Two backcountry skiers die in avalanche near Anchorage
Nov 9th, 1992
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Two backcountry skiers were killed during the weekend when they were caught in an avalanche near Flattop Mountain.
Troopers say the bodies of Bruce Hickok and Geoffrey Radford, both 38, were recovered Sunday night.
Dave Hart, who survived the slide, said it occurred about 11:45 a.m. as three of the four people in the party were crossing a gully on their way up Peak Three, a mountain in Chugach State Park near Anchorage.
“All of a sudden it hit me and I went over backwards,” said Hart, a 25-year-old engineer. “It was like being in a washing machine.”
Hart said the avalanche swept him 300 feet downhill and ripped the goggles and glasses from his face. He was able to free himself on his own and was uninjured except for minor facial cuts.
The fourth skier witnessed the avalanche but was not caught in it, rescuers said.
But by 3:30 p.m., rescue teams reported finding Hickok’s body buried under 41/2 feet of heavy snow. Radford’s body was found a few feet away, said Doug Fesler, one of the rescuers and an avalanche expert.
Fesler said he knew the victims. Both were geologists who lived near the slope they died on. Radford was training for a planned Himalayan expedition, he said.
“The two that died had more than 20 years’ (climbing) experience,” he said. “It’s kind of like the 20-year carpenter that saws his thumb off. People get so comfortable with the medium that they get complacent.”
Neither had formal avalanche training, he said, but Hickok was wearing a locator beacon that helped rescuers find the bodies.
Hart said he and his friends discussed the possibility of a slide before setting out Sunday morning but decided to forge ahead, following rocky ridges most of the way to stay clear of avalanche zones. Two wore telemark skis and the other two had Alpine touring gear.
The slide occurred about an hour into the ascent.
Sunday’s weather provided perfect avalanche conditions, Hart acknowledged afterward. Heavy, wet snow settled atop a layer of dryer snow, creating unstable slopes ready to give way. Fierce winds added weight to the already loaded slopes, creating what Fesler described as “an upside-down layer cake.”
Although avalanches are associated more with spring, they can happen at any time of the year, said Al Meiners, superintendent of Chugach State Park.
“This kind of weather pattern is a warning,” Meiners said. “We tell people to watch out for rapid warming and cooling and to stay out of gullies. Don’t go out in the backcountry unless you know the area.”
In this case, the skiers apparently had enough training, he said.
“It was perhaps a simple question of risk,” Meiners said. “It was a judgment call.”
Avalanches in Chugach State Park have killed others.
Two years ago, snowmachine driver Curt Falldorf, 57, was killed in an avalanche off the north face of Ptarmigan Peak, about four miles southeast of Flattop.
In December 1973, 10 people on a church outing were caught in an avalanche as they were descending Flattop. Group chaperone Patrick McDaniel, 35, was killed.
Another skier was buried in a 1976 avalanche on the other side of the slope the Radford-Hickok party was skiing, Fesler said.