Winter Park concert benefits Grand County Search and Rescue |

Winter Park concert benefits Grand County Search and Rescue

Winter Park concert benefits Grand County Search and Rescue

Mission(s) accomplished: Grand County Search and Rescue, after saving Cody and Curtis Culver, go back to find their lost dog, Stella. The Culvers will show their gratitude by hosting GCSAR's first benefit concert, Stella Gives Back.
Josh Novotny/Courtesy Photo

In September 2021, two brothers backpacking with their dog Stella in the Zirkel Wilderness near Grand County were in danger. Nearly a foot of snow had dropped on Curtis and Cody Culver, making the trail impossible to find. Needing to get back to civilization, the brothers called for aid with an emergency beacon. Grand County Search and Rescue answered their call.

The GCSAR team hiked seven miles in to find the brothers. When they arrived, Curtis’ dog shied and ran away. The decision to leave Stella behind was a difficult one for the brothers and the GCSAR team, but they determined no one could remain in the freezing temperatures to find her. However, members of GCSAR didn’t give up on Stella. On September 25, a team returned to the area for a canine rescue. After miles of hiking and using all their backcountry savvy, the team found Stella. They gained the dog’s trust, leading her out of the wild and back home to the Culvers.

Fast forward a year later—the Culvers are showing their appreciation of GCSAR not only saving them, but going above and beyond to save Stella. The brothers will host the first annual benefit concert for GCSAR, Stella Gives Back, on Saturday, August 13. GCSAR Rescue Member Josh Novotny and Support Member Shaun Mullahey spoke with Sky-Hi News about the concert, the work GCSAR accomplishes for those enjoying Grand’s outdoors, plus gave life-saving tips for our readers on their next excursion.

Concert for a cause

Doors for Stella Gives Back open at 3:30 p.m. at Hideaway Park in Winter Park.

“The focus of the concert is to have fun, with the theme to raise money for a good cause,” Mullahey said.

The concert features three bands— Tara Rose opens the show, followed by Andy Sydow, with the Denver-based rock and blues band Slopeside headlining. Slopeside is more than the headliner, though. Cody Culver, when he’s not backpacking with Curtis and Stella, is the lead guitarist and keyboardist for Slopeside.

Every dollar from the concert will support GCSAR. The team includes 52 volunteer members who serve all of Grand County. GCSAR also travels outside Grand if they need to support other search and rescue missions. They’ve traveled to Rabbit Ears in Routt County, Jackson County, or Corona Pass. Whenever a hiker, hunter, skier, snowmobiler, rafter, or anyone outdoors is in danger, GCSAR is on the scene.

It takes a lot of gear and machines to keep GCSAR going. Novotny said that they will use concert funds to upgrade their command vehicle and radios; purchase drones, snowmobiles, ATVs and rescue trailers; update their training climbing tower; plus restock their technical and medical gear.

GCSAR: past to present

Mullahey explained that in 1985, several members of Alpine Rescue Team in Clear Creek County moved to Grand County. They joined up with local volunteers who had been helping the Sheriff with search and rescue missions to transform Grand County SAR into an organized rescue team.

Previously, when there was an emergency in the backcountry, the sheriff would often seek volunteers by heading over to Deno’s where there were usually some ski patrollers and volunteer firefighters hanging out. GCSAR has made many professional strides since the Deno’s days.

GCSAR has been the sheriff’s primary search and rescue asset since 1985. They’ve operated under the sheriff’s office as a Mountain Rescue Association-certified team since 1995. The MRA is a national organization of about 90 teams that improves the quality, availability and safety of mountain search and rescue.

“It takes a lot of work to get certified with the MRA, which serves as the governing body for standards in how we do things,” Mullahey said.

Through the MRA, GCSAR takes part in a reaccreditation every five years with surrounding teams. The MRA evaluates them on several disciplines, such as avalanche rescue, winter technical and search scenarios. This ensures that GCSAR uses the right techniques to keep others, and themselves, alive.

“We answer about 55 to 65 calls a year and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days,” Novotny said. He added their calls are getting more frequent each year, especially as backcountry areas such as Berthoud Pass become busier.

Mullahey said it’s a common misconception that calling for a search and rescue costs money.

“People don’t call because they don’t want to pay money, so they wait till they’re really in trouble,” he said. “None of the teams charge anything for rescues.”

A late call can complicate the SAR mission, add to the urgency, and potentially putting the SAR volunteers at risk.

Safety Tips

GCSAR reminds everyone that it’s best to travel with a partner rather than alone in the backcountry. If you must go alone, let people know exactly where you’re going and what time you’ll be back.

Whether alone or in a group, Novotny and Mullahey said people should prepare for any outcome by always bringing the 10 essentials with them. These are: 

  • Navigation: map, compass, personal locator beacon, etc.
  • Headlamp: include spare batteries
  • Sun protection: sun protective clothing, sunscreen
  • First aid kit: keep the kit in a waterproof bag
  • Knife or multi-tool: during a longer trip, other small tools may be useful
  • Fire: means to start a fire, like a butane lighter, matches and fire starters.
  • Shelter: plastic tent, bivy sack, etc.
  • Extra food: for day hikes, at least a full days’ supply of food that require no cooking.
  • Extra water: drinking water and a way to purify water
  • Extra clothes: pants, socks, rain jacket, etc.

What it takes to become a volunteer

GCSAR is always looking for volunteers. Ideally, volunteers can commit to the organization at least three years since training takes time and effort.

“I take care of the new volunteers, so they’re not completely lost or overwhelmed. There’s definitely a process they’ll go through,” Mullahey said. “We’re not going to make a new person…rappel down a cliff without any training. We never expect people to do something they’re not comfortable doing.”

Mullahey added that they do accept people of all ability levels. Someone who isn’t ready for the field can still contribute while they’re training up.

“There’s a lot of work to be done aside from rescues to keep the team running. We’re always looking for volunteers who can do…maintenance, general fundraising, cleaning the base, organizing gear,” Mullahey said. “There’s lot of extracurricular ways to participate. Everyone performs at their skill and comfort level.” 

For those interested in becoming part of GCSAR, Novotny encourages people to visit GCSAR’s informational tent at Stella Gives Back. They can also visit to sign up as a volunteer.

Mullahey emphasized that volunteers should dedicate themselves to a role that could mean life or death for those who call upon GCSAR for help.

“Everyone is expected to train, attend missions…. be fieldable and ready to go,” Mullahey said. “But you don’t have to be an expert. We encourage people to join as long as they have the willingness to learn.”

For more information about the concert and ticket sales, visit GSCAR is also offering $5 off General Admission tickets for Sky-Hi news readers when they use the promo code SKY-HI.

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