Heli ski guide Aaron Karitis dies following Haines avalanche

Comments by Tess Weaver/

 

On Saturday, 31-year-old Aaron Karitis was caught in an avalanche near the Kicking Horse Valley west of Haines, Alaska while heli-ski guiding for Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures. Aaron survived his injuries until late Monday night.

Aaron, a native of Bend, Oregon and owner/founder of Pulseline Adventure, loved and respected the mountains of Alaska with every fiber of his being. With an impeccable safety record and extensive avalanche education, Aaron always aired on the side of caution. On Saturday, his conduct put the safety of his clients first.

Prior to opening a run in the “Tele Bowl” area, Aaron directed his clients to stay on the ridge while he investigated snow conditions. Atop the ridge, Aaron dug a snow pit that indicated snow conditions were safe to ski on. (This very snow pit has since been evaluated, confirming Aaron’s original assessment as accurate.) He ski cut the top of the slope to further investigate stability. This ski cut produced no results, also indicating that snow conditions were presumably safe. Aaron told his group that he would ski down slope, stop, and then radio for them to follow his tracks one skier at a time. The group had a vantage point in which they could watch his descent. As Aaron skied toward the regroup location, a large avalanche was triggered mid slope, carrying him approximately 700 feet down the slope.

After fellow guides located Aaron (who was wearing a beacon), he was extracted from four feet of snow within 15 minutes. Resuscitation efforts began immediately. He was flown by helicopter to a clinic in Haines and then transported to the Adult Critical Care Unit at the Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.

Upon arriving at Providence, Aaron’s core body temperature was critically low. He had also inhaled a great deal of snow, compromising the oxygen flow to his brain. Based on his time at Providence, doctors assured Aaron’s family that he did not experience any suffering while on the mountain. Aaron left it on the hill—as he would have wanted. His family and friends agree that Aaron would have never settled for anything less than a full recovery.

Aaron’s youth, strength, and excellent health will soon help to save more lives through organ donation.

While at Providence, Aaron was surrounded by his mother Beverly, sister Ashley, uncle Paul, and his closest friends. Aaron’s family and friends are so grateful for your thoughts, prayers, messages, and calls. The love and support has been overwhelming and continues to help them through this very sad time. His family would also like to express their gratitude for the support of the wonderful medical team at Providence.

Below is the full account of Saturday’s incident from SEABA:

On Saturday morning, Aaron and a group of clients were flown out to the Kicking Horse Valley west of Haines, Alaska. Prior to opening the second run of the day, Aaron traversed off to investigate snow conditions and directed clients to remain in a safe position atop the ridge. Aaron skied away 50 feet down slope of the group to dig a test pit to determine snowpack stability, showing no obvious signs of weakness, Aaron determined the slope safe to ski on. This very snow pit has since been evaluated, confirming Aaron’s assessment that the snow did not show obvious signs of weakness or instability.

Aaron then made a ski cut at the top of the slope to further investigate the stability of the snow. This ski cut produced no results, also indicating that snow conditions were presumably safe. Aaron then communicated to his group that he would ski to a position down slope to regroup and would radio his group from there to follow his tracks one skier at a time. The group had a vantage point in which they could watch his descent.

As he was skiing toward his regroup location, a large avalanche was triggered mid slope, engulfing him and taking him approximately 700 feet down the slope.

A separate helicopter with a guide and clients were unloading on top of the run as the avalanche was triggered. The second guide responded to Aaron’s clients communication that there had been an avalanche and a search began. Parts of the slope had not released and for the safety of the entire group, only two descended the slide path joining with a second helicopter load of guide personnel to search for Aarons beacon signal. The group was able to locate and extract him from four feet of snow within 15 minutes. Aaron was unconscious and resuscitation efforts began immediately. He was flown by helicopter to a clinic in Haines; and then transported to the Adult Critical Care Unit at the Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.