Avalanche deaths spur demand for survival courses

ANCHORAGE — More people are interested in preparedness courses in southcentral Alaska following avalanche deaths in the Hatcher Pass area this winter.

The Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center is looking to meet the increased demand by adding to the 10 to 12 free courses it offers primarily in November and December, the Alaska Dispatch News reported.

Center director Wendy Wagner says there are usually about four backcountry avalanche fatalities each winter, mostly occurring toward the spring.

“Now we have three … and it’s January,” she said in a phone interview Saturday.

So far this winter, two snowmachiners have died and an avalanche is believed to have also killed a missing skier in Hatcher Pass.

“There’s definitely more public interest, and I do think that’s in light of the unfortunate accidents that have happened at Hatcher Pass,” Wagner said. “It brings that much more awareness to avalanche issues in the backcountry.”

Wagner said classes go over rescue techniques, avalanche hazard recognition and gear, like beacons, shovels and probes. Officials hope to schedule several hands-on rescue workshops in the Hatcher Pass area like those offered in Turnagain Pass.

Avalanche safety is the general trend right now, Wagner said.

“It’s cool to have your avalanche gear,” Wagner said. “Twenty, 30, 40 years ago, it would be . ‘I don’t need that.’ But clearly you need it, if you want to come home.”

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