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Troopers identify skier killed in Eagle River avalanche

February 13, 2010
  • Avalanche specialist Kip Melling says recent snow and wind provide all the ingredients for a slide. (Shawn Wilson/KTUU-DT)
Avalanche specialist Kip Melling says recent snow and wind provide all the ingredients for a slide. (Shawn Wilson/KTUU-DT)

by Christine Kim and Channel 2 News staff
Sunday, February 14, 2010

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- State troopers have released the name of the skier who was killed Saturday during an avalanche near Eagle River.

Troopers say William Brasher Schorr, 60, was cross-country skiing alone near the top of a ridge while a friend waited near the bottom. The slide happened about 1,500 feet above Mile 7.3 of Hiland Road, just after 4 p.m. Rescue crews say rapid changes in weather and winds are producing dangerous conditions for avalanches.

"We're dealing with an instability that's long-lasting, that's been in the snow pack pretty much since the beginning of the year," said avalanche specialist Kip Melling. "And now that we've got the additional load combined with the recent wind event, all the ingredients are there -- it's just looking for a trigger."

As emergency lights flickered along Hiland Road, rescue personnel were scanning the mountains Saturday.

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"It's fairly steep up there -- I don't know what percentage the grade is," said Anchorage Fire Department Assistant Chief Erich Scheunemann. "Avalanches are fairly common in the Hiland Valley here. I don't know how many times a year they do occur, but the residents are aware of it."

Troopers say the other skier, who wasn't hurt, was able to reach the road and call 911. That call set in motion a strong recovery effort that involved four snowmachines, and the cooperation of several emergency crews and neighbors.

"He was already uncovered by one of the local residents here, that actually saw the avalanche from the other side of the valley," Melling said.

According to rescue teams, after 45 minutes of searching, witnesses on the scene saw a hand that was sticking out from under an area 3 to 4 feet deep. Schorr's body was then carried back to an ambulance.

"Ask everyone to practice safety in the mountains, especially after this last warmup," said Dean Knapp with the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group. "The snow is unstable."

And as the flashing lights leave the road, it's a painful reminder to be extra cautious on the slopes.

Rescue groups say other prime avalanche areas are Turnagain and Hatcher passes.

Contact Christine Kim at ckim@ktuu.com

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