William Brasher Schorr 02-13-10

Conoco Alaska president killed in avalanche
JIM BOWLES: Company's chief dies snowmachining; skier killed in separate slide.

By KYLE HOPKINS and JAMES HALPIN, Anchorage Daily News, Published: February 13th, 2010

The president of Conoco Phillips Alaska, Jim Bowles, was one of two people killed along with a third presumed dead aftertwo avalanches barreled down on Southcentral Alaska off-road recreation areas Saturday afternoon, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Bowles, 57, was with a group of about 12 snowmachiners in the Grandview area wilderness between Girdwood and Seward on the Kenai Peninsula when he and another rider were buried by an avalanche that roared down a slope. His body was recovered before nightfall, while the second rider, identified as Alan Gage, was missing and presumed killed, trooper said.

Closer to Anchorage, residents along Mile 7 of Hiland Road saw a skier disappear just after 4 p.m. in the snow an estimated 1,500 feet above the road. The man, who had been skiing near the top of a ridge with a woman and dog, appeared to trigger the avalanche, rescuers said. He was pronounced dead two hours later.

"The dog searched forever for its owner," said Megan Norgaard, who lives nearby and called 911.

The Hiland Road victim was not identified because officials said they needed to contact his family, though residents said he lived in the area.

Bowles has headed Conoco Phillips Alaska since November 2004 and oversaw roughly 900 employees in the state, said spokeswoman Natalie Lowman.

"He was a great leader for our company. ... Our deepest sympathies go out to his family," she said.

Gage, 40, also worked for Conoco Phillips as a member of the company's capital projects team in Anchorage, Lowman said.

Bowles was pronounced dead after rescuers tried to revive him with CPR for at least 30 minutes, troopers said. Searchers plan to begin looking for Gage again today.

Neither man wore an avalanche beacon, troopers said.


The deadly Kenai avalanche was along the West Ridge of Grandview near Spencer Glacier, roughly a half mile from Mile 43 of the Alaska Railroad tracks between Girdwood and Seward.

The search on the Kenai Peninsula -- involving personnel from troopers, the Alaska Railroad, U.S. Forest Service and Girdwood Fire Department -- was called off for the night as darkness fell and the threat of severe weather rolling in from Prince William Sound increased, said troopers Sgt. Bryan Barlow, supervisor of the Girdwood post.

"We've got pretty hazardous avalanche conditions out here right now with the new snow," Barlow said. "We're going to have a lot of natural avalanches coming down, and the human-triggered ones are going to be a biggie as well. We've got three people deceased today as a result."

A group of about a dozen snowmachiners were traveling together in the Grandview area when the avalanche struck, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said.

Forecaster Carl Skustad with the Chugach National Forest's Avalanche Information Center said the snowmachiners were in moderate terrain, with probably a 35-40 degree slope. But with the weak layer underneath, that can be enough for snow to let loose, he said.

At least one member of the party drove back to the railroad tracks to call in the accident around 12:30 p.m. The response included a troopers helicopter and a Forest Service crew.

By the time the troopers helicopter got to the scene, Bowles' body had already been recovered, Peters said. Searchers were unable to locate the other victim.


The Hiland avalanche was reported by neighbors and by a woman who escaped the snow and made it to the road, said Erich Scheunemann, assistant chief for the Anchorage Fire Department.

"Avalanches are fairly common in the Hiland valley here," he said.

The pair were skiing near the top of the ridge in an area known as "three bowls," said Dean Knapp, a volunteer for the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group.

The avalanche looked to be about 150 feet wide, and roughly three-quarters of a mile from the road, he said.

Kip Melling, an instructor for the Alaska Avalanche School in Anchorage, lives about two miles from the avalanche site and recognized the man who died as someone who lives in the area.

The first people on the scene were neighbors who saw the man's hand protruding from the snow, Melling said. Debris from the avalanche was piled roughly three to four feet high in the area.

Experts warned conditions are ripe for avalanches with a recent snow dump and high winds.

"We're dealing with an instability that's long-lasting. It's been in the snowpack pretty much since the beginning of the year," Melling said.

Firefighters and police lined the roadway Saturday as the sun went down and members of the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group worked to recover the body. Searchers rode Anchorage and Chugiak fire department snowmachines toward the slide, switching to snowshoes to reach the body.

The man was pronounced dead at 6:25 p.m. by an Air Force physician who volunteers for the rescue group.

The victim wasn't carrying an avalanche beacon or other rescue equipment, Melling said.


The Chugach National Forest's Avalanche Information Center was calling Saturday's avalanche danger moderate with pockets of considerable danger. Forecaster Skustad said in an interview that a layer of surface hoar that formed about two weeks ago is now buried under about three feet of snow, making for potentially big slides.

Recent heavy snows and whipping winds are creating substantial danger that is only expected to get worse in coming days as a new storm moves through, Skustad said. The four feet of new snow was measured in eight days at Center Ridge in the Turnagain Pass area, while winds gusted to 86 mph midweek

"Today was the allure of bluebird weather," Skustad said. "Today was a challenging day because it had good visibility, the snow quality was nice and people were just getting out there. We need to give the mountains a chance to adjust to the new snow loads."

Friends on day trip when avalanche hit
JIM BOWLES:Conoco Phillips' Alaska president dies snowmachining; skier killed in separate slide.

By KYLE HOPKINS, Anchorage Daily News | khopkins@adn.com, Published: February 14th, 2010

The snowmachiners caught in an avalanche that killed Conoco Phillips Alaska President Jim Bowles and left another Conoco worker missing Saturday near Spencer Glacier were a group of friends on a day trip to the popular recreation area, a family member says.

"They know each other through work and hunting and fishing," said Dalon Gage, whose husband, Alan, disappeared in the wave of snow that slammed down a slope in the Grandview area wilderness. It was the first of two deadly avalanches in Southcentral Alaska that day.

Bowles -- head of the largest oil and gas producer in Alaska -- was discovered about 45 minutes after the avalanche by friends using locator beacons, troopers say.

Poor weather conditions prevented troopers from resuming the search for Gage today, said troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters.

Separately, troopers today identified the victim in an avalanche that came later Saturday afternoon at Mile 7.3 of Hiland Road. William Brasher Schorr, 60, of Eagle River, had been skiing in the area with a friend when a neighbor saw the snow slide high above the road.

Schorr was a Seldovia cabinet maker who had recently moved to the area, said David Chartier, a longtime friend.


A trooper spokeswoman had said in an e-mail Saturday that neither man in the Kenai Peninula avalanche wore an avalanche beacon.

But Peters said today Bowles was indeed found with a beacon.

Troopers still believe Gage wasn't wearing one, though his wife says that's hard to believe.

Gage "always played it safe," she said.

"This was not a go goof-off, play around, screw-off group of guys," Dalon Gage said. "They were very safe, well-versed, trained."

Alan Gage, who was 40 years old with two young sons, grew up in Alaska and is an avid outdoorsman, Dalon Gage said.

He worked for the oil field services company Veco for eight or nine years before joining Conoco about five years ago, she said. Gage worked as a project control engineer for the company's capital projects division.

He left for the snowmachine trip Saturday morning, she said. "They would have just driven down to near the area where they wanted to ride in."

Troopers learned of the avalanche at roughly 12:30 p.m. along the west ridge of Grandview, about a half mile from Mile 43 of the Alaska Railroad tracks between Girdwood and Seward.

Bowles was pronounced dead after rescuers tried to revive him with CPR for at least 30 minutes, troopers said.

Gov. Sean Parnell issued a statement on his death just before midnight Saturday:

"Jim brought so much to our state: his love of the great outdoors, his leadership of Conoco Phillips Alaska, and his dedication to making Alaska a better place for all of us to call home. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this difficult time," he said.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called Bowles "a great partner in the responsible development of Alaska's natural resources," in a written statement Sunday.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, praised the company's philanthropy in Alaska under Bowles' watch. "Conoco Phillips contributed $13 million last year alone to hundreds of Alaska nonprofits, from environmental causes to health care."

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, who called Bowles a friend, said "Jim's generosity in giving back to our community set a high standard for Alaska business leaders," citing the new Conoco Phillips Integrated Science Building on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus as an example.

Bowles oversaw roughly 900 Conoco Phillips Alaska employees.


The second avalanche came just after 4 p.m. in an area known as "three bowls," roughly three-quarters of mile from Hiland Road, said Alaska Mountain Rescue Group volunteers.

Schorr was skiing down to meet up with the friend -- another skier who was waiting about 700 feet below -- when he triggered the avalanche, according to troopers and rescue volunteers.

"He went up to do another run by himself with the dog," said Kip Melling, an Alaska Avalanche School instructor who lives nearby and is examining the site today.

A neighbor who saw the slide from his home found Schorr's body about 45 minutes later, according to troopers. He was buried in an area with about three to four feet of debris, Melling said, with his hand protruding from the snow.

'Hard slab' avalanche killed Hiland skier

By KYLE HOPKINS, khopkins@adn.com, Published: February 14th, 2010

Troopers have identified the skier killed in an avalanche Saturday along Hiland Road as 60-year-old William Brasher Schorr of Eagle River.

The avalanche came just after 4 p.m. in an area known as "Three Bowls," roughly three-quarters of a mile from Mile 7.3 of Hiland Road, said Alaska Mountain Rescue Group volunteers. Schorr was skiing down to meet up with another skier who was waiting below when he triggered the avalanche, according to troopers and rescue volunteers.

Schorr was a Seldovia cabinet maker who had moved, perhaps temporarily, to the Eagle River area, said David Chartier, a longtime friend in Seldovia.

One of Schorr's ski poles was found about 1,200 feet above the place a nearby resident found him buried shortly after the slide, said Kip Melling, an Alaska Avalanche School instructor.