CAIC: Colorado Avalanche Information Center

2014/03/15 - Alaska - Kicking Horse Valley, west of Haines

Published 2014/03/19 by Spencer Logan - Forecaster, CAIC

Avalanche Details

  • Location: Kicking Horse Valley, west of Haines
  • State: Alaska
  • Date: 2014/03/15
  • Time: 11:02 AM
  • Summary Description: 1 heliski guide caught, buried, and died from injuries
  • Primary Activity: Mechanised Guide
  • Primary Travel Mode: Ski
  • Location Setting: Backcountry


  • Caught: 1
  • Partially Buried, Non-Critical: 0
  • Partially Buried, Critical: 0
  • Fully Buried: 1
  • Injured: 0
  • Killed: 1


  • Type: SS
  • Trigger: AS - Skier
  • Trigger (subcode): u - An unintentional release
  • Size - Relative to Path: R4
  • Size - Destructive Force: D3
  • Sliding Surface: O - Within Old Snow


  • Slope Aspect: N
  • Site Elevation: 4900 ft
  • Slope Angle: 36 °
  • Slope Characteristic: --

Avalanche Comments

The avalanche (SS-ASu-R4D3-O) was a soft slab, unintentionally triggered by a skier. It was large relative to the path, and destructive enough to bury a car or break trees. It broke on a layer of surface hoar buried three to five feet deep. The crown was about 330 feet wide, and the avalanche ran 1000 vertical feet. It started on a north aspect.

Accident Summary

On Saturday morning, the Guide and a group of clients were flown out to the Kicking Horse Valley west of Haines, Alaska. Prior to opening the second run of the day, Guide traversed off to investigate snow conditions and directed clients to remain in a safe position atop the ridge. Guide skied away 50 feet down slope of the group to dig a test pit to determine snowpack stability, showing no obvious signs of weakness, Guide determined the slope safe to ski on. This very snow pit has since been evaluated, confirming Guide’s assessment that the snow did not show obvious signs of weakness or instability.

Guide then made a ski cut at the top of the slope to further investigate the stability of the snow. This ski cut produced no results, also indicating that snow conditions were presumably safe. Guide then communicated to his group that he would ski to a position down slope to regroup and would radio his group from there to follow his tracks one skier at a time. The group had a vantage point in which they could watch his descent.

As he was skiing toward his regroup location, a large avalanche was triggered mid slope, engulfing him and taking him approximately 700 feet down the slope.

Rescue Summary

A separate helicopter with a guide and clients were unloading on top of the run as the avalanche was triggered. The second guide responded to Guide’s clients communication that there had been an avalanche and a search began. Parts of the slope had not released and for the safety of the entire group, only two descended the slide path joining with a second helicopter load of guide personnel to search for Guide's beacon signal. The group was able to locate and extract him from four feet of snow within about 15 minutes. Guide was unconscious and resuscitation efforts began immediately. He was flown by helicopter to a clinic in Haines; and then transported to the Adult Critical Care Unit at the Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. Guide was removed from life support three days later.