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 31-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,” she said. “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.