Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Alyeska Ski Resort
Summary: 2 skiers caught and partially buried in large slide
`Official` Report will be posted as soon as we receive it.
Avalanche hits Alyeska ski run, Officials say no one badly hurt
By KAREN AHO, LIZ RUSKIN and NATALIE PHILLIPS
Anchorage Daily News reporters, 3/13/99
GIRDWOOD - An avalanche roared down a ski run at
Alyeska Resort on Friday afternoon, partially burying
at least two skiers and prompting a massive search
for people who may have been trapped underneath.
The effort, involving as many as 200 searchers
and six rescue dogs high on a mountainside, was
suspended between 8 and 9 p.m., and authorities said
they were confident no one was still buried.
"We have no reason to believe at this time that anyone
is in the avalanche," Alyeska general manager Larry
Daniels said Friday night. There were "absolutely no
clues to indicate that there's anybody else," he said.
No one was seriously hurt. The resort was scheduled to
reopen as usual today, and no further searches are
planned unless it's determined that someone is missing,
Daniels said. Although there have been close calls, he
said it was the first time in his 25 years at the resort that
an avalanche had hit skiers.
The slide originated high on Mount Alyeska, above the
area open to skiing, when part of a ridge-top cornice
fell about 2:30 p.m.
"We started seeing it," said snowboarder Dustin
Edmondson, 14. "We started screaming, saying, 'Go!
Avalanche!' It was huge."
The slide swept through the Glacier Bowl and extended
another 800 feet down a run called Prospector, one of
the highest runs on the mountain. The steep run,
classified as difficult, can be seen by people riding
Chair 6, the high-speed quad lift, as they look to the
right, near the top of the lift. The avalanche came to a
stop on the Mainstreet track near Eagle Rock.
Witnesses said it sounded like thunder and felt like an
Kari Albaugh of Girdwood said she and two
companions had just gotten off the tram, down the
mountain from the slide, when they heard people
screaming from Chairlift 6 nearby. They looked up, she
said, and saw a "fluffy billow of snow" rushing down
The skiers watched at least two people, she said, ski out
of the path of the avalanche. When the snow settled,
other skiers came down over the slide. People on the
chairlift were shouting that people were buried in the
debris, she said.
Snowboarder Edmondson and a fellow student from
Benny Benson Secondary School, 16-year-old George
Tauriainen, said they were a few feet outside the
avalanche path. They said they saw a woman get caught
in the slide.
"We seen the lady go down," Edmondson said. "We
seen it and we came and helped."
The settled snow, the teen said, "was like concrete, like
rock." Using their hands and snowboards and later
joined by another skier, they freed the woman, who they
estimate was buried for about 40 seconds. She was
frightened but otherwise OK, they said. Authorities
identified her as Natasha Latta.
Another woman, Mary Ann Nickles, was buried up to
her neck and was dug out by another snowboarder.
Margie Mercer, a retired nurse from Eagle River, was
standing outside the restaurants at the upper tram station
taking pictures of her husband and son as they cruised
Suddenly, she heard an "Oh my God, look!" from
someone on a chairlift nearby. She turned slightly, she
said, and saw the avalanche in full flood.
"I saw that one (person) on the outskirts trying to get
away from it (and) come out on the side of it," she said.
"And I saw - it looked like one was in it, too."
The ski runs were shut down immediately and remained
closed the rest of the day.
The temperature hovered around the freezing mark
throughout the day Friday. The snow was wet and sticky
and had fallen heavily at the resort the previous day. "It
was incredible the amount of snow that was coming
down" on Thursday, said skier Robert Thrasher. "It was
Resort officials said more than 31/2 feet had fallen in
the two days prior to the slide, and the top of the
mountain had received two feet in just the previous 24
On Thursday, the resort closed the North Face and parts
of the bowl, including Prospector, because of avalanche
To lessen the chance of an uncontrolled avalanche,
Alyeska workers Friday morning fired at snow-loaded
slopes with a 105mm howitzer rifle. The ridge where
the avalanche started had been fired at three times, said
resort spokeswoman Kjerstin Lastufka.
"That cornice just apparently decided to fall later," she
said. A wall of bare rock was exposed where the snow
had fallen away.
After the slide, the Alyeska Ski Patrol - aided by 150 to
200 skiers, volunteers from Girdwood and specially
trained rescue dogs - combed the slide area, looking for
buried people. They spread out in rows, probing the
snow with skinny 10-foot poles.
Two German skiers, Markus Faulhaber, 32, and Axel
Bauer, 23, were drafted for the effort. They were at the
Girdwood airport waiting to take their fourth helicopter
run of the day into the backcountry. The company they
were flying with, Chugach Powder Guides, stopped its
tours and began ferrying searchers up the mountain and
asked them to join.
On the mountainside, ski patrol members and others
used the poles to probe the avalanche debris. Groups of
10 to 15 searchers stood in a line shoulder to shoulder
with a crew leader. The leader would yell "right!" and
the team would stick the probe poles into the snow in
front of them to the right. Then the leader would yell
"left!" and "center!" Then the line took a step forward
and repeated the probe pattern. They combed up and
down the slide area. The ski patrol kept lists of
searchers to keep track of everyone.
"It was really ... organized," Faulhaber said.
The depth of the snow in the area being searched was
two to six feet, Daniels said.
By the time the search was suspended Friday night,
searchers had been over the slide area four times and
some places eight times, Daniels said.
The search went on past nightfall, with searchers
wearing headlamps, because authorities couldn't say for
certain that no one was under the snow. The resort had
sold 800 lift tickets Friday, and as people came off the
mountain, workers asked skiers to write down their
names, telephone numbers and names of ski companions
still on the mountain. As others came down, their names
were crossed off.
Daniels said authorities interviewed a number of people
who saw the avalanche and felt confident that they had
accounted for everyone who had been seen in the area
when the slide occurred.