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Heli-ski guide caught in Southeast avalanche moved to Anchorage hospital

Devin Kelly

A backcountry heli-skiing guide buried Saturday in an avalanche southwest of Haines has been moved to Anchorage, where he remains hospitalized in critical condition, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Aaron Karitis was buried after traveling more than 800 feet with a snowslide in the Kicking Horse Valley area, said troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen.

He was unconscious when he was pulled out about 20 minutes afterward, Ipsen said.

The 31-year-old Karitis -- a guide with Southeast Alaska Backcountry Skiing Adventures (SEABA) - along with his four clients had been flown up to 4,000 feet on the mountain, known to local heli-skiers and as Tele 2.5.

According to Ipsen, he was finishing a conditions check downslope from his clients just before the slide was triggered.

"He was the only one caught up in the avalanche and buried," Ipsen said.

Karitis was wearing a locator beacon that allowed others to locate and rescue him, Ipsen said.

Karitis was flown back to Haines and treated at the local hospital. Saturday night he was medevacked to Providence Alaska Medical Center. Troopers described his injuries as life threatening.

SEABA, in a statement, said the incident would be reviewed internally and pledged to support the Karitis family. The statement also acknowledged the inherent risks in big mountain heli-skiing.

The SEABA website lists Karitis as a Bend, Ore., native who graduated from the University of Utah and has 10 years of heli-skiing experience. Karitis has guided for SEABA since 2013 and logged nearly 300 days of heli-ski guiding in Alaska, according to the website.

The site also notes international guide and avalanche certifications and an "excellent safety record."

In March 2013, a 34-year-old SEABA guide died in a skiing accident on a mountain near Haines.

That incident sparked a federal investigation into the unauthorized use of federal land by the company and led to a plea agreement in late December.

Reach Devin Kelly at dkelly@adn.com or 257-4314.

Editors Note: This story was updated Sunday, March 16, 2014 with new information from Alaska State Troopers on the distance Karitis was carried in avalanche and to account for his condition after medevac from Haines to Anchorage.

 


By DEVIN KELLY
dkelly@adn.com