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Skier killed, others hurt falling 1,000 feet in Alaska avalanche

Avalanche occurred as victims were hiking the main thoroughfare between Anchorage and Seward

Alaska Avalanche Death

In this image provided by the Cooper Landing Emergency Services, a member of the Cooper Landing EMS rescuers looks at the mountain to see if troopers are bringing down avalanche survivors on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, in Cooper Landing, Alaska. One backcountry skier died and two others were injured in an avalanche on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, as warm weather raises the risk for such events in the state.

Clay Adam/Cooper Landing Emergency Services via AP

By Mark Thiessen
Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — An avalanche on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula killed one backcountry skier and injured two others, prompting warnings for people to stay away from steep slopes as warm weather and high winds raise the risk of more snowslides around the state.

The avalanche occurred Tuesday afternoon between the communities of Cooper Landing and Moose Pass in the Chugach National Forest, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) south of Anchorage.

It occurred as the three men hiked up a mountain about a mile (1.6 kilometers) east off the Seward Highway, the main thoroughfare between Anchorage and Seward, so they could ski back down, Alaska State Troopers wrote in an online report Wednesday.

Eight people have now died in avalanches in the country this winter, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. The toll includes deaths last weekend in Colorado and Wyoming.

The surviving skiers in Alaska said they fell approximately 800 feet (245 meters) to 1,000 feet (305 meters), said Clay Adam, deputy EMS chief at Cooper Landing.

“They were pretty sure that it started above them and carried them down the mountain,” he said.

One skier was partially trapped in the snow, and the other two were reported to have had head injuries, Adam said.

The injured skiers were able to get free of the snow on their own, officials said, and dug out their companion, who died despite receiving cardiopulmonary resuscitation at the scene.

He was identified as Joseph Allen, 28, of Anchorage, troopers said. The two surviving skiers have not been identified.

Allen’s body was sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage.

Alaska Wildlife Troopers on snowmachines brought the other two skiers down to a staging area. Both patients had serious but non-life-threatening injuries and were taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital, Adam said.

Avalanches kill about 30 people a year on average in the U.S. Avalanche forecasters are attempting to curb the number of deaths as the surging numbers of skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers visit backcountry areas since the COVID-19 pandemic.

South-central Alaska has been experiencing warm weather, which exacerbates avalanche conditions.

“The avalanche conditions yesterday were horrible,” Adam said. “They’re probably the highest I’ve seen in a while.”

Those conditions include warming temperatures and high winds, gusting anywhere from 40 mph (64 kph) to 80 mph (129 kph) along the ridgetops in the Kenai Mountains, said Wendy Wagner with the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Center.

There’s no weather station at the site of the avalanche but several are nearby. Forecasters are headed to the site on Wednesday.

The snowpack, which is typically thinner in this area, was unstable enough to create an avalanche that resulted in the accident, she said.

The avalanche danger is considerable at all elevations, and backcountry users are urged to stick to low slope angles and stay away from steep slopes. “We don’t want to have any other incidents,” Wagner said.

Adam said the skiers in the fatal accident did everything correctly and were prepared in case of an avalanche.

“They had all the right gear,” he said. “They had all their parachutes and avalanche beacons and everything, but unfortunately the outcome was not as good.”