He was just 22 years old when a tragic event changed his life forever. Wegner, his father Ray, and friend, Rick Staley, headed out from North Pole Alaska in the spring of 2004 to enjoy the Arctic Man Snowmobile race in an area known as the Hoodoo Mountains of the Eastern Alaska Range.
It was a beautiful spring day, with temperatures hovering near 50 degrees. What these riders didn’t know was the snowpack was a mixture of weak, faceted layers overlaid by heavy, wet snow. To those trained to see, this was prime avalanche condition. But to the novice, this was just beautiful, spring riding.
Unfortunately for this group of riders, they learned the lesson the hard way. All three men were caught in an avalanche when Jake rode up a 25 to 30-foot slope to a lip, inadvertently undercutting the mountainside above, triggering the avalanche. Jake was able to dig himself out, his father Ray, was not buried and able to ride out for help, while Staley was completely engulfed and buried under more than eight feet of snow. He was not wearing an avalanche transceiver and was located about 30 minutes later by probe search. This was his last ride.
“It was horrible and I wasn’t able to ride for a long time after this happened,” said Jake. “It made me realize just how quick things like this can happen. And how important it is to always be aware of your surroundings. I definitely look at snow and these mountains in a whole new way now.”
Jake said he also understands the importance of education. “Anything you can learn that you didn’t know before can really help. I understand that formal education is kind of a hassle so a lot of folks don’t bother. These workshops are great because they are relatively short and can really open your eyes to the potential hazards.”
The importance of overcoming tragedy and regaining the ability to get back out to live life in a healthy, happy way is critical for survival.
Thanks to Black Diamond and the Alaska Department of Public Safety, the Alaska Avalanche Information Center’s (AAIC) annual backcountry safety training program reached more than 7,000 Alaskans with hands-on training and garnered more than 3,000 eligible entries in the 2018-19 feedback contest. The contest solicits feedback from participants with all eligible entries being included in a random drawing for a prize package from Black Diamond.
Jake, a Matco Tools representative for the Fairbanks Area, attended the training taught by Kyle Sobek and Trevor Grams, instructors with AAIC, at the Outpost near Fairbanks and was randomly selected for this year’s winner. While he was surprised and delighted by the news he’d won, he said it was the training that really mattered. He commended the instructors and AAIC for putting on the class.
“These instructors are just like us. They like to get out there and ride and were able to make the class relevant and easy to understand. I strongly recommend everyone who gets the opportunity, to take advantage of these types of programs.”
The AAIC offers more than 25 free community training programs each season around the state with support from the Alaska Department of Public Safety, Alaska State Troopers. You can learn more and request a program for your community at alaskasnow.org/learn.
Thank you to Black Diamond for providing the awesome prizes for this contest!
Congratulations Jake Wegner and thanks for sharing your story! Let us all learn from those who have paid the ultimate price.