Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Mount McGinnis, near Juneau
Summary: 1 snowboarder, caught, buried, and killed
Text below is provided by the Anchorage Daily News. They have provided excellent coverage of all avalanche accidents in AK this winter. Please go to their web site and view the entire article. It contains most of the links of accidents in AK this year. We hope that this information will keep you from being their next cover story.
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The second victim (Winchell) was killed in a fall after the avalanche. She was descending the slide path and went over a cliff, after Brakel was caught.
Avalanche kills snowboarding pair.
Mount McGinnis slide boosts Alaska
death toll to 11 this year
By ROBERT KOWALSKI
Daily News Juneau bureau
JUNEAU - Two local snowboarders were killed
Tuesday morning when an avalanche with boulder-sized
chunks of snow and ice swept them more than 2,000 feet
down a prominent peak about 12 miles from downtown.
Katrina Winchell, 32, and Matthew Brakel, 33, were
found unconscious and partly buried after the slide came
to rest around 10:30 a.m. on the west side of Mount
They were taken by helicopter to Bartlett Regional
Hospital where they were pronounced dead a short
while later of multiple trauma injuries, according to
hospital spokeswoman Marijo C. Toner.
The accident brought to 11 the number of people killed
in avalanches in Alaska this year, including six
snowmachiners buried at Turnagain Pass on March 21.
"It was a snowboarder who triggered it," said Bill
Glude, who runs the Southeast Alaska Avalanche Center
and was preparing to guide another group of skiers on
Mount McGinnis when the slide broke loose Tuesday.
Glude, who helped in the rescue, said the slide carried
Winchell and Brakel nearly to the bottom of the
McGinnis Creek drainage on the west side of the
Ordinarily late April is not a time of especially high
avalanche hazard in theJuneau mountains, he said. "The
norm is to have a pretty stable snowpack this time of
Winchell and Brakel were among a group of five skiers
and boarders who chartered a helicopter to drop them
on mountain's summit on one of the rare sunny days in
Juneau this spring. The other three skiers were not
injured, said Lt. Beth Weldon of Capital City Fire
The group had brought cameras to take photos and shoot
video of their skiing, said James Wilson, president of
Coastal Helicopters Inc., which flew the group to the
mountain Tuesday. The Coastal pilot noticed the
avalanche as he flew away, and radioed for help,
"He saw it going," Wilson said. "It was a pretty steep
Helicopters ferrying other skiers into the area found
Winchell and Brakel, Glude said.
McGinnis is a 4,228-foot peak that juts up on the west
side of the Mendenhall Glacier. It is a popular
heli-skiing location because it's so close to Juneau,
Wilson said. Coastal charges $1,025 an hour to charter
its helicopters, he said.
Friends and co-workers described Winchell and Brakel
as excellent snowboarders experienced with
Winchell, who moved to Alaska several years ago from
Southern California, worked as a manager at the Hangar
on the Wharf restaurant in downtown Juneau.
The Hangar closed for several hours Tuesday afternoon
as Winchell's friends and co-workers gathered there
after hearing of her death.
"We're just crying together," said Murray Damitio, one
of the restaurant's managers. "This is just the most
overwhelming tragedy for all of us."
Brakel was a ski instructor and operated snow
grooming equipment at the Eaglecrest Ski Area on
Douglas Island this winter. He had worked at the ski
area for several years and taught children with the
Juneau Ski Club, said Paul Swanson, Eaglecrest
"He lived for skiing and boarding," Swanson said. "He
never said anything bad about anybody. He had lots of
Much of Southeast Alaska has been deluged with rain
and buried with snow over the last month. That may
have kept people out of the backcountry, said Bruce
Bowler, team manager of the rescue group Southeast
Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search, or
The group has had four rescue calls so far this year,
compared with as many as 45 calls in past years, he
Despite rain at sea level, Glude said snowpack at
higher elevations on peaks around Juneau is less than
normal right now.
Wilson said Coastal, which doesn't offer guided tours,
hasn't had one of its charter skiers die before.
"Anytime you take people back in that country, there's
always a possibility of avalanches. We've seen
numerous avalanches," he said. "I haven't seen anyone
get caught in one."
Tuesday's fatal avalanche outside Juneau brings to 11
the number of people killed in avalanches around
Alaska since late March.
A list of those previous fatal avalanches:
* April 16: Kenneth Hayes, 44, of Healy was killed
while riding his snowmachine in Caribou Pass in the
Alaska Range near Cantwell when snow on one side of
a canyon collapsed. Another snowmachiner in the group
suffered leg injuries.
* April 15: Gary Stone, 46, a backhoe operator from
Cordova, was killed after being buried by an avalanche
at a power-plant construction site in a Chugach
Mountains canyon north of Cordova. Searchers said the
slide filled a creek with snow about 20 feet deep.
* April 3: Odman Schmalzried, 40, of Wasilla was
killed while snowmachining near the Nelchina Glacier
in the Chugach Mountains about 75 miles east of
Palmer. Witnesses said the man was "high-marking" -
competing with other riders to leave the highest track on
a mountain - when a snow ledge up to a half-mile wide
slid down and buried him.
* March 21: Six snowmachiners were killed in
Turnagain Pass, 25 miles south of Anchorage, after
being buried by a mile-wide ridge of snow that broke
off in the Chugach Mountains. The riders were taking
part in a game of high-marking. The men were identified
as Jodi Combs, 26, Jeff Saunders, 29, and Chris Scott,
28, all of Anchorage; Dan Demers, 37, of Eagle River;
Tech Sgt. Victor Jones, age unknown, of Elmendorf Air
Force Base; and Aaron Arthur, 29, of Palmer. Arthur's
body has not yet been recovered. @Credit:q Reporter
Robert Kowalski can be reached at