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Avalanches Strike New England

posted: 01/01/2000

Concord, NH, Feb. 21 (AP by Holly Ramer)--David McPhedran and Aimee Reiter were spending the day skiing in an area of Mount Washington called the Gulf of Slides.

The name proved horribly prescient on Sunday when an avalanche hit New England's highest peak around 1 p.m. and swept the pair down the mountain. It was one of two fatal avalanches in the East over the weekend.

``They decided to climb up one of the gullies to ski down it and caused the avalanche, which swept them down the gully,'' said Col. Ron Alie of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. ``She was buried waist-deep, but David was buried face down.''

Reiter climbed out and uncovered McPhedran, 42, but was unable to save him.

Both taught at Maranacook Community School in Readfield, Maine.

Mount Washington is one of the few places in the Northeast where avalanches are often a threat. ``The danger right now is very high, and travel in avalanche country is not recommended,'' Alie said.

Anna Porter, a weather observer at the Mount Washington Observatory, said wind gusts reached 64 mph at the summit on Sunday afternoon. Visibility was one-sixteenth of a mile with blowing snow and freezing fog, she said.

The 6,288-foot mountain has some of the world's worst weather and was the site of the highest wind speed ever recorded _ 231 mph on April 12, 1934.

Had McPhedran and Reiter called the Appalachian Mountain Club to check conditions Sunday morning, they would have heard a warning to stay away.

In addition to the wind, more than a foot of snow fell during the weekend.

``Underneath that new snow is harder packed snow,'' Alie said. ``When you go up onto it, it slips on the surface of the harder packed snow. Once it starts, it gains speed until it goes all the way to the bottom.''

Early last week, two climbers were swept 300 feet down a sheet of ice in Crawford Notch in the Presidential Range near Mount Willard, Alie said. One woman was able to free herself and get help for her companion, who was trapped up to his neck. Both survived.

On Saturday, a rare avalanche in northern New York's Adirondacks killed Toma Jacob Vracarich, 27, of Lake Placid, N.Y., and injured five other skiers. The avalanche happened off a trail on Wright Peak, on the outskirts of Lake Placid.

One skier in the group described seeing fracture lines opening in the snow and then hearing a rumble as the skiers were swept down the slope.

``It was like being strained through the woods, just like a little pinball being pushed through the woods by a 100-mph force,'' said Rohan Roy of Chateaugay, N.Y.

Officials in Vermont also posted avalanche warnings in places.

``In my 13 years I have never seen anything like this,'' said Vermont National Guard Sgt. Butch Patch. ``There are fracture lines all over the place.''

Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press

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