A heli-ski avalanche near Matanuska Glacier killed a Fairbanks woman who was heli-skiing on Saturday. It was witnessed by four others in the group.
Erin Lee, 40, was rescued and taken to Mat-Su Regional Hospital and pronounced dead.Erin Lee, 40, was rescued and taken to Mat-Su Regional Hospital and pronounced dead.
She was part of a group heli-skiing about 7½ miles from the Glenn Highway east of the Matanuska Glacier, said Austin McDaniel, a spokesman for the Alaska state troopers. It wasn’t immediately clear which mountain the avalanche occurred on. Troopers have not visited the exact site. McDaniel also noted that another group was heli-skiing in the same area Saturday.
Two Alpine Meadows avalanche lawsuits have been filed by the widow and a friend of a dead skier. They accuse the resort of negligently rushing to open the unsafe slopes for a busy holiday weekend.
Cole Comstock, 34, of Blairsden, California, was killed. His close friend Kaley Bloom was seriously injured. They were caught in an avalanche on an Alpine Meadows ski run on Jan. 17, 2020. Nobody else was seriously hurt.
The two Alpine meadows avalanche lawsuits were filed in Placer County Superior Court by Bloom and by Cole’s widow. They seek unspecified damages from Alpine Meadows. The allegations include negligence, gross negligence and breach of contract. Raymond’s lawsuit also alleged the resort was to blame for her late husband’s death.
Friday started as a perfect winter day. About a foot of new snow fell overnight. In the morning the sky cleared. Then by the end of the day the Sierra Avalanche Center had received many avalanche reports. Some happened naturally but many were caused by skiers and snowboarders.
In the morning the Sierra Avalanche Center posted its forecast. The center stated the obvious - that storm slabs in the new snow were a big concern. They rated the avalanche danger as “considerable,” meaning that skiers and snowboarders were likely to trigger avalanches.
The Sierra Avalanche Center works to prevent accidents by issuing daily forecasts. The U.S. Forest Service hires three full-time avalanche forecasters who backcountry ski and then write reports. The Sierra Avalanche Center fundraises on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service to cover much of the payroll and related expenses. There are also three part-time paid observers who go skiing to check on conditions.
The Park City Mountain Canyons Ski Patrol closed off its access to the backcountry adjacent to the resort. The unusual step was taken after a couple of recent deadly slides amid high avalanche danger. Prior to a couple of recent fatal avalanches there had been numerous others in past years as well.
A 31-year-old man died after being buried in an avalanche while skiing in the adjacent backcountry. He accessed it via special gates at Park City Mountain. More recently, a U of U helicopter responded to rescue two skiers. One was buried in an avalanche and died. They also accessed the backcountry via Park City Mountain.
The second avalanche death in two years in Dutch Draw, and at least the fourth in total, has spurred an Avalanche Risk Discussion.
The victim and his girlfriend exited the backcountry access gate atop the Ninety-Nine 90 Express. Then they hiked up the ridge before dropping in to snowboard down a run called Conehead. The victim went first, and when he was about halfway down his girlfriend followed. Then an avalanche occurred. The woman was not caught in the slide.
Some people have argued more should be done to warn skiers who may be unaware of the dangers posed by backcountry terrain. They could put resort personnel near the gate to inform people of the risk. Or require checking out with ski patrol and carrying an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe. A check-out procedure is used at some other resorts.
An avalanche south of Cooke City carried three skiers down Republic Mountain, two were injured in the avalanche. One had to be evacuated by helicopter and another was temporarily unconscious and not breathing, according to a report.
In many ways, the skiers had done everything right. All six were carrying beacons and had rescue gear. They had radios to summons help.
However, they did not check the snowpack in the place they decided to ascend the mountain. They had dug a snowpit 2 meters deep to check the likelihood of an avalanche. But a hundred feet off to the side the snowpack changed, with much less snow, only three feet.