Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Powerline Pass in Chugach State Park
Summary: 3 snowmobilers caught, 2 buried
'Challenge' turns survival lesson
Three tell of unreported slide
By S.J. KOMARNITSKY, Anchorage Daily News, 4/2/99
As six snowmachiners at Turnagain Pass were being
swept to their deaths by a mile-wide wall of snow,
three other riders were fighting for their lives in an
avalanche above Anchorage in Chugach State Park.
While the former made headlines nationwide, the latter
has been known only to the handful who witnessed it
and the few they have told.
In both cases, the avalanche was triggered by
snowmachiners riding high on a steep slope warmed by
hours of sunshine. Those at Powerline Pass survived to
tell their stories through pure luck.
"I knew it was dangerous," said Troy Feller, an
Anchorage structural engineer who was buried chest
deep near Green Lake. "But I wanted to try something a
little more challenging."
Feller had been riding with two friends as well as his
wife and three children - the oldest is 8. When he'd
arrived at the bowl that Sunday afternoon on March 21,
he'd told his wife to steer clear of the hillside that later
gave way. He rode with his family at first on the gentler
slopes but got bored and saw two other snowmachiners
riding on the steeper mountainside above. He decided to
"I knew better," he said.
He powered up the mountain as far as his snowmachine
could carry him. One friend followed but lost control
and started tumbling downhill.
Feller saw the other man's machine rolling behind him.
He rode over to check on him. As he stepped off his
machine, he said, he thought he heard a "whump," the
sound of snow settling, a clear warning of slide danger.
"I thought, 'Did I really feel that or am I imagining it?' "
As Feller was puzzling over the sound, his friend Bill
Moxlow came up to help.
Feller got back on his machine and rode down to where
his wife and children were parked, eating lunch. As they
talked, he started thinking about the noise. It started to
sound more real.
"I thought, 'I better go tell those guys about it. I think I
really did hear something.' "
He rode back up the hill and pulled up next to his two
friends, leaving his machine running. But it stalled, and
just as he told his companions he thought the slope was
unsafe, he heard another "whump."
"I looked up, and you could see the snow boiling
toward the top of ridge," he said. "Snowballs were
popping straight out of it. It was the strangest sight I've
Feller tried to start his machine, but the engine wouldn't
catch. He jumped as the first wave of snow blasted him
forward. He landed on his feet and took a few steps
before the second rush of snow caught him.
He said he could feel his snowmachine bumping against
his legs beneath him.
"I just thought, 'I need to try to swim,' " he said. "That's
what you're supposed to do if you're caught in an
avalanche. I was really concentrating on that."
A quarter-mile away, Jeanette Feller and the couple's
children watched helplessly as the snow engulfed the
three men and carried them more than 100 feet down the
slope. Troy Feller later estimated the avalanche to be
about 200 yards wide and up to 6 feet deep.
"I saw it all in slow motion," Jeanette Feller said. "I
must have yelled. My daughter said I did. I told my
children, 'Everyone pick a person and try to find where
they end up.' "
She didn't know what to think.
"It was very scary," she said. "To be watching your
husband who may be dead with your three children
Feller said he never went completely under, but when
the snow stopped he was buried chest deep in a wet
He looked over and saw one of his companions - he did
not want to name him - pop out of the snow. He had
been completely buried. Moxlow had managed to ride it
out on his snowmachine.
"I was just so glad that my head was above the snow,"
It wasn't until the next day when the couple learned of
the tragedy at Turnagain Pass.
"That hit me really hard," Feller said.
Both Fellers said the avalanche was a wake-up call.
Jeanette said she plans to keep to the flat ground. Troy
said he'll continue to ride the hills but with more
"It wasn't out of ignorance that I went over there," he
said. "I knew it was a dangerous slope. You just kind of