Avalanche fatality at Summit Lake

A North Pole woman was killed in an avalanche near Summit Lake over the weekend. The fatality comes as thousands of Alaskans head to the area for the Arctic Man event.

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25-year-old Claire Sundgren was snow machining in the Summit Lake area off the Richardson Highway Sunday, when she was buried by a snow slide.  Sarah Carter with the Alaska Avalanche Information Center, says the slide was triggered by Sundgren’s husband.

”The man was climbing the slope when he released and triggered an avalanche,” Carter said.  “His wife was low on the slope and the avalanche hit her and buried her nearly 6 feet.”

Alaska State Troopers report that bystanders were able to locate and dig Sundgren out of the avalanche debris, and CPR was performed, but she could not be revived. Carter says the tragedy underscores the importance of interpreting terrain, especially when travelling with others.

”Estimate how far a slope will slide, if it does,” said Carter. “And having a safe zone out of harms way out in the flats or on high ground where that trail will move down and away.”

The fatal avalanche accident occurred just prior to the start of the annual Arctic Man Ski and Sno-Go Classic at Summit Lake, an event that draws thousands to the mountains. Alaska Avalanche Center professionals are in the area, posting daily forecasts, and Carter says conditions appear ripe for activity.

”Natural avalanches are possible especially with more wind. And human triggered avalanches are likely because the new snow that has come in the last three weeks has been transported by the wind and it has not bonded to the surfaces below.”

Carter encourages snowmachiners and other back-country travelers in the Summit Lake area this week to check daily forecasts being posted on the Eastern Alaska Range Avalanche Center web and Facebook pages, noting the service will only be available during Arctic Man.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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