(8 April 2000, Alaska) Ordinarily a man killed by an avalanche is suffering from a natural disaster, and not eligible for a Darwin Award. But the circumstances surrounding the death of Walter, a 43-year-old Fairbanks man, are unusual enough to warrant an exception. He was killed not by a natural disaster, but by his own blatant stupidity.
Walter was in the Summit Lake area north of Paxson for the annual Arctic Man Ski & Sno Go Classic, which combines skis and snow machines with pristine ice. To celebrate of the event, he was highmarking the mountains with his snow machine. This stunt involves driving as far as possible up the side of a mountain, and just before the machine bogs down from the ascent, turning and driving back down. The U-shaped furrow on the hill marks your best shot until a buddy takes a charge up the hill and betters it. Highmarkers like to do it above tree level so everybody can see their display of testosterone.
Using heavy and noisy machines to undermine the snowpack in an avalanche-prone area is not a sport for the meek. The warm spring weather had destabilized the snow and caused several avalanches, and event organizers urged recreational snowmachiners to stay off the steep slopes. Walter himself had been buried waist-deep in an avalanche that day, and warned by rescuing State Troopers to stay off the mountains, or at least carry an avalanche beacon.
But their warnings and Walter's own substantial experience with snowmachines were not enough to save him. The avalanche that ended his life was an unstable slab of wind-deposited snow resting on a layer of temperature-weakened snow. Avalanche expert Jill Fredston located likely search locations, and rescue dogs Chili and Bean found the frozen victim lying face-up under four feet of snow.
Sergeant Paul Burke said, "You'd think people would have more prudence." Some people do, but not a Darwin Award winner like Walter.
Stewdog from Fairbanks, AK says, "The story above is correct. This man was named Walter and I was there. The event was the Arctic Man Ski and Sno-Go Classic located in the Hoo-Doo mountains about 160 miles south of Fairbanks. The same weekend another guy rode a snowmobile at high speeds into the high end of a tilt trailer. He was drunk and now he's dead. The event, which incorporates high speed skiing with high speed snowmachines, has been taking place for like 15 years, but the only people to die are the idiots who show up to drink and drive, or and the idiots who fall into the crevasses on the glaciers. Walter was not the brightest guy in the world and he is definitely deserving of the Darwin Award."
Joann from the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska says, "During the winter, one of the biggest activities is highmarking. It seems like that very slope will have high markers on it again as soon as the bodies are recovered. Living in Alaska is always interesting.