Accident: Chugach State Park

Location: South Fork Eagle River Valley

Mon, March 11th, 1985
One skier caught , buried and killed.
Accident Report

By David Postman, ADN 3/11/85

A skier was crushed to death Sunday after being carried 2,000 feet by a massive avalanche in the South Fork Eagle River Valley.

The slide occurred at about 4:55 p.m. in Chugach State Park at the mouth of the South Fork valley, which runs perpendicular to Eagle River Valley.

The man was found buried at the edge of the avalanche wrapped around an alder tree, rescuers said.

“His neck was broken and most of his limbs were broken,” said Dave Young, a member of the South Fork Volunteer Fire Department.

The man was declared dead at the scene about an hour after the slide by Anchorage Fire Department paramedics. As of late Sunday no positive identification of the victim had been made.

The avalanche was 700 feet across at the top of the 4,000-foot mountain and traveled 2,000 feet down in about 90 seconds, according to witnesses.

The skier and two dogs began walking up the mountain at about 12:30 p.m. Sunday, said Jim Little, who was watching from his house through binoculars.

Little said the man made it to the top of the unnamed peak several hours later and walked across a ridge to the top of a bowl-shaped area.

“I saw him and kept telling myself ‘He won’t ski down, he’s too smart,’ ” Little said, adding most people in the area know the hillside is a high avalanche danger.

“When he got to the top, he stood out there for a long time.”

At about 4:55 p.m. the man coaxed his dogs down the hill.

“I saw him come off the top and ski down about seven or eight body lengths and the whole thing broke off.

“It was white for about a minute, minute and a half and then I could see this big black line across the top of the bowl.”

But Little could not see the skier through the binoculars and called the Anchorage Police Department and the South Fork Volunteer Fire Department.

He then jumped on his snowmachine and drove to the avalanche site to begin searching for the skier at about 5:15 p.m.

Area resident John Leary and about a dozen members of the volunteer fire department soon arrived. While others searched uphill, Leary spotted the victim buried in the deep, hard-packed snow at the edge of the avalanche.

“All I could see was his arm sticking up,” Leary said.

Little and Leary dug the victim out to his waste. “We took his pulse, checked his respiration and there was none,” Leary said.

Paramedics and park rangers then snowmachined in from Hiland road, about a half-mile away form where the body was found. A four-wheel drive fire truck from the volunteer brigade also made the trip.

Rangers brought the body out at about 7 p.m. by snowmachine.

One of the man’s two dogs was seen after the avalanche. But searchers said there was no sign of the other animal.

Only one of the man’s skis was recovered.

“He had a full compliment of fancy skiing gear. He should have known he was in a place he had no business being in,” Young said. He said the skier’s presence in the area was “absolutely foolish.”

Little said he watched a skier he assumes to be the same man ski down the hill last week.

Mike Goodwin, state district ranger, said the skier probably triggered the avalanche. He said high winds, fresh snow and warm weather the past few days have created a very high avalanche danger through most of Chugach State Park.