Family, friends mourn skier killed in Hatcher Pass avalanche
The skier who was killed in a Wednesday avalanche in Hatcher Pass has been identified as an Anchorage man, who was killed amid avalanche conditions which remain hazardous.
Alaska State Troopers said in a Friday dispatch that 60-year-old Randall Bergt was the skier caught in the slide, which was reported to AST just after 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. The avalanche occurred at the 3,700-foot level of Marmot Mountain on President’s Ridge, according to the Alaska Avalanche Information Center.
Troopers said Wednesday that Bergt had been one of three skiers in the area of the avalanche. Soon afterward, Alaska Wildlife Troopers sent a helicopter to assist in the search for him.
“While en route AST was notified the skier had been located and [rescuers] were doing CPR,” troopers wrote. “The AWT helo arrived and was able to locate [Bergt] but was unable to land.”
Bergt didn’t have a pulse when he was found. His next of kin have been notified.
Bergt's wife, Tasha Bergt, said in a message Friday night that a memorial service would be held for him Saturday.
"The main thing I would like people to know is that Randy was a highly trained (Alta Ski Patrol) backcountry skier with lots of experience," Tasha Bergt wrote. "He was responsible and not careless. He was really loved by many people. I really can't imagine life without him."
The news of Bergt’s death spread quickly through the skiing community.
"It was just one of complete disbelief. What? This can't be true," said longtime friend Robert Whitney.
Bergt was Whitney’s cross-country coach at Service High School.
"All four years at Service. Best damn coach ever…He poured his heart and soul into our team. And we were state champions for three of the four years,” Whitney said Friday night.
According to a preliminary report on the fatal slide by staff from the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center, Bergt’s party had decided to descend from the 3,600-foot level of Marmot Mountain above Archangel Road. All three were carrying avalanche beacons, as well as shovels and probes.
When one of them moved onto the slope, the movement triggered a slide 150 wide by 800 feet long, ranging from 6 inches to 2 feet in depth.
“[Bergt] was caught and carried through a vertical, rocky gully,” staff wrote. “The victim was buried 4 feet deep in a narrow terrain trap at the base of the run. The terrain trap contributed to the depth of the burial.”
The Alaska Mountain Rescue Group wants to remind anyone thinking about venturing into the mountains this weekend that the same conditions that caused Bergt's death are still a big concern. Backcountry visitors should keep an eye on the Alaska Avalanche Information Center website, which is constantly monitoring the snow conditions in Hatcher Pass and many other popular mountain ranges in the state.
Although avalanche danger was “considerable” at the time, Whitney says Bergt was not an egotistical backcountry skier. He says Bergt was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
AMRG chair Eric Huffman says even if the snow looks to be in excellent condition, you never know what’s underneath it, and the avalanche forecast can help you better assess the risk.
"With wind loading, wind will blow the snow from one side to the other side, and it can significantly load the snow more then natural fall and you have to give it time to stabilize," Huffman said.
Avalanche hazard for the Hatcher Pass area remained considerable Friday, Huffman said, adding that it’s a great day to avoid the mountains and let them adjust to the new snow loads.
John Thain and Joe Vigil contributed information to this story.