Sheep Mountain Avalanche Fatality
From "The Snowy Torrents", 1972-79
Accident Summary: On December 12, Steven Glazier, 25, parked at the Sheep Mountain Lodge at mile 113 of the Glenn Highway about 100 miles northeast of Anchorage. At about 1100 hours, he hiked into the Sheep Mountain Game Preserve to photograph wildlife. Walking on snowshoes, he left the highway at an elevation of about 2,900 feet and headed up Glacial Fan Creek. He climbed a ridge of Sheep Mountain and reached an elevation of near 5,000 feet before starting his descent. While he was traversing a southwest-facing slope above Yellow Jacket Creek, he triggered a slab avalanche that carried him more than 1,000 feet vertically down the avalanche path and buried him deeply.
When Glazier had not returned by late afternoon, family and friends drove to the lodge and followed his tracks up Sheep Mountain. Searching in darkness, they found nothing and returned to alert rescue authorities.
Rescue: On the 13th, a two-man search team followed the victim's tracks to where they entered the avalanche. The searchers triggered another avalanche and narrowly missed being caught themselves. They returned to the lodge to summon more help.
On the 14th and 15th, a rescue team, including five avalanche dogs and handlers, followed the victims tracks once more and ended up concentrating on a search of the avalanche debris. The dogs worked only a portion of the debris and worked around probe lines. Neither the dogs nor probers made any finds. For reasons that remain unclear, the dogs were not returned to the avalanche site and, thus, were not used to their full potential.
Coarse probing continued on the 16th but made no finds. No search was conducted on the 17th, but on the 18th, 37 people established a fine probe. They located the victim at 1115 under 4 feet of snow and 25 feet from the toe of the avalanche. The victim apparently died of suffocation as an ice mask had formed around the small air pocket surrounding his face.
Avalanche Data: The slide was classified as HS-AO-3-G and was triggered by the victim on snowshoes. The fracture was 26 inches deep and released 10 inches of wind slab atop 16 inches of developing depth hoar. The fracture was about 200 feet long. The elevation of the starting zone was 4,500 feet and the avalanche fell 1,000 feet vertically down a slope that averaged 32°. This was an open slope, above timberline, and it faced south-southwest. Avalanche debris was 6 to 13 feet deep, 150 feet wide, and 350 feet long.
The victim made two errors: traveling alone and selecting a poor route. The second error was the fatal one. Rescuers suspected that Glazier saw the lights of the Sheep Mountain Lodge in the evening darkness, and rather than retrace his footsteps, he chose a direct descent that led him into the avalanche starting zone.
The recovery time may have been shortened by several days had the avalanche dogs been used fully. They were at the scene only briefly and covered a small portion of the slide debris. The dog handlers felt their talents were poorly used.