Detailed Accident Report

Back to accidents page

Date: 2008-04-07
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: ?Little Matterhorn? on the backside of Mount Odessey
State: AK
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 person caught, buried, and killed


Please visit:

Avalanche claims the life of Jesse Tol

Tragedy unfolds on Thompson Pass

By Lee Revis

Editor, Valdez Star

Memorial service today at 4:00 P.M. at the Valdez Civic Center

Valdez lost one of its great legendary skiers and a family lost its son when an avalanche on Thompson Pass claimed the life of 31-year-old Jesse Tol early Monday afternoon.

The accident occurred on a slope that local backcountry enthusiasts call ?Little Matterhorn? on the backside of Mount Odessey on Thompson Pass sometime Monday according emergency responders.

It was a beautiful day and Jesse was out with his father, John, doing something the pair loved best ? traversing the snow covered mountains on Thompson Pass, an activity the father and son pair passionately pursued through the years.

?We use a snowmachine a lot to go ski,? the elder Tol told the Star in an interview late Tuesday afternoon.

The father and son had headed out, armed with skis, a snowboard and a camera to take photos, an activity the two did together often.

?We were just up there taking pictures,? said his father. Jesse was on foot, climbing up to a higher spot for the first photo of the day when the snow let loose, taking the son down in an avalanche of snow.

They never got to take a a single picture that day.

?The slide was approximately 500 to 700 feet in length and approximately 200 yards across,? said Meagan Peters, the spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers, in an email regarding the accident, ?Jesse was caught in the slide and completely buried,? she added, saying he ?was found four to five feet beneath the snow.?

John Tol , contrary to widely published reports, including the print edition of the Valdez Star, was not hurt or swept away during the avalanche.

He rushed to the aid of the son he loved so much, and dug his son out of the snow, but it was too late.

?He was dead when I got him out,? he said, ?That?s about it.?

Details of who first called in the emergency are unclear at the point, but a call made by a satellite phone came to the emergency dispatcher at the Valdez Police Department at 1:43 p.m. according to Sheri Pierce, the public information officer for the city.

A helicopter operated by H-2-0 Guides, the heli-skiing company owned by Dean Cummings, was the first on the scene and guides Geaf Terusse and Gabe Monroe worked to resuscitate Tol for at least half an hour according to Cummings.

?H-2-0 responded with their helicopters,? said Pierce, and EMTs from Valdez ?were waiting by the road,? around Mile 28 of the Richardson Highway. ?EMTs were at the scene by 2:11.?

?In this case it was just the worst case,? said Cummings, himself a noted avalanche safety expert.

Other heli-skiing operators arrived at the scene, including a helicopter operated by Valdez Heli Camps, which was equipped to carry out the fatally injured man.

?We did some support,? said Todd Webster, an employee of Valdez Heli Camps who was contacted by phone shortly after the accident on Monday. ?We?re not going to make a comment,? until there is an official police report.

?While en route to the local hospital, Jesse was pronounced deceased,? wrote Peters.

?I skied back down by myself,? said John, ?That was probably one of the last runs I?m going to do for a long time.?

News of the tragic event spread quickly through the skiing community, where Tol is well known as an experienced extreme skier.

?Jesse was an accomplished skier,? said a family friend after hearing the sad news. In addition to having been one of the finest skiers to come out of Valdez and the World Extreme Skiing Championships, Tol traveled the world?s best known ski spots, including those in Europe and South America. ??His family was very proud of that.?

Especially his dad.

?They truly were the best of friends,? said the friend, ?they did everything ? so much together.?

The family is planning a memorial service for Jesse at the Valdez Civic Center at 4:00 p.m. today.

Friends are also planning a memorial potluck ?tailgate? this Saturday evening at 19 Mile at Alaska Backcountry Adventures.

An account has been established at the First National Bank of Alaska in Valdez for anyone who would like to help his parents, Hermelinda and John, during this tragic time.

Dean Cummings said that the North America Outdoor Institute will host a special avalanche awareness event this coming April 18, ??to bring the community together.?