Alaska snowmachine deaths at 4-year low

Posted: Wednesday, May 28, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) Alaska saw the lowest number of snowmachine-related deaths in at least four years, thanks to a snow drought through much of the state over the winter.

Nine people died in snowmachine accidents, compared with an average of 26 the previous three years.

''I just attribute it to lack of snow,'' said Greg Wilkinson, Alaska State Troopers spokesman.

Snowmachiners in Anchorage kept their machines idle most of the winter because there wasn't enough snow to ride in many of the areas that are popular around Alaska's largest city, Wilkinson said. Anchorage received only 36.8 inches of snow during the winter, the fourth-lowest snowfall on record at the National Weather Service in Anchorage in more than 50 years, according to meteorologist Dave Vonderheide.

No snowmachiners were killed in avalanches this winter, said Jill Fredston at the Alaska Mountain Safety Center.

''I think that's primarily because a lot of the areas people like to go were closed most of the year,'' Fredston told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Chugach State Park was closed to snowmachining the entire winter. The Chugach National Forest and Hatcher Pass opened much later than they normally do, Fredston said.

No snowmachiners died in three of the state's most popular riding areas Cantwell on the Parks Highway, Summit Lake on the Richardson Highway and Eureka on the Glenn Highway.

All nine snowmachiners who died were men and six of the nine deaths occurred in the Bush. At least two of the deaths were believed to be alcohol-related.

While there were fewer snowmachine-related deaths, the ones that did occur were similar to those in past years. Three people drowned, one fell in a crevasse, one drove off a cliff, one ran head-on into a pickup truck, one ran into a fence, one struck an unknown object that hit him in the head and one rode off and disappeared.

Avalanche deaths were also down as a result of the low snowfall, Fredston said. Only four people died in avalanches this year.

Two climbers from Canada were presumed killed in an avalanche while climbing the Devil's Thumb near Petersburg in Southeast Alaska, a Wasilla snowboarder was killed in an avalanche in Hatcher Pass and an Anchorage doctor was killed in an avalanche near Valdez while skiing in Chugach State Park.

There were 11 avalanche deaths in the winter of 2001-02 in Alaska.

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