Search and rescue challenges in Alaska

The death of another snowmachiner on Saturday near the Nelchina Glacier marks the fourth Alaskan to lose their life to an avalanche this winter. Avalanche deaths are on the rise again in Alaska. Despite the technology advances in safety equipment, avalanche forecasting and the warnings to the public of extreme avalanche danger, we continue to lose Alaskans to avalanches.

Many of us love to recreate in the backcountry but we all need to realize that help is not just right around the corner as it is in urban settings. Search and rescue operations in Alaska are largely dependent on weather and much of the search and rescue resources in Alaska are made up of highly dedicated volunteers. Because most search and rescue resources in Alaska are not like a full time fire department that has personnel at a station house waiting for the call to come in, it equates to more time to respond when the call comes in.

Couple that with the fact that search and rescue incidents more commonly take place in those far off places where Alaskans want to “get away from it all” and enjoy this great state. The further we travel away from the urban settings of Alaska, the further we travel away from the resources that can help us in an emergency. The time, distance and weather make it imperative that we Alaskans have a realistic expectation of how long it will take before help arrives and are prepared to help ourselves in the event we find ourselves in a backcountry emergency.

We must be fully prepared each time we enter the backcountry to deal with shelter, heat, food, water, medical emergencies and a way to communicate our location to responders. The Department of Public Safety provides free Backcountry Safety Awareness classes to the public through the Alaska Avalanche Information Center. It’s important that all Alaskans who enjoy the outdoors get educated on the dangers of the outdoors and how to deal with issues as they arise. Sign up for a class today at or by calling 907-255-2242.

Enjoy Alaska and be safe. Thank you.