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Hatcher Pass Road closed by avalanche; skier reported missing in area

  • Author: Chris Klint
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published November 24, 2015

A Wasilla man is missing in the Hatcher Pass area, last heard from nearly two days before a large avalanche Tuesday morning closed Hatcher Pass Road, troopers said.

The major snowslide on Marmot Mountain closed the road at the Gold Mint trail head, according to information from Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center.

Hatcher Pass was put under a backcountry avalanche warning Saturday as forecasters warned skiers to stay off slopes greater than 30 degrees due to patches of unstable snow created by heavy winds. By Tuesday, they issued stern warnings against traveling in avalanche terrain at all.

The avalanche Tuesday crossed the road at Mile 15 and deposited debris 12 to 15 feet deep at the deepest point, according to a Facebook post from Hatcher Pass avalanche forecaster Jed Workman.

"The same weak layer that has been a persistent problem in the last few weeks is likely the culprit," Workman wrote. "This layer continues to be overloaded with new snow, wind and now rising temperatures. If we see rain on this snowpack, we will see larger and more avalanches."

Troopers said in a Tuesday dispatch they were notified at about 7:15 p.m. Monday that 31-year-old Liam Walsh was missing in the area, after telling friends and family "he was going to be skiing in the area of Hatcher Pass."

"Walsh was last heard from around noon on (Sunday) and was supposed to return that evening," troopers reported. "Walsh's vehicle was located by AST parked in the Mile 13.5 parking lot of Hatcher Pass. Walsh was not located in the area."

Troopers said after Tuesday's avalanche the public was being asked to avoid the area until state park rangers can deal with the slide and assess backcountry conditions.

Troopers said they notified Walsh's next of kin and are attempting to search the area alongside rangers responding to Tuesday's avalanche.

"Search efforts are currently being hampered by adverse weather and avalanche conditions," troopers said.

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities spokesperson Jill Reese said Wayne Bissell, the park superintendent for the area, reported the road closure was indefinite Tuesday morning. The road remained closed late Tuesday.

"He had told me by phone that it's at least 14 feet deep," Reese said. "There are more slides coming down now, so it's not safe to start clearing and it's not clear when it will be safe to start clearing."

Snowboarder Daisy Moser happened to be in the area of the slide after it happened but before the road closed Tuesday morning. Moser, who was headed for avalanche-safe terrain at the Mile 16 downhill run, said her group didn't see the avalanche but saw the debris.

"They're going to have to use more than a plow truck to get through that," she said.

Moser, who has taken avalanche awareness classes, said her group had no plans for backcountry trips given the danger in the forecast.

"We had the gear for it but it's just not worth the risk if you know it's bad," she said.

Reporter Zaz Hollander contributed to this article.

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