Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 1999-03-21
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Powerline Pass in Chugach State Park
State: AK
Country: USA
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

try it.

"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?' "

he said.

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

ever seen."

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,"

Feller said.

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

get complacent."