Dewayne Dufford, 12/24/01, Cantwell, Snowmachine, Avalanche

Fairbanks man dies in snowslide AVALANCHE: Snowmobiler killed near Cantwell is fourth slide victim this year.

By Anne Marie Tavella, Anchorage Daily News

A Christmas Eve snowslide caught and killed a Fairbanks man who was snowmachining with friends in the Alaska Range southwest of Cantwell.

Dwayne Dufford, 30, is the fourth avalanche victim this winter in Alaska, according to Alaska State Troopers. He was the second Alaska snowmachiner in two days to die in an avalanche. Russel Foster of Anchorage died Sunday while riding near Hope.

The high avalanche danger prompted public safety officials and avalanche experts to warn backcountry travelers to be cautious and especially wary of steep slopes. The Alaska Mountain Safety Center on Wednesday announced a high avalanche hazard.

Dufford and a group of about eight others were riding about 20 miles west of mile 185 of the Parks Highway, when a 400-foot wide snowslope fractured, slid and buried Dufford, troopers said. His party was able to locate him in 18 minutes using rescue beacons, but Dufford had died from his injuries, troopers said.

Tom Murray, Dufford's brother-in-law, said the group's first attempt to dig him out failed, but he was found soon after, buried about three or four feet down.

"They dug about six or seven feet down and they missed him, then they moved over and he was right there," he said.

Dufford's sons, Jacob, 13, and Joshua, 11, had been riding with the group and were shielded from the scene by Dufford's friends, as other members of the party spent 30 minutes trying to resuscitate the boys' father, Murray said.

Dufford had been riding for more than 15 years, Murray said.

"He was a master snowmachine rider -- I've never seen anyone do things he could do," he said.

Dufford was known as an expert mechanic -- he even built his own snowmachine -- who was always willing to help a friend, Murray said. "He was an awesome father and a good friend," he said.

Dufford is also survived by his wife, Shannon, in addition to his sons.

The snowmachiners likely caused the avalanche by highmarking, traveling up a steep slope from the bottom until the rider is forced to turn around, troopers said.

Highmarking is a fun and favorite maneuver on snowmachines, but can be extremely risky in avalanche conditions, said avalanche expert Jill Fredston. The problem often occurs when the rider reaches the steepest point and becomes stuck trying to turn around. The weight of the rider and the snowmachine creates more stress than the snow pack can hold.

"It's essentially like kicking the snow pack in the knees," said Fredston, who runs the Alaska Mountain Safety Center with her husband, Doug Fesler.

Fredston has visited several avalanche sites in the Cantwell area and said the terrain tends to have shallow, weak snow packs. When new snow builds on top, it can create too much stress on the weaker layer. Despite the dangers, the area is a favorite with riders, said Fredston.

Kathie White, co-owner of Backwoods Lodge, Mile 133.7 Denali Highway, said during most winters Cantwell is brimming with snowmachiners attracted to the wide open expanses. The lodge has an avalanche policy, she said:

"What we do is we ask that they leave in their rooms a direction of where they've gone to and the area they will be riding in."

Lt. Chuck Lamica, state search and rescue coordinator for the troopers, also recommended leaving a trip plan with someone. In addition to going with a group, staying out of avalanche areas and avoiding alcohol, Lamica also recommended being educated on avalanche warning signs.

"A lot of times people don't have a clue at all that they are in a dangerous situation, because they don't know what to look for," Lamica said.

Fredston recommends three techniques to avoid causing an avalanche: ride up a slope one at a time; if someone gets stuck, wait for him to free himself; avoid parking at the bottom of a slope.

Both Dufford and Foster were found through beacons. Beacons greatly increase the chance of survival because they allow the person buried to be located quickly, Fredston said.

But, they also can create a false sense of security. People take greater risks, believing the beacon will save them, Fredston said. "It's not going to actually make you any safer."

The Alaska Mountain Safety Center is conducting an Avalanche Hazard Recognition Workshop on Jan. 5. For more information call 345-3566.

Reporter Anne Marie Tavella can be reached at or 907 257-4343.