Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Talkeetna Mountains near Cantwell
Summary: 7 snowmobilers caught, 3 injured, 1 dead, 6 machines damaged
Avalanche injures four men;
By PETER PORCO, Anchorage Daily News reporter
A Fairbanks man was left missing and several others
were injured when an avalanche buried a group of
snowmachiners shortly before 4 p.m. Friday in the
Talkeetna Mountains near Cantwell, Alaska State
Rescuers continued to work Friday evening to dig out
two riders who had serious injuries, troopers said. A
helicopter from Fort Wainwright was standing by to
evacuate the injured men.
Two other men were flown earlier to a clinic in Healy.
They were expected to be treated for minor injuries and
released, said trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson.
Rescuers, including volunteers from Cantwell, were
carefully trying to dig out the two injured men without
causing them further injury, Wilkinson said. Once they
were out, they would be transported to a place where
the helicopter could land and pick them up.
The helicopter's crew was concerned about causing
another slide if it got too close to the area, he said.
The search for the missing snowmachiner would
possibly end for the night once the injured are
evacuated, he said.
"A decision needs to be made tonight, after the injured
are recovered and brought out, about the safety of the
area," Wilkinson said.
The names of the five snowmachiners were not
Avalanche experts from Anchorage were expected to
assess the condition of the slopes on Friday, he said.
The five snowmachiners were traveling with another
group of five to seven riders, Wilkinson said.
The group that was hit by the slide is from Fairbanks,
said Jack Lawson, owner of Cantwell's Reindeer
Mountain Lodge, where they were staying. They come
down to ride in the Cantwell area at least once a year
and rode through the same area last weekend.
"A few of them were completely buried, and a couple of
them got themselves out and started digging the others
out," Lawson said.
"The ones here are limping, bruised up and sore.
"They saw a small slide coming down and the next thing
they knew, it was on top of them, a big one," Lawson
The avalanche happened in Jack River Canyon, about a
dozen miles south of the junction of the Denali and
Parks highways, Lawson said.
The popular "Big Notch in the Mountains" - the canyon's
local name - is part of a 60-mile loop through the
Talkeetna Mountains that begins at the Denali Highway.
The riders pass the Caribou Lakes at Caribou Pass and
come out near Mile 196 of the Parks Highway at Broad
Pass. They then head back to Cantwell along the
"Generally the trail is on the creek bottom, and you're
normally not in avalanche danger unless you choose to
do some highmarking or go up into the high mountain
draws," said Bob Gilbertson, owner of Backwoods
Lodge, another Cantwell inn where snowmachiners
from Fairbanks and Anchorage stay on weekends.
"I've been in there, and I've seen avalanches on the high
slopes," said Gilbertson, who used to ride
snowmachines and drive dogs through Jack River
Canyon. However, the slides did not reach the bottom,
But if the snowmachiners were highmarking - driving
hard up the slopes to see how high they could go - that
could lead to disaster, Gilbertson said.
"My immediate reaction is that these people were off
the trail or highmarking or just exploring the high
canyons and draws and just generally screwing around,"
he said. "I've done this same thing up in that canyon - it's
absolutely gorgeous in there, beautiful snowmachining
"But in the wrong time of year, you shouldn't be there."
Gilbertson said that this winter's snowfall has been less
than normal but that it snowed recently.