Nuiqsut snowmachiner dies at Arctic Man
A Nuiqsut man has died at this year’s Arctic Man snowmachining and skiing event near Paxson, according to Alaska State Troopers.
Troopers named the deceased in an online dispatch as Clayton Kaigelak, 31, saying he was found Saturday "at the base of an avalanche" after being reported overdue from an evening snowmachine ride.
"Search teams were dispatched without luck through the night," troopers wrote.
No foul play is suspected in Kaigelak’s death at the gathering near Summit Lake in the Hoodoo Mountains concluding Sunday, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said in a brief email Saturday afternoon.
Arctic Man organizer John Thies said Kaigelak had gone riding alone between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday, before he was reported overdue later in the evening.
"About midnight we got word of it (and) alerted troopers," Thies said. "It sounds like they pinged his phone and they went up in a helicopter to find him."
Debra McGhan, executive director of the Alaska Avalanche Information Center, said that Kaigelak’s family had found him dead beneath a rented snowmachine. The avalanche center was notified at about 8:30 a.m. that help was needed to recover his body, so two avalanche forecasters – Kyle Sobek and Trevor Grams – headed to the scene along with the snowmachine’s renter.
“They were able to determine that life-saving measures weren't necessary and they were able to bring him down,” McGhan said. “We turned over the victim to Delta Medical and they were able to transport the body.”
The center has posted a red flag for avalanche conditions, due to afternoon sunlight making snow on south-facing slopes “pretty soft.” McGhan said the crash occurred on debris from a previous avalanche, but wasn’t related to any new slide in the area.
"It had slid at some point, but he did not trigger it and he was not caught in it," McGhan said.
Kaigelak's family had told the forecasters he was enthusiastic about visiting Arctic Man this year.
“His brother said he was just so excited to be here, and he wanted to jump on his sled and do a buzz around the whole area,” McGhan said.
Staff at Arctic Man did "everything we could" to assist his loved ones, Thies said. None of Saturday's schedule was altered by Kaigelak's death, however, which Thies noted did not occur during an Arctic Man event.
"It's unfortunate that it happened -- we're sorry for the family," Thies said. "We all take a risk when we get on our snowmachine and go ride."
Troopers said Kaigelak's body will undergo an autopsy at the state medical examiner's office in Anchorage.
Arctic Man organizers announced earlier that the traditional ski race, in which skiers are towed by snowmachiners up inclines then ski down them, will be ending this year amid declining participation. The larger event will continue, however.
Dave Leval contributed information to this story.
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