Please, be careful in the backcountry

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2008

Please, please, please, be careful out there.

If Thursday's warning from Alaska State Troopers that dangerous avalanche conditions are developing in Turnagain Pass wasn't enough, the death on Friday of two snowmachiners caught up in a snowslide should drive the point home: we live in a wild and dangerous place.

If you're planning to venture out into the backcountry, be it on snowmachine, dog sled, skies or snowshoes, be prepared for the conditions you are likely to encounter.

Check conditions for the area you are planning to visit before you go. Chugach National Forest staff maintain an avalanche forecast page on the Web at If you're heading out to other parts of the Kenai Peninsula, give the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge a call at 262-7021.

When you head out, make sure you have appropriate safety gear. For traveling in avalanche country, Troopers recommend a cell phone and communication equipment, avalanche transceivers, probes and shovels. Make sure your gear is functioning, and make sure you know how to use it.

Educate yourself about avalanches. Take a safety course and learn to recognize warning signs. The Chugach National Forest Web site includes links to organizations offering training and other sites containing useful information. To an extent, avalanche activity is predictable if you know what to look for.

Leave a trip plan with a person who can be counted on to notify officials if you don't check in as scheduled. No one will start searching if they don't know you're missing, and knowing where to look greatly increases the odds for a rescue should an accident occur.

Most of all, use common sense. Listen to the experts. If a situation looks risky, it probably is. A day in Alaska's backcountry can be exhilarating, but it isn't worth your life.

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