Thursday, Feb 12, 2009
While returning from an annual law enforcement refresher in Anchorage last Saturday night, chief ranger Tim Steidel and ranger Steve Edwards were momentarily buried and barely escaped a more dire predicament as a mass of snow fell onto their patrol vehicle from the adjacent mountainside. While descending White Pass approximately six miles outside of Skagway, Steidel, who was driving, noticed in the periphery of the headlights that a wave of snow was falling toward the passenger side of the windshield. In an effort to evade the bulk of the snow mass, Steidel veered into the oncoming lane and braced in expectation of the vehicle being pushed from the roadway. In that second, everything went black as the snow completely covered the vehicleâs windshield and piled into the passenger side with an audible âwhomp,â nudging the vehicle sideways. Seconds later, the rangers found themselves clear of the snow debris and accelerated back onto open roadway, not taking the time to stop and look back in fear of a second or larger avalanche completely overcoming them. The rangers reported the slide to US Customs a mile below the avalanche site and the highway was closed Sunday morning by the Alaska Department of Transportation until it could be cleared of snow and debris. Colder temperatures have resulted in drier powdery snow and smaller point release avalanches, which spared the vehicle and occupants further damage and injury. Had temperatures been warmer, larger and heavier snow debris could have easily resulted in knocking the vehicle off the road and burying it until found. This incident serves as a reminder of the hazards of traveling in winter in Alaska and of the importance of winter preparedness for cold temperature travel. Prior to the drive to Anchorage, the park maintenance staff serviced the vehicle with studded tires, a new battery, and full annual maintenance. In addition, the park had just equipped each winter highway vehicle with survival kits, including sleeping bags, emergency food and water, shovel, snowshoes, and many other recommended items. As it happened, the rangers were also transporting the entire park radio cache, a satellite phone, and a SPOT messenger satellite tracker, which might have come in handy in the event of an overnight burial situation. Having just returned to the park from USS Arizona Memorial, Edwards experienced his first winter trip on an Alaskan Highway. When asked how he felt about the experience, Edwards replied âI think Iâll do my winter shopping in Juneau in the future.â Juneau is accessible only by water or air.