had more than 20 people on the mission. The group had 14 snowmobilers divided into three teams, and seven skiers and snowshoers, Levingston said. The group also had help from snowmobilers with Routt County Powder Riders and from the Grand and Jackson county areas.