Avalanche near Cooper Landing kills 28-year-old skier

Emergency first responders stand in a snowy pullout next to emergency vehicles at dusk. Snow covered mountains in the background.
Emergency personnel respond to an avalanche north of Cooper Landing that killed one skier and injured two others on Tuesday, Feb. 13. (Photo courtesy Clay Adam, Cooper Landing Emergency Services)

A backcountry skier died in an avalanche Tuesday afternoon about a mile from the Seward Highway, just north of Cooper Landing. 28-year-old Anchorage resident Joseph Allen was climbing a mountain with two other skiers when the group triggered an avalanche, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Trooper spokesperson Austin McDaniel said the two other skiers were able to dig themselves out, despite serious injuries. They called 911 and began looking for Allen, who was buried under the snow.

“They were able to dig him out of the avalanche and they began performing life saving efforts as first responders were making it to the area,” McDaniel said. “Unfortunately, life saving efforts performed by the two men were not successful.”

McDaniel said Allen’s body was taken to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage, where officials will determine the cause of death. The other two skiers were taken to a Kenai Peninsula hospital for treatment. 

The backcountry ski area, known as Summit Lake, hasn’t seen human-triggered avalanches recently, said Wendy Wagner, director of the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center. But she said it’s risky to venture into the backcountry right now. 

“It has been a dangerous several days,” Wagner said. “We’ve had these strong winds, the temperatures have climbed, some areas have seen snowfall as well. Anytime the weather is changing that rapidly increases the potential for natural and human triggered avalanches.”

Forecasters with the avalanche center went out to the Summit Lake area on Wednesday to better understand the type of avalanche that occurred and whether other backcountry recreation areas could be at risk of a similar slide. Wagner said they expect to release a report on the incident soon.

Allen’s death is the second avalanche death this winter in Alaska. A heli-skier died in the Chugach Mountains earlier this month after a slide pushed him into rocks. Wagner said the state usually averages three avalanche deaths per season. 

Wagner urges Southcentral recreationalists heading into the backcountry to check the center’s avalanche forecast which is updated daily at 7 a.m. 

“We should really watch the weather and stick to slopes that aren’t steep enough to slide,” she said. “We say avoid avalanche terrain if it’s stormy out or if we have high winds.”

If you’re heading out skiing, snowboarding or snowmachining, Troopers also encourage you to share your plans with a friend. Bring avalanche safety gear like a probe, shovel, beacon and even an airbag system. Pack extra food and clothing and have a communication device that will work where you’re headed.

Kavitha George is Alaska Public Media’s climate change reporter. Reach her at kgeorge@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Kavitha here.

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