Update: Ski guide Aaron Karitis dies following Haines avalanche

Aaron Karitis was evaluating snow conditions on a popular ski run west of Haines when the avalanche occurred about 11 a.m. Saturday. (Photo courtesy SEABA website)

Aaron Karitis was evaluating snow conditions on a popular ski run west of Haines when the avalanche occurred about 11 a.m. Saturday. (Photo courtesy SEABA website)

Updated March 18, 2014 | 11:45 a.m.

Aaron Karitis died late Monday, according to a statement posted online by his family.

Karitis was guiding a group of skiers with Haines heliskiing company Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures, or SEABA, on Saturday.

According to the statement, which was corroborated by SEABA, he had dug a snow pit to test snow conditions and sample stability,  and had determined conditions were safe. Then Karitis skied down a slope to set a track, while his clients waited on top.  An avalanche was triggered, carrying him about approximately 700 feet and burying him in several feet of snow.

Fellow guides found Karitis within 15 minutes thanks to the  locator beacon he was wearing. He was unresponsive and CPR was started. He was transported to the Haines clinic then flown to Providence Medical Center in Anchorage.

The statement from his family and medical team says Karitis’ core body temperature was critically low when he arrived at Providence. He had inhaled snow, compromising oxygen flow to his brain.

Karitis is originally from Bend, Oregon and has been active in heliskiing for more than a decade. His experience includes extensive avalanche education, according to SEABA and his family.

Updated March 17, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.

A heliskiing guide was critically injured in an avalanche near Haines over the weekend, the third avalanche in as many years to injure or kill extreme mountain skiers in the area.

Alaska State Troopers say thirty-one year old Aaron Karitis was evaluating snow conditions on a popular ski run west of Haines when the avalanche occurred about 11 a.m. Saturday. Karitis was carried about 800 feet and buried at least seven feet deep, according to trooper spokesperson Beth Ipsen.

Karitis was acting as a guide on a heliski tour with Haines company Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures, known as SEABA. Four clients were waiting on the top of slope and not caught in the avalanche. Other SEABA staff immediately began searching for Karitis and called in another helicopter and more guides to assist. Ipsen says Karitis was located within 20 minutes.

“If you’re going to survive an avalanche, it’s because the people you are with are going to find you in time,” Ipsen said.

Karitis was wearing a locator beacon that helped rescuers locate him quickly, Ipsen said.

“What you have is you have locator beacons on you and you have to turn it on. You have to turn it on so it receives a signal and that’s why it kind of like a metal detector where you’re trying to receive that signal the other beacon is sending out.”

Ipsen said Karitis was unresponsive when located and CPR was started. He was flown by a SEABA helicopter to the Haines Airport and transported by ambulance to the local clinic where CPR continued. He was stabilized and medevaced to Providence Medical Center in Anchorage where he was listed in critical condition on Sunday. There was no other information about his injuries.

SEABA owners did not want to speak about the incident but issued a statement Sunday saying normal response procedures were followed. The statement also says while avalanches are inherent risks of heliskiing, the company has offered its assistance and encouragement to the guide’s family.

Ipsen said a trooper visited the scene of the avalanche Saturday and interview SEABA staff and responders about the incident. Troopers also revised a previous press release that said Karitis had determined the area unsafe to ski. Ipsen said Sunday the guide wasn’t planning on moving his clients from the area. Instead, based on the conditions, he was showing them how to ski that slope. The clients hadn’t yet descended the slope when the avalanche broke loose and took Karitis down the mountain known to skiers as Tele 2.5 near the Kicking Horse Valley west of Haines.

Ipsen said the trooper investigation is complete because they found no sign of criminal intent or negligence.

According to the SEABA website, Karitis grew up in Bend, Oregon. He graduated from the University of Utah and has been working in the heliski industry for about a decade. He joined SEABA in 2013. Karitis has international guide and avalanche certifications, according to the website, and an excellent safety record.

Just over a year ago, another SEABA guide was killed in a cornice collapsed on a mountain near Haines. That incident also injured two skiers. And in 2012 a guide and client with another heliski company were killed in an avalanche, also outside Haines.

Original Post March 15, 2014 | 4:34 p.m.

Alaska State Troopers say an avalanche near Haines on Saturday morning  injured a helicopter ski guide.

Troopers say Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures guide Aaron Karitis was testing snow conditions about 11 a.m. He had just deemed it unsafe for clients when the avalanche struck.

Karitis was buried for about 30 minutes before he was located by his emergency beacon. Troopers say CPR was started and he was flown to Haines by a SEABA helicopter then transported to the clinic. He was flown to Providence Hospital in Anchorage. On Sunday afternoon, he was listed in critical condition.

According to the SEABA website, Karitis is 31 years old and grew up in Bend, Oregon. He graduated from the University of Utah and has been working in the heli-ski industry for about a decade.  He joined SEABA in 2013. Karitis has international guide and avalanche certifications, according to the website, and an excellent safety record.