Making Hatcher Pass better

by • October 30, 2017 • Columns, Highlights, Safety MattersComments Off on Making Hatcher Pass better13

‘Are You Beeping?’ signs will help adventurers stay safe

Dr. Liam Talley Walsh was known for his gregarious, happy personality and compassion for others.

“That was the very reason he became a doctor,” said his mother, Janet Talley. “He was truly committed to helping others and was able to empathize with them.”

He also loved getting outdoors to explore the planet around him. That was what made him decide to head out on a snowy November day to ski in Hatcher Pass.

“He loved life and lived every single moment of it to the absolute fullest,” said his father, Bob Walsh. “If he wanted to do something, there was no stopping him.”

That morning, Walsh spoke with his friend Don Weller, a frequent backcountry partner. The pass was finally getting a good dump of snow but Weller did not have an avalanche transceiver so Walsh convinced him not to drive to the Mat-Su Valley to join him. It would likely be a short time out anyway; hardly worth the 100-plus-mile round trip for a quick ski.

Dr. Liam Walsh died at Hatcher Pass in November, 2015, the victim of an avalanche. Friends, family and the Mat-Su Trails Foundation raised money to purchase interactive ‘Are You Beeping?’ signs to improve avalanche awareness and safety at Hatcher Pass.  Courtesy Janet Talley

Dr. Liam Walsh died at Hatcher Pass in November, 2015, the victim of an avalanche. Friends, family and the Mat-Su Trails Foundation raised money to purchase interactive ‘Are You Beeping?’ signs to improve avalanche awareness and safety at Hatcher Pass.
Courtesy Janet Talley

So Walsh loaded up his truck and headed out from his Wasilla home alone to Hatcher Pass, where he set out in a snowstorm to carve some turns. He never made it home. He was just 33 years old.

“We wish he would have known how avalanche prone Hatcher Pass actually is,” Talley said. “My husband and I feel very strongly that other people need to know. We had no idea that not even the emergency responders would go in there because it was so dangerous. There are not enough warnings about how dangerous this place can be.”

That’s how Hatcher Pass has come to receive three “Are You Beeping?” avalanche information and safety signs that will soon remind snow travelers they are entering serious avalanche terrain. Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center is installing the signs at Hatcher Pass as a reminder of the danger and important tips to stay safe. The signs will interact with backcountry travelers if they are wearing an active avalanche transceiver and transmitting a signal. Friends and family of Walsh raised over $9,000 for the purchase and installation of the signs. The Mat-Su Trails Foundation also contributed.

The importance of reminding Hatcher Pass adventurers of the potential danger has been reinforced too many times over the years. Since 1999, nine people have died in avalanches in the area.

Keith Coyne, for example, was recovered within a day after he was caught on Dec. 26, 1999, while riding his snowmachine in the Pass. He was not wearing an avalanche transceiver, which made finding his body take too long. In Coyne’s case, the weather was clear and dozens of other riders had been riding the same slope all day when the heat of the sun warmed the snowpack causing it to collapse.

The circumstances in all of the fatal slides might vary in details, but the fact that Hatcher Pass is an incredible playground drawing thousands of adventure seekers every year is the same.

The “Are You Beeping?” signs will remind snow travelers to get the training, gear and forecast picture, and stay out of harm’s way, along with other critical tips to stay safe. This includes where and how to obtain a snow forecast for the region.

“We want to help make a difference,” Talley said. “We can’t bring Liam back, but we can do something that might save another person’s life.”

“We know the signs don’t make the backcountry safer,” said Walsh’s brother, Eamonn, “but they do remind travelers that it’s dangerous and they should go out prepared.”

 

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