Bend native still critical after Alaska avalanche

Heli-skiing guide Aaron Karitis was buried in seven feet of snow

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A Bend native and backcountry heli-skiing guide has been moved to an Anchorage hospital and remains in critical condition after being buried Saturday in an avalanche southwest of Haines, Alaska State Troopers said Sunday.

The Anchorage Daily News reports Aaron Karitis, 31, was swept more than 800 feet in a snowslide in the Kicking Horse Valley area.

Providence Alaska Medical Center spokesman Michael Canfield said Karitis remained in critical condition Monday at the Anchorage hospital.

Troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said Karitis was unconscious when he was freed about 20 minutes after the avalanche by his four clients and fellow guides. He was weareing a locator beacon when he was pulled out from under seven feet of snow Saturday morning.

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.

Late winter and early spring is the prime season for avalanches. Karitis checked conditions for his clients 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.

The Haines-based company that employs Karitis declined to comment when contacted by the Anchorage Daily News, which first reported the incident.

A guide from the same outfit died in the Kicking Horse Valley in March 2013. In that incident, the guide and two clients fell down the mountain when an overhanging edge of snow gave way.

According to his biography on the company website, Karitis grew up in Bend, Ore., "where he was making his first turns at Mt. Bachelor about the same time he was taking his first steps."

He graduated from the University of Utah and had been working in the industry for 10 years. The website notes his excellent safety record.

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