Walter J. Coty III 4/8/2000
Rider lost in slide near race
Craig Demoski 4/7/2000
Another avalanche kills 1 near Talkeetna
By DOUG O'HARRA, 4/9/2000, ADN
A recreational snowmachiner was missing in an avalanche and presumed dead Saturday
on a mountain near the Arctic Man Ski & Snow Go Classic encampment, where troopers
and race organizers repeatedly warned snowmachiners to stay away from the slide-prone
In a separate incident, a backcountry skier died Saturday in an avalanche on a mountain
northwest of Talkeetna that injured a second skier, Alaska State Troopers said.
The tragedy at Arctic Man was the second to mar the weekend event, where 15,000
to 18,000 people gather in an ad hoc city of motor homes and campers to party and
watch the extreme sporting event.
On Friday night, a snowmachiner headed down the access road to the encampment, off
the Richardson Highway about 12 miles north of Paxson, was killed when he crashed
into a trailer parked along the road, troopers said.
The avalanche threat in the Alaska Range several miles from the Arctic Man race
site prompted troopers to call off the search for the missing man. His name was
not released because family members had not been notified.
Two troopers helicopters, from Anchorage and Fairbanks, were flying in the area
Saturday night to assess the danger before allowing a search to resume, trooper
spokesman Greg Wilkinson said.
"It's an avalanche happening up there. It's all over. We've just had so many slides,"
trooper Sgt. Ronald Wall said.
The race, which combines high-speed skiing and snowmachining, went on as scheduled.
Troopers said the missing man had escaped a snow slide Saturday morning.
"He swam out of an avalanche earlier today," trooper Sgt. Ronald Wall said. "Three
of us went up there and met him and a few others at a bottom of a slide. He was
After troopers determined the man was OK, they parted ways.
The man had been highmarking before he was buried by snow about 2:30 p.m., Wall
"It's believed that the same individual who caused the avalanche is the same person
who's currently missing," he added.
About five companions saw the man covered by the avalanche, Wilkinson said.
Wall ordered troopers and other searchers back to camp at 7 p.m. because of instability
in the area.
Wall said event organizers and troopers warned snowmachiners to stay away from the
unstable steep terrain. Saturday's slides were not the first.
On Friday, one person was buried in an avalanche near the start of the Arctic Man
course, Wilkinson said. Troopers and volunteers responded and uncovered the person
at 6:45 p.m., 20 minutes after the slide.
A second avalanche in that area also buried a person, who also was removed without
injury, Wilkinson said.
"We've been stressing it all over, all day long, time and time again," Wall said.
"We've done everything we can think of here to try to protect people."
He added: "We've got people actually driving their sleds over debris fields. We
can't protect people from themselves."
A decision about when the search would resume was to be made after Anchorage avalanche
expert Jill Fredston, who was flown to the scene, analyzed the danger.
In Friday night's crash on the Arctic Man road, Craig Demoski, 26, of Fairbanks
was pronounced dead shortly after the 10:15 p.m. accident, probably from massive
chest trauma, Wall said.
Demoski had been driving his 1997 Arctic Cat snowmachine at "excessive speed" at
Mile 1.1 of Arctic Man road, which was clearly marked with numerous 5 mph signs,
A snow slide on Snowshoe Mountain northwest of Talkeetna killed a skier participating
in a wilderness survival course, Wilkinson said. The incident was reported to troopers
at 3:22 p.m. Saturday. The Rescue Coordination Center sent a helicopter to the scene.
The identities of the skier and a companion, who was flown to Providence Alaska
Medical Center with back injuries, were not available late Saturday.
Body of avalanche victim found
Fairbanks man killed after highmarking near Arctic Man competition
By DOUG O'HARRA, ADN 4/10/2000
Searchers early Sunday morning found the body of a recreational
snowmachiner who was buried and killed in a weekend avalanche about two miles from
the Arctic Man Ski & Sno Go Classic.
Alaska State Troopers identified the victim as Walter J. Coty III, 43, of Fairbanks.
Searchers found his body using trained dogs and avalanche probes.
Coty's body was found under about 41/2 feet of snow, lying face up, about 40 feet
downhill from where his helmet was found after the slide hit him about 1 p.m. Saturday,
said trooper Sgt. Paul Burke. His body was flown to Fairbanks in a trooper helicopter
Coty was among an estimated 15,000 to 18,000 people who had gone to the Summit Lake
area north of Paxson to watch the annual snowmachine-ski race, camp out, explore
the mountains and generally play on snowmachines.
The avalanche occurred in a bowl in the mountains several miles from the groomed
Troopers said Coty had been caught in an avalanche earlier the same day while trying
to highmark in the bowl. The practice, which has figured in several snowmachine
deaths in recent years, involves snowmachiners trying to drive as high as possible
on slopes, Burke said.
Coty pulled himself out of that one, but troopers asked him to carry an avalanche
beacon if he was going to continue.
Coty was reportedly camping off the Richardson Highway near the Arctic Man gathering
with a large group of family members and friends. He was an experienced snowmachiner
who often rode in the area, said Arctic Man race organizer Howard Thies.
Away from the race corridor and the rolling hills crisscrossed with thousands of
tracks, people had reported seeing several dozen avalanches Saturday on steep, unstable
slopes as the sun baked the area.
Troopers and Arctic Man organizers had been urging the recreational snowmachiners
to stay off the steep slopes all day Saturday. Though thousands of people cruised
the flats and hills, Burke expressed frustration that a few people ignored the message,
their tracks visible on avalanche chutes and extreme slopes overlooking the valley.
"Highmarking was the activity," he said. "It's pretty amazing where they go.
"How many of these things have we been on?" he added, talking about the search.
"It's the same conditions, the same thing. You'd think people would have more prudence."
The avalanche was composed of a slab of wind-deposited snow on an ice crust resting
on a layer of weak, temperature-altered snow, said avalanche expert Jill Fredston,
who went to the area from Anchorage to analyze the scene and help find the victim.
The slab ranged from 10 inches to 51/2 feet thick. It had slid on a slope ranging
from 27 degrees to 35 degrees - a relatively moderate angle.
"The biggest clue available were the numerous slides in the area," she said. "It's
a very sensitive snowpack now, both in Thompson Pass and here."
Troopers had called off a search Saturday evening, awaiting Fredston's analysis
of additional danger. Two Alaska Search and Rescue Group dogs, an Australian shepherd
named Chili and a yellow Lab named Bean, arrived after a drive from Anchorage with
owners Paul Brusseau and Corey Aist.
Once on the avalanche debris, Chili found the victim quickly, Brusseau said, trying
to dig in the snow. Bean confirmed the location by also trying to dig, and searchers
found the body with probes about 8:30 a.m.
"We kind of figured out what we thought would be the best place to start," Brusseau
said. "We got a pretty good alert pretty fast."
Coty's was the second snowmachine death of the weekend near the sports event. Friday
night, Craig Demoski, 26, of Fairbanks was killed after driving his Arctic Cat machine
into a parked trailer at Mile 1.1 of Arctic Man road. Troopers said it appeared
he was moving with excessive speed.