Over 150 people each year on average are killed in avalanches with around 100 of these deaths occurring in the European Alps. • In 90-95% of cases the victim themselves triggered the avalanche which killed them. • Most avalanche accidents happen when the risk was known to be high.
Of avalanche deaths in the United States, snowmobilers made up the largest group, followed by backcountry skiers. Mountain climbers came in a surprising third place, with 49 deaths in the U.S.
An avalanche barreling down the Gold Creek slide blasts downtown with a giant cloud of snow dust in 1972. No one was killed in the slide, but more than 70 buildings near downtown Juneau have been struck by avalanches in the last 100 years, according to Juneau officials. Sixty-two houses, a hotel, two sections of Egan Drive and most of the Aurora Basin boat harbour sit in the country's most dangerous avalanche zone.
"Juneau has been accurately described as having the largest potential avalanche disaster in North America," said Glude, director of the Southeast Alaska Avalanche Center.
Juneau this year approved an avalanche response plan and an all-hazards mitigation plan to address the avalanche threat, said Michael Patterson, the city emergency programs manager.
Mitigation includes improving forecasting technology, constructing barriers and containment walls, and buying out homes in the avalanche zones downtown. The residential property in moderate and severe hazard zones were worth $13 million in 2001, according to the city's All-Hazards Mitigation Plan.
"There's this complacency that it hasn't happened in awhile and it's never going to happen," Patterson said. "It's not a matter of if. It's a matter of when.”
DOT knows avalanches are dangerous. That is why they conduct avalanche control nearly every winter on Thane Road. People drive to and from Thane every day of the year with few delays. Avalanche control is also required on the Seward, Parks, Richardson, Haines and Klondike highways, yet statistics show that no traveler in a vehicle has been killed in Alaska by an avalanche since 1969.
1972 Avalanche track
An avalanche event – no-one affected only risk to ‘backwoods skiers’
The south facing sides of Mt Juneau, seen here from Douglas Harbor, have melted out rapidly below 500 m, but snowcover remains thick in the starting zones above. March 2005
Snowslide Gulch path in Gold Creek shows a typical snowcover pattern for the Juneau area this spring (2005) melting out rapidly below 500 m while remaining thick above. Rain has been heavy at lower elevations over the last two weeks, and has frequently reached elevations above 1100 m.
Juneau Access Road – Why? Issue: Currently, the only surface transportation to and from Juneau is provided by ferry and barge service. Demand on the state ferry system exceeds capacity during the summer months and costs for ferry users are high. Access to government, medical services, employment, education, economic opportunity, and resource development for remote communities is limited by the lack of adequate transportation in the area. It has been proposed for decades.
The cost for snow sheds is $11.2 million, and avalanche chutes 20 and 21 need sheds. This would cost more than $22 million for just those two locations. After close study, and trying to be conservative, I find a minimum of 13 avalanche paths that should have snow sheds. Some of the sheds would only cost $2.8 million to $4.2 million. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) is considering a new, 65-mile highway-the Juneau Access Road-that would connect Juneau, Alaska's capital, to Skagway and the Klondike Highway in Canada's Yukon Territory.
An avalanche along the proposed Juneau Access Road route. March 12, 2005. A planned $281 million Juneau Access Road would "compromise the integrity of Berners Bay – an area of incredible ecological significance in the heart of the Tongass National Forest dedicated by Congress to “remain roadless and wild in character." Residents of all three of the affected communities: Juneau, Haines and Skagway, are on record as opposing the road and instead support improvements to the Alaska Marine Highway System, a designated National Scenic Byway.
AGAINST State biologists list other effects. They say a road would offer new opportunities for hunting and fishing, and create new pressures on wildlife. Road would change the landscape of recreation Project would bring more cabins, pullouts, trails Road isolation provides some benefits to Juneau's lovers of the outdoors, who can navigate quickly by boat to wildlife-rich spots such as Berners Bay for "a real wilderness experience," Foster said. Haffner also worries about litter along the road marring the breathtaking scenery of the bay. "People are filthy," he said. "Just look at the sides of the roads now."
IN FAVOUR The avid Juneau snowmobile rider yearns for weekend visits to the vast snowy terrain of nearby Haines, British Columbia and the Yukon. But he must lay down $500 to haul his machine 80 miles north to Haines on an Alaska state ferry. Too expensive for a weekend trip. Larry Hooton, owner of Seahook Charters, arranges wildlife viewing and hunting trips, and operates a lodge at 34 Mile. He supports building the road. http://juneauempire.com/stories/031705/loc_20050317003.shtml