'Freak avalanche' kills Hatcher Pass snowmachiner

The father of a snowmachiner killed Saturday by an avalanche in Hatcher Pass -- becoming the area's second apparent avalanche fatality this winter -- said his son was a motor sports enthusiast well-versed in the risks of Alaska's backcountry.

Trygve Erickson said Sunday afternoon that his son, 35-year-old Dashiell Erickson was riding a snowmachine when he was hit by what two fellow riders on another snowmachine described to Trygve as a "freak avalanche."

Trygve Erickson said his son had been snowmachining since the age of 4, traveling thousands of miles in the backcountry.

"Dashiell just lived for motor sports: snowmobiling, boating, off-road riding, he just loved it all," Erickson said. "He was a trained, an experienced rider who was reasonably aware of the risks and how to calculate and compensate for those risks."

Dashiell Erickson, as well as his two riding partners, had consulted the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center's website before heading out Saturday.

The center had reported at about noon Saturday the area was under considerable avalanche hazard for wind-slab avalanches at elevations higher than 3,500 feet, with the hazard level falling to moderate between 2,500 feet and 3,500 feet and low below 2,500 feet. In a subsequent update on the fatal avalanche, posted at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, the center warned that wind gusts had already hit 54 mph and avalanche conditions were expected to worsen.

"We have been informed that a group of snowmachiners were traveling somewhere around Craggy Creek when their friend was buried approximately 6 feet deep in an avalanche," center staff wrote of the avalanche that killed Dashiell Erickson. "He was wearing a beacon and dug out fairly quickly, but was deceased."


All three men were carrying avalanche beacons and probes, Trygve Erickson said, as well as inflatable avalanche cocoons.

"They were not riding aggressively," he said. "Where they were riding basically amounted to a mountain road; what was above them was a bare rock face."

At that point, a section of snow measuring roughly 25 by 40 feet descended on the snowmachiners.

"It carved off and came down fast," Erickson said.

According to a Saturday trooper dispatch, troopers responded to the Hatcher Pass Lodge after receiving a report of the avalanche from the surviving snowmachiners.

"AST contacted two men, who reported they had been riding on the Willow side of Hatcher's Pass with a third male, when his snowmachine got swept off the trail they were riding on by an avalanche," troopers wrote. "The companions were able to locate and remove the male from the snow. The man died despite efforts by the man's companions to revive him."

Trygve Erickson said his son was apparently hit from behind by the oncoming snow.

"The avalanche struck Dash with force (and) speed, even though it was a very small avalanche," Erickson said. "He was probably killed on impact."

Trygve Erickson said Dashiell's two riding partners, who were forced to leave his body overnight due to what troopers described as near-blizzard conditions, were "having a difficult time expressing themselves" Sunday.

"Both of them stayed out until after dark, performed CPR for an hour, and were back out before the crack of dawn this morning for the recovery effort," Trygve Erickson said. "They responded just the way you hope your friends would respond."

Troopers and searchers from the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group were able to locate and recover Dashiell Erickson's body on Sunday afternoon, according to troopers spokeperson Tim DeSpain.

Dashiell Erickson is the second person believed to have died of an avalanche in Hatcher Pass so far this year. On Nov. 22, Wasilla skier Liam Walsh took to the slopes of Hatcher Pass and hasn't been heard from since, with initial search efforts for him delayed by avalanches that blocked Hatcher Pass Road. Both troopers and loved ones have suspended the search for Walsh, 31, who is believed to have been caught in an avalanche; a memorial for him was held just before Christmas.

Trygve Erickson, the director of communications and electronics for the Municipality of Anchorage's Department of Public Works, said his son worked for the department's facility maintenance section as a journeyman carpenter. Dashiell Erickson had been a carpenter for about six years, roughly as long as he had been married to his wife Lisa.

Erickson said his son went by the nickname "Dash" from an early age.

"He lived up to the name Dash from the very beginning," Erickson said.

Chris Klint

Chris Klint is a former ADN reporter who covered breaking news.