After 'Whoomp,' Skier Dies in Alaska
35-year-old perishes in sudden avalanche, companion digs his way out
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 8, 2014 9:16 AM CST
This Jan. 24, 2014, photo provided by the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities shows multiple avalanches that crossed the Richardson Highway in Alaska on Jan. 24, 2014.   (AP Photo/Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities)

(Newser) – A backcountry skier in the upper reaches of Alaska died after he was buried in a surprise avalanche in the Rainbow Mountains on Saturday evening, the Alaska Dispatch News reports. Eric Peterson, 35, and his friend, 63-year-old Michael Hopper, had been enjoying their late-afternoon ski when the two heard a "whoomp" sound from about 20 feet above them, an Alaska State Troopers dispatch noted yesterday. The snow barreled down the mountain and covered the two men, but Hopper was able to extricate himself after two to three hours of strenuous digging. He found his friend's glove and started clawing through the snow until he got to Peterson's body, at which point he hightailed it to the Richardson Highway to find help.

David Savage, a volunteer at the Lodge at Black Rapids about 20 miles away, says Hopper is the owner of the lodge and very familiar with weather conditions in that neck of the woods, spending plenty of time in the mountains there and even holding an avalanche safety course once a year at the lodge, KTUU reports. "Mike is very educated in those mountains," Savage says, adding, "Those mountains can be unpredictable." Indeed, the trooper dispatch noted that where Hopper and Peterson were skiing "is widely unstable and continuing to deteriorate with the additional heavy snowfall," which is holding up efforts to recover Peterson's body. His family has been notified of his death, KTUU notes. (Avalanches could possibly halt future Everest attempts.)