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Conditions ripe for deadly avalanches

By Bonney Bowman 7:14 AM January 2, 2014

Many people think only steep slopes can cause an avalanche, but that's not the case

ANCHORAGE-  The risk is high for deadly avalanches in the areas of Turnagain Pass and Hatcher Pass.

The Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center issued a warning Wednesday about a considerable danger of human-triggered avalanches.

There are things people can do in the backcountry to reduce the risk, said Dave Mayo-Kiely.

Before he took his family out to ski and sled on Wednesday, he said he checked the conditions.

“We had heard that it was pretty bad avalanche conditions up at Turnagain Pass and whatnot so we made sure we just stayed off of the steep slopes around here and stayed in the open meadows,” Mayo-Kiely said.

“When there’s danger we try and stay away and generally with the kids just avoid anything that could ever be considered close to avalanche,” he said.

When it comes to avalanche safety, it’s all about getting educated.

“Biggest thing to keep in mind is if it’s fun to ski or sled on, it’s steep enough to avalanche,” said Brian Skien, a sales specialist at REI.

Many people think only steep slopes can cause an avalanche, but that’s not the case, he said. More and more people are back country skiing, which ups the risk.

Skein said having the right tools can save lives. He called it the trifecta: beacon, probe and shovel.

The beacon helps locate a buried victim and the probe is used to pinpoint the victim to dig them out, which is why having someone to dig a person out is vital, he said.

“After 10 minutes, the survivability rate just takes a cliff dive so really companion rescue is your best bet,” Skein said.

REI offers avalanche safety courses, as do places like the North American Outdoor Institute and Alaska Avalanche School.

Knowing the warning signs and how to react if an avalanche happens are the keys to being safe in the great outdoors, Skein said.

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