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A 31-year-old Bend native who was working as a heli-skiing guide with Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures died Monday night, two days after he was buried in an avalanche.
Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen in an email to The Bulletin said her office was notified by the state medical examiner’s office that Aaron Karitis died Monday at 10 p.m. Ipsen said Karitis was unconscious when he was pulled out from under 7 feet of snow Saturday morning. He was taken to a clinic in Haines, Alaska, and was then transferred to Providence Alaska Medical Center.
“Aaron’s passion has always been skiing. He’s always been trying to find that next adventure,” Sean Powell, who grew up with Karitis in Bend, said on Sunday.
The incident happened in the Kicking Horse Valley west of Haines. In heli-skiing, a helicopter drops the skiers on the mountain, and they ski down.
“It is backcountry downhill, and they’re going to places where only very experienced skiers will go,” Ipsen said over the weekend.
Late winter and early spring is the prime season for avalanches. Karitis checked conditions for his clients at about the 4,000-foot level and was concerned, Ipsen said.
“He was kind of troubled by the conditions, so they were going to move further along on the ridgeline,” Ipsen said. “I don’t know if they had actually started moving or were about to move. But after he made that decision, that’s when the avalanche triggered.”
She said the slide carried him more than 800 feet. None of his clients got caught in it.
Karitis was buried for about 30 minutes before his four clients and fellow guides rescued him. He was wearing a locator beacon.
Powell, 31, wrote in an email Sunday that he “couldn’t imagine a guy more safety-conscious or experienced as Aaron.”
He also said Karitis had received a Level 2 Avalanche Certification from the Canadian Avalanche Association, an “advanced program for people who work full-time with avalanche safety and control operations,” according to the association’s website.
The Haines-based company that employs Karitis declined to comment on Tuesday. In a statement released Sunday, the company said it “has offered its assistance and encouragement to the family of its guide. A normal internal review process of the incident will occur.”
A guide from the same outfit died in the Kicking Horse Valley in March 2013, when the guide and two clients fell down the mountain when an overhanging edge of snow gave way.
Karitis graduated from Mountain View High School in 2001, according to Powell, and according to Bulletin archives he was on the ski and baseball teams there. He later graduated from the University of Utah and worked in the ski industry for 10 years. He owned a company based in Bend called Pulseline Adventures, which operated adventure travel around the world.
Powell, who last saw Karitis in Bend about six weeks ago, said his friend has traveled the world as a guide. He said he’d spent part of the winter in Japan, and had been to South America, Central America and Canada in the last years.
“Growing up, all he needed to do was wake up and take a look at the weather and figure out whether to go hiking, to the mountain, or for a mountain bike ride,” Powell said on Sunday. “He always had a schedule; he wasn’t one to waste the day.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2160, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Associated Press contributed to this report.