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December 19, 2014 at 9:47 AM

Skier digs head out of snow after Alaska avalanche

The Associated Press

ANCHORAGE — An Alaska backcountry skier walked away uninjured after being completely buried under a 350-foot-wide avalanche, surviving because he was initially able to dig his head out of the snow, officials with the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center said.

The skier, who officials would not identify, was then pulled from the snow by a companion skier who arrived within minutes of the slide Thursday, the center’s avalanche forecaster, John Fitzgerald, told the Alaska Dispatch News.

About a foot of snow covered the skier’s head, Fitzgerald said. The man could “move his arm enough to dig his head and arms out.”

Within a few minutes, Fitzgerald said, the buried man’s companion arrived and did “the rest of the digging.”

“They were pretty rattled, but they are regulars up there, and they realize the gravity of being caught and buried,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald called it a “remarkable” turn of events that allowed the skier to escape with no injuries.

“Anything that buries a person, we consider large,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not big enough to take out a railroad car, but for humans, yes, it’s big.

The skier who was buried had triggered the avalanche Thursday afternoon. The slide traveled down about 1,000 feet on the southwest face of Sunburst Ridge, located along Turnagain Pass, just south of Anchorage. His companion avoided the avalanche by riding on the outside of the slide area.

“I am really, really happy that everything turned out all right, but it was a big avalanche and a full burial. So for that, it was a good outcome,” center director Wendy Wagner said.

Sunburst Ridge is in an area vulnerable to avalanches because of clear, dry days that followed a storm last Saturday.

The center had posted an avalanche advisory on Thursday, saying the risk for human-triggered avalanches was considerable and likely because of the snowpack.

There were “at least 20 people” skiing and snowboarding in the area Thursday, said Fitzgerald, who drove to the area because of the risk.

Comments | More in | Topics: Alaska, avalanche, Skiing accident

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