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Skier dies, 2 others injured after falling about 1,000 feet in Alaska avalanche: "They had all the right gear"

The danger of avalanches
The danger of avalanches 06:48

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. Authorties said the skiers had all the right gear but "it still proved deadly."

The avalanche occurred Tuesday afternoon between the communities of Cooper Landing and Moose Pass in the Chugach National Forest, about 90 miles south of Anchorage, Alaska State Troopers wrote in an online report Wednesday.

It occurred as the three men hiked up a mountain about a mile east off the Seward Highway, the main thoroughfare between Anchorage and Seward, so they could ski back down, officials said.

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. Last month, three people were killed by avalanches in the same week.

The surviving skiers in Alaska said they fell approximately 800 feet to 1,000 feet, 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 two injured skiers "were able to locate the missing skier, dug him out of the avalanche, and began performing life-saving measures, which were ultimately not successful," troopers wrote in their report.

The victim 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.

Cooper Landing Emergency Services posted images of the rescue operation on Facebook.

Yesterday at approximately 4:30 pm, Cooper Landing Fire/Medics were dispatched to MP 41 Seward Highway along with Moose...

Posted by Cooper Landing Emergency Services on Wednesday, February 14, 2024

"These victims had all the necessary safety gear and it still proved deadly," the agency wrote.  

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 to 80 mph 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 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."

Earlier this month, search teams in Wyoming were able to rescue an injured woman who was swept 1,500 feet downhill in an avalanche.

"This is not a normal year, so please be extra conservative in your backcountry decision-making," Wyoming authorities said in a social media post last month after a skier was killed by an avalanche.

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