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17-year-old snowboarder dies after being caught in Hatcher Pass avalanche

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: March 11
  • Published March 10

A 17-year-old snowboarder caught in a Hatcher Pass avalanche Monday afternoon died at a hospital, Alaska State Troopers said Tuesday.

The snowboarder triggered the avalanche around 12:30 p.m. Monday on a 100-foot slope that “funneled into a terrain trap above a creek drainage,” Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center forecaster Allie Barker wrote in a preliminary report. Terrain traps are features that cause a pileup of avalanche debris and compound avalanche risk.

The boy, whose name was not released, was caught in the drainage near Mile 16 of Palmer Fishhook Road, troopers said. Rescuers were able to dig him out.

The crown at the top of the slide was about 2 1/2 feet deep, Barker estimated. The avalanche, which resulted from a slab of storm snow failing on a weak layer farther down in the snowpack, occurred on a 36-degree slope at an elevation of 2,000 feet, Barker wrote. Slopes measured at 30 degrees or steeper are considered avalanche terrain.

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Preliminary Report 3/10/20 Avalanche Accident 3/9 near Mile 16 road run at Hatcher Pass A 17yo male, snowboarder triggered an avalanche around 12:30pm on Monday 3/9. It is believed that the victim strayed off his intended route and subsequently triggered an avalanche on a small slope which funneled into a terrain trap above a creek drainage. Terrain traps compound the risk of any avalanche, no matter the size. The slope was approximately 100’ tall. The avalanche occurred on a SSW aspect at an elevation of 2000’ and a slope angle of 36 degrees. The avalanche resulted from a storm slab failing on a weak persistent grain faceted layer in the snowpack. The crown of the avalanche is estimated to be 2.5 feet deep. Prior to the event, Hatcher Pass received a significant amount of snow, approximately 36” in 48 hours. Monday’s report was as follows: “33″ of snow and 1.7″ of SWE have accumulated at Hatcher Pass since 3/7. The IM snotel at 3550′ is reporting over 100 inches of snow this season! Quite impressive. This RAPID load will OVERLOAD weak layers and NATURAL AVALANCHES are POSSIBLE today and HUMAN TRIGGERED are LIKELY. Storm Slabs, Deep Persistent Slabs, and Dry Loose sluffs will be avalanche problems today and into tomorrow. Dangerous avalanche conditions. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding, and conservative decision making are essential today.” This rapid load contributed to a Considerable avalanche danger Saturday through Monday. We recommend conservative decision making as the snowpack continues to adjust to its new load over the next 24-48 hours. The avalanche report can be found here: https://hpavalanche.org/forecast/hatcherpass/ More information and a complete report will be posted at hpavalanche.org in the next 2 weeks.

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Before Monday’s avalanche, Hatcher Pass had received about 3 feet of snow in 48 hours, according to Barker. The Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center’s forecast on Monday described dangerous conditions in the area of the Talkeetna Mountains north of Anchorage, saying that human-triggered slides were likely and avalanche danger was considerable.

Barker on Tuesday recommended “conservative decision making as the snowpack continues to adjust" to the new snow over the next two days.

It was the third avalanche death of the season in Alaska.

A 21-year-old snowmachiner, Trey N. Henning of Unalaska, died in late February after he was buried in an avalanche near the Aleutian Islands city.

A 32-year-old snowmachiner, Kekai Dang of Kasilof, died in an avalanche Feb. 10 near Cooper Lake on the Kenai Peninsula.

Two Haines snowboarders died in an avalanche in December just over the Canadian border in British Columbia.

A complete report on Monday’s avalanche is expected to be released in the next two weeks.

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