Ski guide critically injured in Alaska avalanche

A 31-year-old ski guide in Alaska was in critical condition after getting buried by an avalanche, Alaska State Troopers said Saturday.

Spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said Aaron Karitis was unconscious when he was pulled out from under 7 feet of snow Saturday morning. He was taken to a clinic in Haines and was expected to be flown to an Anchorage hospital. She did not know if he regained consciousness.

Karitis, a heli-skiing guide with Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures, was buried for about 30 minutes before his four clients and fellow guides rescued him. He was wearing a locator beacon.

The incident happened in the Kicking Horse Valley west of Haines. In heli-skiing, a helicopter drops the skiers on the mountain, and they ski down.

“It is backcountry downhill, and they’re going to places where only very experienced skiers will go,” Ipsen said.

Late winter and early spring is the prime season for avalanches. Karitis checked conditions for his clients about the 4,000-foot level and was concerned, Ipsen said.

“He was kind of troubled by the conditions, so they were going to move further along on the ridgeline,” Ipsen said. “I don’t know if they had actually started moving or were about to move. But after he made that decision, that’s when the avalanche triggered.”

She said the slide carried him more than 800 feet. None of his clients got caught in it.

The Haines-based company that employs Karitis declined to comment when contacted by the Anchorage Daily News, which first reported the incident.

A guide from the same outfit died in the Kicking Horse Valley in March 2013. In that incident, the guide and two clients fell down the mountain when an overhanging edge of snow gave way.

According to his biography on the company website, Karitis grew up in Bend, Ore., “where he was making his first turns at Mt. Bachelor about the same time he was taking his first steps.”

He graduated from the University of Utah and had been working in the industry for 10 years. The website notes his excellent safety record.

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