This story has been updated since our original post.
A skier who was testing snow conditions near Haines for an international ski competition survived an avalanche Wednesday mostly unscathed. That means the only U.S. stop on the Freeride World Tour will go on as planned this weekend.
Forty-year-old Scott Sundberg of Haines was rescued, treated and released from the Haines clinic all within four hours.
Sundberg is co-owner of heliski company Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures or SEABA. The company is working with the international Freeride World Tour to host a competition in the mountains near Haines this weekend. Event manager Nicholas Hale-Woods says Wednesday’s excursion was a typical scouting mission to test snow conditions and dangers before an event.
“We’re doing this to make sure that on competition day we limit the risk to the minimum,” Hale-Woods says. “The risk in such an environment is never zero but we are aiming at limiting it to the minimum.”
The competition will go on as planned, he says.
The scouting group included Sundberg, Hale-Woods, international ski guides from Freeride and SEABA guides. Alaska State Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters says Sundberg was skiing a maneuver called a “hard carve” to test snow conditions when an avalanche was triggered. He was the only person caught in the slide.
Sundberg was partially buried with his head under the snow. The group with him quickly located and uncovered him and he regained consciousness. A SEABA helicopter transported him to the Haines airport where he was met by an ambulance. Peters says troopers were not needed to help with search and rescue.
“The really good part about this and a really good take-a-way is yes, they were in the backcountry,” Peters says. “An avalanche was triggered. But there were other people on the scene. They had proper safety equipment. They were able to quickly locate the person and transport him to help and the person appears to be OK.”
Hale-Woods says Sundberg was wearing an airbag that deployed when he was caught in the avalanche. All athletes in the competition are required to wear the same equipment, he says.
“Avalanche beacon, shovel, probe and a backpack, an airbag, helmet, back protection. This is mandatory,” Hale-Woods says. “It limits the accidents and is the good example for anybody willing to go out and freeride.”
Organizers have not yet decided on exactly what slopes they will hold the competition this weekend. Hale-Woods says that will depend on weather and snow conditions within their window of opportunity.
“Each venue changes every day depending on the wind, wind direction, the snowfall,” he says. “And this is why we have to have different cards in our hands and play the right one on the right day. So, at this date it’s impossible to say when and where but its part of the security protocol to assess different venues and then chose the one we think is best.”
The Freeride World Tour is one of the largest big mountain ski and snowboard competitions in the world. It’s bringing 36 international athletes and about 100 event staff to Haines. The tour has five international stops this winter. This will be the only U.S. stop this year and the first time the competition takes place in Alaska.