New snow, strong winds and warmer temperatures combined for fatal avalanche near Haines

Picture taken Jan. 1, 2020 of the avalanche that killed two men and partially buried another person on Dec. 30, 2019. This hill is approximately 500 feet high and is located near the entrance to the Chuck Creek Trail, also known as the Samuel Glacier parking lot, in the Chilkat Pass or Haines Pass area. The avalanche appeared to start just below the crown in the center of the picture and appeared to extend as much as 300 feet wide.
Photo taken Jan. 1, 2020, of the avalanche that killed two men and partially buried another person on Dec. 30, 2019. This hill is approximately 500 feet high and is located near the entrance to the Chuck Creek Trail, also known as the Samuel Glacier parking lot, in the Chilkat Pass or Haines Pass area. The avalanche appeared to start just below the crown in the center of the picture and appeared to extend as much as 300 feet wide. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Saal)

Many people in the Southeast Alaska community of Haines are devastated by an avalanche that killed two residents on Dec. 30.

Meanwhile, avalanche specialists are warning skiers and snowboarders to be careful if they head back into the area.

The avalanche occurred in British Columbia near the entrance to the Chuck Creek Trail (also known as the Samuel Glacier parking lot) in the Chilkat Pass corridor. If you’re from Canada, you may know it instead as Haines Pass.

“It’s pretty common for people to drive up to the pass from Haines and go skiing when they have a day off for the weekend, especially towards the spring when the weather gets warmer and the snow is deep,” said Erik Stevens of the Haines Avalanche Center. “You tend to see a lot of people recreating up there.”

Stevens said they put out an advisory warning about conditions four days before the fatal Dec. 30 avalanche.

“We’ve seen a lot of new snow up in the mountains for the previous week, and some strong southeast winds and then a strong warming event to boot, which tends to make things pretty unstable and pretty dangerous,” said Stevens. “We typically advise people that the most dangerous time to go out is during and immediately after a storm.”

According to a preliminary report from Avalanche Canada, the three snowboarders were climbing a hillside on foot when a slab avalanche was triggered. A slab is essentially a layer of snow. This particular slab was about 5 feet deep and as much as 300 feet wide.

The avalanche caught all three snowboarders as it ran about 500 feet down the slope.

Zane Durr and Matthew Green, both 21 years old and from Haines, were killed when they were completely buried.

Izak Miller, 16, was only partially buried. He dug himself out and called for help by activating an emergency satellite messaging system.

The tragedy has sent ripples throughout Haines’ tight-knit community.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the Durr and Green families with funeral expenses. As of Friday evening, more than $10,000 had been raised.

Meanwhile, Stevens said skiers and snowboarders should continue to use caution.

“There is a lot of avalanche terrain up there,” Stevens said. “Sometimes there are small slopes that are bigger than they look. The conditions are pretty dangerous. We have persistent weak layers up there that are deep down in the snowpack, and they’re going to be with us for weeks or months to come.”

Close up view of the crown where the avalanche started on Dec. 30, 2019 that killed two men and partially buried another person. This hill is located near the entrance to the Chuck Creek Trail, also known as the Samuel Glacier parking lot, in the Chilkat Pass or Haines Pass area. The avalanche appeared to extend as much as 300 feet wide.
Closeup view of the crown where the avalanche started on Dec. 30, 2019, that killed two men and partially buried another person. This hill is located near the entrance to the Chuck Creek Trail, also known as the Samuel Glacier parking lot, in the Chilkat Pass or Haines Pass area. The avalanche appeared to extend as much as 300 feet wide. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Saal)

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