Alaska heli-ski guide dies in Thompson Pass avalanche

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Mountains seen from Thompson Pass. (Creative Commons photo by mcav0y)

A heli-skiing guide died in an avalanche in Thompson Pass near Valdez on Monday, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Michael Hamilton, 46, was leading a group of skiers and scouting a run when he triggered an avalanche that swept him about 1,500 feet down the mountain and over a cliff, troopers said in a written statement posted online Thursday. Hamilton worked for Valdez Heli-Ski Guides.

Hamilton was well-equipped with avalanche safety gear, including an airbag system that he was able to deploy, but troopers said rescuers in the ski group’s helicopter found him unconscious.

“Despite the life-saving efforts of the heliski operation and medical staff in Valdez, Hamilton was declared deceased in Valdez,” the troopers statement said.

According to the Valdez Avalanche Center, the avalanche occurred at about 5,800 feet on a northwest-facing slope near the Pencil Glacier.

Troopers noted dangerous avalanche conditions in the region, as spring has brought warmer weather to the mountains and caused slopes to become more unstable. A separate avalanche in Thompson Pass on Tuesday injured two other backcountry users, troopers said.

Hamilton’s friends on Facebook described him as an experienced skier and guide with a magnetic personality. According to a GoFundMe page setup for Hamilton’s memorial costs, he is survived by his wife, Sunny.

In a short post online expressing condolences, the Valdez Avalanche Center described Hamilton as a local legend:

“His passing has left a huge hole in the community, he will not be forgotten.”

Valdez Heli-Ski Guides did not return a call seeking comment.

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Casey Grove is the host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media with an emphasis on crime and courts. Reach him at cgrove@alaskapublic.org.

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